Health Care

State reports 11 new Covid-19 cases; 2 more Northwest State inmates test positive

Inside Northwest State Correctional Facility. Photo by Cory Dawson/VTDigger

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This story was updated at 5:36 p.m.

The Vermont Department of Health reported 11 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the state Friday, as the Department of Corrections announced two more inmates had tested positive for the illness.

Statewide, a total of 779 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Vermont since the beginning of the outbreak, up from the 768 total reported Thursday by the state Department of Health. The new results from the two prisoners at the Northwest Correctional Facility in St. Albans, bringing the total number of prisoners from that prison who have tested for Covid-19 to 37.

Meanwhile, the head of the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington says mass testing at the facility earlier this week has yielded no positive cases among residents.

The state also reported that as of Friday, a total of 12,116 people had been tested in Vermont, up 609 from Thursday’s total of 11,507.

No new deaths associated with Covid-19 were reported Friday. On Thursday, the health department reported five new deaths, bringing the state’s total to 35 coronavirus deaths. 

However, the five deaths included in Thursday’s daily tally spanned the previous several days, and were just being reported due to delays, for example, in the death certification process, according to Ben Truman of the Vermont Department of Health. 

Gov. Phil Scott, speaking at a Friday press conference, said that while the recent daily figures of positive test results, ranging from four to 11, are encouraging, he still urged caution. 

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“I want to be clear,” the governor said. “We’re not declaring victory because we’re not out of the woods yet, but we are seeing daylight.”

Before this week, the state had been reporting dozens of new positive Covid-19 tests each day.

Michael Pieiciak, commissioner of the state Department of Financial Regulation, who has been leading the state’s forecasting of the spread of Covid-19, noted the state’s daily number of new cases has continued to slow.

“From just last week our doubling rate went from about a week to about a month,” he said. “It is now safe to assume that we have reached our peak for new confirmed cases in Vermont.”

He also talked about the number of people infected with the virus in Vermont who have not yet fully recovered.

 “It is clear that there are still hundreds of active cases in Vermont and we will not reach our peak on this measurement for quite some time.”

That is why, he said, social distancing measures still must be followed.

“The number of new cases continues to shrink,” Pieciak said, “but the virus is considerably more pervasive in Vermont than it was at any other during the pandemic.” 

It was not immediately clear Friday if the latest test results from the state included figures from the mass testing earlier this week at the state-run Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington.

According to Melissa Jackson, CEO of the Vermont Veterans Home, 105 residents there tested this week all had negative results for the virus. 

In addition, according to Jackson, 129 employees at the facility were also tested. 

“Employee results go to their primary care providers and employees will notify the Vermont Veterans Home if they should receive a positive result,” Jackson wrote in an email Thursday night.

“As of the writing of this email,” Jackson added Thursday night. “I have had no notifications of any employee having a positive testing result.”

Jackson, in an email Friday morning, reported she still hadn’t been notified of any positive tests of any employee.

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Testing was voluntary for the residents and employees of the home, according to the state Department of Health. The home has a total of about 121 residents and 205 staff members.

Mike Smith, secretary of the state Agency of Human Services, announced Monday that testing at the Vermont Veterans Home was being conducted in the “abundance” of caution. 

There had not been any reported cases of Covid-19 positive residents at the Veterans’ Home, he said, though a staff member did test positive for the coronavirus on March 15. That worker then went into self-quarantine and has since returned to work.

The latest positive tests of inmates at Northwest State in St. Albans come as officials have been trying to contain an outbreak there.

One of the prisoners who was confirmed to have the virus was tested as part of the blanket testing that took place at the facility last week, according to the corrections department. The other inmate, according to the department, was tested after being brought to the facility and showing symptoms for the virus.

Both are in negative pressure cells at the St. Albans facility. The test result of another inmate at the facility is still pending, the department said in a statement Friday. Also, according to the statement Friday, a test of an inmate at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield came back negative for the coronavirus.

Of the 37 inmates who have tested for Covid-19, two have since been released from custody. Thirty-two have been moved from the Northwest prison in St. Albans to the Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury, James Baker, interim corrections commissioner, said Friday.

Three inmates are still at the St. Albans facility, isolated in negative air pressure rooms, Baker added.

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Alan J. Keays

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