COVID-19 data shows Vermont doing better than best-case scenario

Modeling data developed from multiple forecasting perspectives: •Oliver Wyman Helen Leis; •Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Shaman, Ph.D.;•Northeastern University Professor Alessandro Vespignani , PhD.

by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine Governor Phil Scott today extended the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order are now in effect until midnight on May 15. This includes all the related measures. However, he and members of his administration offered on health data modeling. Current modeling shows that the mitigation measures have slowed the projected spread of COVID-19, but that the state has not yet hit its peak number of cases. But the state is ahead of even its best-case scenario in modeling revealed at the end of March. To continue on this path, it is critical that Vermonters continue staying home and making their day to day sacrifices to help save lives, he said.

The number of new COVID-19 cases did increase from yesterday's report from the Vermont Department of Health. The total number of positive tests increased by 51 for a total of 679 statewide. There was also one additional death, bringing that total to 24.

The number of hospitalized Vermonters with COVID-19 remains relatively steady and well below the capacity, with 32 people hospitalized and another 43 "under investigation." Vermont has 420 staffed beds ready for COVID-19 patients. (see data tables below).

The governor at a two-hour press briefing today also said that he is now allowing lodging establishments to start booking reservations starting after June 15. He cautioned that if there was a negative change in COVID-19 infections that he could change course on that allowance.

"It's important that we don't let up yet," Scott said.

Also related to business, he said that he spends "every hour of every day" contemplating when he can begin to relax the "Stay Home" order and open up at least some industries to return to work.

The governor noted that many retail businesses can still operate with "curbside service" just as many restaurants are doing.

"We are promoting creativity," he said.

Scott said he would act with caution and "open the spigot one-quarter turn at a time." This could include outdoor businesses like construction and landscaping. He said even there it would not happen all at once. The data would guide how this could be done and it could begin before May 15.

All this with the caveat that if things got worse he would not hesitate to reverse course.

As for suggestions that he has gone too far with the "Stay Home" order, he said, "I will happily take the blame for doing too much."

Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak in his presentation noted that the numbers will continue to get worse and could get upwards of 1,000-5,000 total cases and more than 100 deaths.

Scott said, "We are not declaring victory at this point in time. Quite the opposite."

Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD, said, "Everyone is suffering in this." But, he noted, as the data shows, those sacrifices are paying off and saving lives.

Meanwhile, the economic toll continues to grow even as the number of cases appears to plateau.

The effective unemployment rate is about 21 percent as some 73,000 Vermonters have applied for benefits.

Acting Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said that while half the filings are going through seamlessly, the other half are being bogged down with issues small and large. The small errors could just be typos.

Individuals should be able to file initial claims by going to the website at labor.vermont.gov or calling the automated hotline.

He reminded claimants that they must also call in (which is the easiest option 800.983-2300) every week to continue to maintain their claim.

Labor is also working with a third-party vendor to about double the number of staffers in order to process the backlog of claims. They also are setting up teams to work through the problem claims, which represent about 80 percent of the calls. Sometimes these are as simple as correcting a wrong Social Security number, but there could be larger issues as well.

"We can do better (in completing claims)," Harrington said, "and we will do better."

However, starting today, sole proprietors, contract workers, "gig" workers can start applying for benefits. They will add a new dimension to the equation because they have not been included in previous unemployment insurance data.

While he could not give a number on how high the unemployment peak might get, he said that for current claims they might be near the peak.

Harrington did say with some confidence that it will be a long time before we get back to the February unemployment rate of 2.4 percent.

Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle said that about 3,500 applications have been submitted in Vermont for the two SBA financial aid programs. And while she did not know how much money has actually come into local businesses from the EIDL and PPP programs, she has heard that it has been less than hoped for so far.

Governor Scott said that during the conference call he participated in with the state's congressional delegation Thursday night, that they were working on an addendum to the $2.3 trillion CARES Act that would add even more money for small business relief. No timeline was given, but another funding package is expected at some point.

As has been the case for more than a week, much of the discussion at the governor's press briefing involved the state's inmate population and in particular the outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the Northwest Correctional Facility in Swanton.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith was on hand to provide a situational update at the facility.

As of the briefing, Smith said that all 328 staff and inmates have been tested for COVID-19. So far they've received results from 167 tests, with 28 prisoners being positive and 5 staffers.

He said 27 of the 28 will be moved to the surge center for inmates that has been set up at the correctional facility in St Johnsbury, as planned. The 28th inmate is in a negative pressure room in quarantine at Northwest because of disciplinary issues. None of the staff or inmates require hospitalization.

Smith said the statewide number of inmates is at a recent historic low, at 1,419 so they should be able to adequately handle appropriate social distancing within the corrections system. Everyone at Northwest must wear a mask and the facility is under full lockdown, which means inmates must remain in their cells and food will be brought to them. This is the only facility in the state operating under these conditions, he said.

Smith added that while he would like to test every prisoner at every facility, the state simply does not have the resources to test everyone.

As for calls by some advocates to release more inmates, especially older ones, to relieve the population, Smith was adamant that under no conditions that they would release inmates who are violent criminals.

