Health Care

Health chief estimates there will be up to 100 coronavirus deaths in Vermont

Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott speaks at a press briefing on the state's COVID-19 response on April 3. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

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The Scott administration said Monday that Vermont could see up to 100 total coronavirus deaths. The number of deaths Monday morning stood at 22. 

“We must be prepared for things to get worse before they get better,” Gov. Phil Scott said at the start of a press briefing on Monday. 

Health Commissioner Mark Levine, responding to questions from reporters about death projections, said “if you look at some of the worst part of modeling, it could go as high as closer to 100.”

The state’s projections are based on modeling that was released last week. Levine said the research also shows that Vermont’s mitigation efforts could end up saving some 1,700 lives that would have been lost if no action had been taken. 

Three researchers created best case, likely case, and worst case scenarios for how Covid-19 would spread in Vermont in the coming months.

The estimates varied widely between 3,800 cases under a best case model, 9,200 cases under the likely model and more than 63,000 cases under the worst case model. Vermont had confirmed 512 cases of the coronavirus as of Monday morning.

Michael Pieciak, the commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, said in a press conference that current data suggests the state is tracking its best case model, although the data is still preliminary. 

Pieciak said at the time that the administration was not providing projections on deaths caused by the coronavirus.

The death rate from Covid-19 is also still unknown, and will ultimately depend on Vermont's demographics, its case spread and how well its health care system can care for all patients needing hospitalization.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling also said during Monday’s press conference that there has also been an “uptick” in suicides during the Covid-19 crisis, though he said he could not quantify that increase. 

“So take this opportunity to remind folks that there are hotlines or places you can call for assistance,” Schirling said. “This is a difficult time for everyone and certainly the pressure continues to mount, as time goes by so please reach out for help if you need it.”

[You can visit the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center website here, or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255)]

Preparing for the peak

The Scott administration on Monday outlined its efforts to prepare for the peak of coronavirus cases, which is expected to come in the next two or three weeks. 

Levine said that anyone who has symptoms of the coronavirus is now eligible for testing, a change from previous weeks, when people needed to be showing severe symptoms to be tested. People still must coordinate testing with their physicians. 

The health commissioner noted that about 10% to 12% of tests in Vermont are coming out positive, well below the 30% to 40% rate in some of the coronavirus hotspots. He said the peak in cases may come as soon as this week, based on optimistic modelling, or closer to the end of the month, based on other models. 

“But they all show that the social distancing mitigation strategies are working here,” Levine said. “And we know that that's incredibly difficult and challenging for everyone to adhere to. But I do need you to understand that the sacrifices you're making are actually helping.”

Patsy Kelso, Vermont’s state epidemiologist, said the state is ramping up efforts to engage with senior living and elder care facilities to ensure that they are following best practices, and have the equipment to keep residents and staff safe. 

The state is also doing “rapid response” when the virus is detected in vulnerable communities, Kelso said, and conducting contact tracing and isolation immediately. 

Many of the deaths in Vermont so far have occurred at nursing homes and senior living facilities.

An outbreak at the Burlington Health and Rehab facility has caused at least eight deaths and more than two dozen confirmed cases in residents and staff. There have been at least three deaths related an outbreak at the Pinecrest at Essex facility.

And as of this weekend, the state had reported more than two dozen cases at the Birchwood Terrace Rehab and Healthcare facility in Burlington.

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Colin Meyn

About Colin

Colin Meyn is VTDigger's managing editor. He spent most of his career in Cambodia, where he was a reporter and editor at English-language newspapers The Cambodia Daily and The Phnom Penh Post, and most recently at Southeast Asia Globe, a regional current affairs magazine. He is a native of Maine and studied journalism at Northwestern University.


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