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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Gov. Phil Scott to Vermonters: The Worst Is Yet To Come, But Measures Are Working

Stowe Police Traffic Sign
Liam Elder-Connors
Gov. Phil Scott today asked Vermonters to continue strict social distancing, and to stay home as much as possible. In Stowe, the message was much the same.

Gov. Phil Scott on Monday warned Vermonters that the toll from the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen in the coming weeks, but he began to express cautious optimism that various measures may be helping to prevent  worst-case scenarios forecast by the state's modeling.

"What we've done thus far is making a huge difference and we will get through this a lot quicker because of the actions Vermonters are taking," Scott said at what has become a thrice-weekly press conference in Montpelier.

The state has recorded 23 COVID-19 related deaths so far. Modeling shows Vermont could see between 44 and 100 deaths during the pandemic, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said. Were it not for social distancing and other measures implemented in recent weeks, forecasts indicate the number of deaths could have reached 1,700, Levine said.

For more about the latest modeling regarding COVID-19 in Vermont, head here.

Long-term care facilities and nursing homes

The state has begun auditing long-term care facilities and nursing homes, to make sure they have proper equipment and procedures in place to prevent outbreaks. At least eight senior living facilities in Vermont have seen COVID-19 cases among employees or residents. Two Burlington facilities, Birchwood Terrace Rehab and Health and Burlington Health & Rehab Center, have experienced severe outbreaks. Birchwood Terrace said on Monday that 26 residents and 22 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Eight residents of Burlington Health & Rehab have died.

As of April 5, the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Department of Public Safety, had completed infection prevention and control assessments in 25 long-term care facilities across Vermont, with assessments scheduled at 11 more facilities. Assessments have also been carried out at four assisted living facilities, with the goal of ensuring, among other things, that staff and residents have adequate access to personal protective equipment and that the facilities adhere to "recommended protection and control measures," State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said. 

Ten facilities were found to be running short on personal protective equipment and subsequently received deliveries facilitated by state agencies.

Personal protective equipment

Administration officials discussed in detail their efforts to procure personal protective equipment for those working on the front lines of the pandemic.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said the state has leaned on "robust supply chains" established by state agencies and the University of Vermont Medical Center before the pandemic, and received additional equipment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We are buying as much PPE as we can source effectively," Schirling said. Thus far, Schirling said, the state has not been consuming equipment at a rate it would have under the worst-case scenarios modeled by researchers in a report released by the administration last week.

The state has 2.7 million orders out for personal protective gear, Schirling said. Vermont now has 146 ventilators, with 93 available for immediate use and three patients currently using them, administration officials said. As of April 6, seven people were receiving treatment in Vermont ICUs for COVID-19.

Scott gave some insight into his work as an executive during the pandemic. He said that on Sunday night he was part of a text message thread with the governors in Maine and New Hampshire. And late on Friday night, he found himself on the phone with someone in Connecticut "who knows something about N95 masks," in hopes of finalizing an arrangement for getting up to one million masks to Vermont.

Scott also suggested that influential people with second homes in Vermont have helped the state secure supplies.

Public safety

Schirling said the state has registered a 20 to 30 percent decline in public safety calls in recent weeks, and has not seen a feared spike in domestic violence calls. Vermont has, however, seen an increase in suicides, Schirling said. He did not provide details.

For more information about resources available to survivors of domestic violence during COVID-19, head here.

Scott said he would announce an extension of his "stay home, stay safe," order this week. But he also gave some insight into his plans for re-opening society when the pandemic eases. 

"We will open the spigot, in some respects, to manage our way out of this," Scott said. "It won't be a light switch; it will be incremental to make sure we don’t have any flare ups, a sudden rise."

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