Updated 8 p.m. 3/8/2020
A Bennington County resident has Vermont’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, the Vermont Health Department announced Sunday.
The adult patient is currently hospitalized in an airborne infection room at Southwestern Medical Center in Bennington, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said in a press conference.
The patient is at the “more serious end of the spectrum of illness,” Levine said.
According to Levine, the patient became ill and sought care at the hospital. He said the department is tracing people the patient has been in contact with, including family and hospital employees.
While the investigation is ongoing, the patient’s exposure is not currently believed to be travel-related, Levine added.
“While this is sad news, it’s not unexpected,” he said. “We have been expecting this possibility and preparing for it.”
The state is awaiting confirmation of the presumptive positive case from the Centers for Disease Control.
During the hour-long press conference, Gov. Phil Scott said the state could eventually take steps including closing schools and canceling large gatherings if Vermont experiences “further major breakout in certain concentrated areas.”
“It’s a little premature, but this changes hour by hour, day by day, and we’re prepared,“ Scott said at the Vermont Emergency Management Center in Waterbury. “We are not seeing that as an approach needed today, but this could change day to day. We will address it as necessary, we are constantly monitoring this to see where these outbreaks occur.”
Officials reiterated guidance for people to wash their hands and stay home when sick.
“At the state level, [we] can do much to contain the spread,” Scott said. “The very best thing each of us can do is to follow the guidance we have been offering.”
The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. is more than 300 with at least 19 deaths. New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts and Quebec have all reported cases.
Southwestern Vermont Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Trey Dobson said he expects additional cases of the virus in the coming days in Bennington County.
“There will be a few more, there will be several more, it will reach a plateau like influenza," Dobson said. "We see that every year, so we have good experience with how a respiratory illness is going to multiply throughout the public and then reach a steady state."
Dobson added the hospital is taking several steps to limit the exposure of patients and staff.
“This is a tough time, when the patient enters either a doctor’s office or the hospital," he said. “We have signage up, and we are putting people right in the front of the hospital lobby to indicate that if they have a cough or fever they need to put a mask on right away … that is the best way to prevent transmission of the virus.”
Scott has assembled an inter-agency task force to oversee the state's public health response.
A majority of people who have contracted COVID-19 have experienced mild or moderate illness not requiring hospitalization, according to the health department.