Health Care

Vermont health officials prepare for ‘inevitable’ U.S. arrival of coronavirus

UVM Medical Center officials are confident as they prepare for any coronavirus cases. Photo by Anne Wallace Allen/VTDigger

Vermont health officials are preparing for the arrival of the coronavirus to Vermont, after the CDC announced Tuesday morning that the spread of the disease to the U.S. was “inevitable.”

“It’s getting harder and harder to say with a straight face that we can contain this virus to the countries where it’s already impacting people,” said Patsy Kelso, state epidemiologist with the Vermont Department of Health.

Kelso said health officials are focusing on trying to mitigate the virus’ impact once it does arrive in the state.

Vermont has monitored more than a dozen people for the virus, she said, though there are still no confirmed or suspected cases in the state. 

She said Vermont has adopted a “self-monitoring with public health supervision” approach to watch those cases. Those being monitored are asked to take their temperature daily and check in with health department officials three times a week by phone.

If the outbreak spreads to the United States, it will “definitely” reach Vermont, she said.

“We’re probably less at risk than somewhere like New York City, where the population is bigger and there’s more people from all over the world,” she said. “But we’re not out of this by any means.”

At hospitals around the state, officials are preparing for exactly that scenario. Leaders at UVM Medical Center said Tuesday they’re feeling “pretty confident” in their ability to deal with the virus.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” said Dawn LeBaron, vice president of Hospital Services for UVMMC. “But we’ve got our eye on it, we’ve got the right people involved, and you know, we’ll do a good job with it.” 

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LeBaron said the hospital has been screening patients’ travel histories and symptoms for about six weeks, ever since news first broke about the outbreak. She said the hospital also has groups and committees meeting regularly throughout that time to coordinate their approach.

The Health Department said it will continue working with the CDC to monitor the virus’ spread, to warn health care providers and the general public about prevention tips, and to be ready to roll out a vaccine, if and when it is developed.

LeBaron said the hospital has stocked up on masks, gowns, and equipment, and they’ve retrained staff about the safest ways to use those safety precautions.

But in general, LeBaron said, preparation for the coronavirus is “not tremendously different” from that of the flu.

“If you follow the basic protocols that you do for the flu, that’s a huge head start,” she said, emphasizing measures like regular handwashing, staying home if you’re sick, and wiping down frequently used surfaces.

Gene Richards, director of aviation at Burlington International Airport, said his industry has taken similar measures to stop the spread of the disease. The airport is wiped down three times a day.

“We currently have 12,000 to 15,000 travelers here a week,” Richards said. “What we’re asking people to do is, if you’re sick, think about, ‘Do you really need to travel? Or can you stay home?’”

He said they can’t do much about the actual movement of travelers to and from impacted countries, because Burlington airport is more of a “feeder” airport than a “hub.”

“It’s more than likely it won’t begin here,” Richards said. “But once it comes to the United States, then it will definitely become our issue.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the number of people being monitored for the virus by the state.

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Ellie French

About Ellie

Ellie French is a general assignment reporter and news assistant for VTDigger. She is a recent graduate of Boston University, where she interned for the Boston Business Journal and served as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Free Press, BU’s student newspaper. She is originally from Duluth, Minnesota.

Email: [email protected]

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