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Vermont marked its first deaths from the coronavirus on Thursday.
Gov. Phil Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced the two deaths during a press conference Thursday evening.
One was a male Windsor County resident who had been hospitalized at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Levine said. The second was a female resident of the Burlington Health & Rehab elderly care facility. Both were in their 80s.
“Both were very elderly,” Levine said, adding that he hoped Vermont would not see more deaths.
The announcement comes as 22 people have tested positive for the virus in Vermont. The department has conducted a total of 667 tests.
Scott said that the deaths are “sad for all of us” but “not unexpected news.”
“While we have always hoped there would be no deaths here in Vermont, we’re also very aware like other viruses, COVID-19 has the potential to cause serious illness, especially for the very ill or elderly,” he said.
Scott and Levine said they didn’t know whether the two COVID-19 patients had any preexisting conditions. They did not provide specific information about whether the patients required respirators while they were hospitalized.
Neither had traveled, according to Levine. The woman at Burlington Health & Rehab tested positive on Tuesday, and was hospitalized at the University of Vermont Medical Center.
Scott said it was a reminder that precautions Vermont has put in place to stem the outbreak are critical as the state grapples with the pandemic. “These deaths highlight how extremely important it is to protect those who are most vulnerable to serious illness,” Scott said.
Mayor Miro Weinberger expressed his condolences to the families and said the deaths are a reminder for Vermonters to act responsibly.
“These first deaths are a reminder to us all that this deadly virus is very much here and being transmitted in Vermont,” Weinberger said in a statement issued later Thursday evening. “Each of us can flatten the curve and save lives by acting as if we, ourselves, have the virus, and exercising vigilance and personal responsibility to ensure that it does not spread.”
Epidemiologists say the number of actual infections are much higher than the positive tests that have been officially reported. Estimates range from five times more than the reported figure to 30 times higher.
Steven Goodman, an epidemiologist at Stanford University says a multiplier of 16 is a reasonably conservative number. That would put the total number of infected Vermonters at more than 350.
Nationwide the rate of infection is doubling every four to six days. Vermont’s rate has nearly tripled over the past five days.
The Vermont Department of Health has said the state is now in a “community spread” situation, which is why everyone with the exception of first-responders, health care staffers and other essential workers have been urged to stay home.
“We are now experiencing the type of community spread of the virus that we have seen in other states,” said Levine. “The state has been taking strong action to prevent illness from spreading. But these deaths – and I hope we will experience no more – highlight how extremely important it is for all of us, young and old, to take extra care to help protect the people most vulnerable to serious illness, including older Vermonters and people with chronic illnesses or who have impaired immunity.”
Young people are less likely to die as a result of contracting COVID-19 than older people. Mortality rates are also higher for people with diabetes, lung and cardiovascular diseases.
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