Concern, confusion characterize Vermont’s Covid outlook this week

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The apparent inaccuracy of many of the 59 Covid-19 positives identified through the Manchester Medical Center using an antigen test — versus the more widespread PCR test used by state testing facilities — has stirred confusion over the what appeared to be a major outbreak of the virus in the Route 11 corridor while Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine counters suggestions that it is a false alarm.

The Health Department reported 57 new cases statewide this past week, including the two positives found at the Manchester Medical Center. Those were included because they were confirmed using the more accurate PCR test.

Levine seems to have reason for concern. Based on 17 individuals retested from the Manchester group so far, only two were confirmed as positive, with the other 15 coming back negative. State retesting is ongoing with a goal of confirming results for the entire group, which is expected to take several days. “Although our investigation is not complete, it appears that many of the positive antigen results reported by Manchester Medical Center might have been false positives,” he said.

The discrepancy has thrust the subject of testing accuracy and the various tests being used, into the spotlight. According to Levine, antigen tests are a new type of test only recently approved by the FDA that provide results much more quickly than PCR tests and are intended as screening tools for people who have symptoms. Many of the 59 cases identified at Manchester Medical were asymptomatic.

The Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the Association of Public Health Laboratories do not recommend antigen testing for people without symptoms, according to Levine. “We don’t have evidence about the accuracy of the test on people without symptoms,” he said.

Levine spoke about other positive testing information coming out of the Manchester area using the PCR test. According to Levine, the state Health Department offered testing in Londonderry on Wednesday and Southern Vermont Medical Center offered testing in Manchester on Thursday and Friday. The lab has reported that the 405 specimens analyzed thus far from those three days of community testing have come back negative, a good indication that cases are not spreading within the community.

Looking at the state Health Department official state data, the weekly gain of 57 cases thrust the total number of positive cases over the 1,300 mark to 1,334. Last week’s weekly increase was 41 cases. There were no new deaths reported. Total deaths in Vermont have stood at 56 since June 18.

The bulk of the weekly increase — 34 cases — was attributed to Chittenden County. Bennington County (Manchester) contributed only two to that number and Windham County (Londonderry) showed no increase this week, holding at 99 positive cases. Windsor County reported three new cases, totaling 65.

Four patients are currently hospitalized with the virus, up two from last week. More significant, however, is that the “hospitalization under investigation” number jumped from 9 to 29 this past week.

According to the Health Department, a total of 88,246 people have been tested in Vermont to date, up from 74,098 last week, with 14,148 tests were administered over the last seven days. The daily average of 2,021 tests doubled the state’s goal of 1,000 tests per day, likely due in part by the increased testing focused in the Manchester and Londonderry areas.

Contacts Monitored, which includes close contacts of people who have already tested positive, has risen significantly from 56 to 105, an increase of 49. Travelers Being Monitored, which includes those participating in the Sara Alert system, has decreased by 421 and now stands at 1,338.

The pop-up Covid-19 testing schedule for Springfield includes the upcoming Tuesdays on July 21 and July 28. No August dates have been added this week. To schedule a test, click on this link and scroll down to the appropriate date.

The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development updated Vermont’s cross-state travel information map on Friday, July 17. This map identifies the surrounding counties throughout the northeast that can now freely travel to Vermont without quarantine including counties in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

This is a county-by-county list for those areas that have fewer than 400 active COVID-19 cases per 1 million residents and is updated weekly. Eligible travel counties have decreased by about 40 percent this week. Last week’s eligible traveler count represented about 11.5 million travelers, now reduced to 6.9 million, mainly concentrated in New Hampshire, Maine and upstate New York counties. Click this link to see the latest updates to this interactive county map.

During the Tuesday, July 14 press conference, Gov. Phil Scott extended Vermont’s state of emergency through mid August.

For more state-wide details on COVID-19 information and resources, click here.

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  1. Regina Downer RN MS says:

    Let’s thank the Health Dept for their prompt and efficient response to a potential outbreak in the Mountain towns. The Londonderry pop up site was well-organized. The staff were courteous and considerate and they managed 306 COVID PCR tests`in a short period of time, the largest number of tests performed at any site around the state. We should also be grateful that our state has made these tests free and available to everyone. (Not so in other states) Whether 2 tests are positive or 20 tests…..it’s data that can be used to encourage all of us to be vigilant, wear masks, wash hands frequently and respect social distancing suggestions. We are not out of the woods yet. When local signs say “we are all in this together”, let’s all comply with the only suggestions that currently make sense…protect yourself and those around you, our friends and neighbors by adhering to the precautions.

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