Smith said there are 101 inmates over the age of 60 who have been incarcerated for serious crimes, including murder, sexual assault and crimes against children. He assured the public these "hard core" offenders would not be released.

"These are people who are dangers to our society," he said.

Daily Update on Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

April 10, 2020

New information is in red

Find this update on healthvermont.gov/covid19 by clicking the “See the Latest Update” button.

Please visit and share the Vermont Department of Health’s new COVID-19 web pages, including the new data dashboard for an in-depth picture of COVID-19 activity in Vermont at healthvermont.gov/covid19. Visitors can access the dashboard by clicking on the map of Vermont.

Vermont’s Response

On Friday, April 10, Governor Phil Scott extended Vermont’s State of Emergency through May 15.

All measures, including the Stay Home, Stay Safe order are now in effect until midnight on May 15 (note: schools remain dismissed for in-person instruction through the end of the school year). Read the press release.

Forecasting of COVID-19 cases

Current modeling shows that the mitigation measures have slowed the projected spread of COVID-19, but that the state has not yet hit its peak number of cases. To continue on this path, it is critical that Vermonters continue staying home and making their day to day sacrifices to help save lives.

Universal Testing at Facilities

State officials also announced additional measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in certain types of group living facilities. When a person tests positive at these facilities, everyone in the facility will be tested. This includes nursing homes, corrections facilities, residential home for those with disabilities, residential treatment centers, assisted living facilities and state psychiatric care facilities.

Travel & Lodging

Residents and non-residents coming to Vermont from outside the state ­– for anything other than an essential purpose ­­– should quarantine at home for 14 days. Travel to Vermont by anyone from a COVID-19 “hot spot” is strongly discouraged at this time.

All lodging facilities are currently to be closed except for exemptions when supporting the state’s COVID-19 response. Governor Scott announced on Friday, April 10 that lodging operators may accept reservations for stays and events occurring on June 15 or later.

Volunteering

We still need your help! Please sign up to support the state’s COVID-19 response: https://vermont.gov/volunteer. Anyone with medical and healthcare skills is directed to the Medical Reserve Corps, and those with other needed skills to a quick registration process to sign up to help.

Have medical supplies to donate? Visit the COVID-19 Donations site.

Case Information
Current COVID-19 Activity in Vermont

As of 11:00 a.m. on April 10, 2020

Total cases*

679

Currently hospitalized

32

Hospitalized under investigation

43

Deaths+

24

Total tests

8,657

People being monitored

44

People completed monitoring

781

*Includes testing conducted at the Health Department Laboratory, commercial labs and other public health labs.

+Death occurring in persons known to have COVID-19. Death certificate may be pending.

Hospitalization data is provided by the Vermont Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Coalition and is based on hospitals updating this information as they are able.

Find more information on new data dashboard at healthvermont.gov/covid19 by clicking on the map of Vermont.

Guidance for Vermonters

Who to contact:

  • If you have questions: Use the Ask A Question tool on healthvermont.gov and review other FAQs. You can also dial 2-1-1. If you have trouble reaching 2-1-1, dial 1-866-652-4636.
  • If you are sick: Stay home and contact your health care provider online or by phone. Do not go to the hospital, except in a life-threatening situation.

Testing

The Department of Health continues to test Vermonters with COVID-19 symptoms to help increase contact tracing efforts and prevent the virus from spreading. Vermonters can be tested at hospital locations statewide and health centers in Island Pond, South Hero and Wells River. Additional sites will be opened as the needs are determined.

IMPORTANT: Everyone must have a referral from their provider in order to be tested.

  • CALL your health care provider to be evaluated so the provider can determine if you need a test.
  • DO NOT go to a testing site without an order from your provider.
  • Patients who are NOT experiencing symptoms will not be tested.

Health care providers are encouraged to order a test for patients with symptoms, and can visit healthvermont.gov/covid19-providers for more information.

Wear Cloth Face Coverings Outside the Home
The Health Department recommends that all Vermonters wear cloth face coverings when outside of the home to help slow the spread of COVID-19. This advice is based on new data about how COVID-19 can spread before a person has any symptoms. Learn more in this fact sheet. It includes examples of when to wear one and when you don’t need to wear one, as well as how to wear it properly and clean it regularly.

Watch a video of the U.S. Surgeon General on how to make your own face covering using items around the house.

Enjoy the Outdoors Safely
Spring in Vermont is great – so take the proper precautions and go outside. Just be sure to stay close to home, practice social distancing, choose low-risk activities, respect all signs for closed areas and check regularly for ticks.

For more info visit: https://fpr.vermont.gov/recreation/outdoor-recreation-and-covid-19 and healthvermont.gov/BeTickSmart

If you are or someone you know is in crisis
Feeling anxious, confused, overwhelmed or powerless is common during an infectious disease outbreak. If you or someone you know needs emotional support: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Trained helpers are available 24/7. Or text VT to 741741 to talk to someone at the Crisis Text Line. For more information visit healthvermont.gov/suicide.