Vermont’s COVID-19 cases climb by seven to 29

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Health Commissioner Mark Levine

Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced that seven more people in Vermont have tested positive for the coronavirus bringing the total for the state to 29 since the first case was announced on March 7.

The first case in the United States was detected on Jan. 19 in Washington State.  As of 7 p.m. Friday, March 20, the United States posted 18,563 cases.

Four of the seven new cases are residents of Burlington Health and Rehab, including one woman over 80 years of age who died yesterday. The announcement was made during a press conference in Montpelier on Friday morning.

Levine said that the Burlington facility had been tested relatively recently and found to have acceptable infection controls in place and was pursuing adequate procedures. The state has requested a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to come to Vermont to aid in the investigation, but noted that the Burlington facility is not the only long-term care facility with infections in the United States and the agency is stretched like everyone else.

Levine sounded a note of optimism since a number of out-of-state private testing labs are now available to help with testing. He said that low priority specimens would be sent to such labs, which have a 48 hour turnaround for results. Higher priority tests, according to Levine, will continue to be tested in Vermont, which has a 24-hour turnaround.

For his part, Gov. Phil Scott said the state would “pull every lever and turn every dial” to support working Vermonters and recalled some of the steps taken so far before announcing several initiatives. Scott said unemployment would be available for all who can’t work due to the coronavirus and that the work search requirement would be waived. He also said that online claim forms would be available and that there would be more staff in the unemployment call centers.

Gov. Phil Scott

Scott also pointed to the good conduct and cooperation of the state’s utilities in agreeing not to disconnect people who are unable to pay their bills during the crisis.

The administration will also ease the liquor laws to allow the sales of alcoholic beverages with take-out restaurant meals.

The question of what would be the best and worst case scenarios for the future remained unanswered because the sample of cases was to small to model predictions. The modeling that has been done to date will remain internal for now.

The Telegraph questioned the reported relationship between smoking or vaping and some of the serious COVID infections of otherwise healthy younger people. It also asked if that information would become part of the agency’s COVID messaging in the future.

Levine said there was evidence from Italy that those whose lungs had been damaged by smoking had more serious illness and worse outcomes. He noted that vaping could be a complicating factor and that the state hasn’t turned off its anti-smoking/vaping messaging but did not say whether it would be extended into the information provided about the coronavirus.

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