COVID-19 in Vermont

UVMMC CEO John Brumsted on March 12, 2020, discusses the hospital's COVID response and revealed that their first patient had been admitted that day. VermontBiz photos.

by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine Exactly four years ago today marks the first COVID-related press conference in Vermont. It was held outside the entrance to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington. COVID had spread from Asia and across Europe in January 2020 and hit the United States later that month (though testing suggests it was already here in December 2019). 

The US confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on January 20, 2020, and the first death on February 6. The first case in Vermont was confirmed March 7 and the first deaths occurred on March 19, a male in White River Jct and a female in Burlington. The Vermont Department of Health was very circumspect on revealing who may have contracted COVID in order to protect personal information.

That first presser at the hospital was held outside as a precaution. Information was moving fast but with much uncertainty with the spreading of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). 

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)

UVMMC CEO John Brumsted asked reporters to spread out. We did not, nor did the hospital staff. No one was wearing a mask as the CDC had yet to issue guidance on that. Indeed the US Surgeon General said individuals should not get masks, insisting that, on the one hand, they weren't necessary and on the other that they were needed for health care providers. 

It wasn't until April 3 that the CDC urged individuals to mask up. Still, masks were in short supply and the common medical wisdom was that only an N95 mask would be effective to prevent transmission. It turned out that for COVID-19, almost any type of face covering was to some extent effective. 

But the politicizing of the mask issue and its equivocal beginning led to, it's fair to say, deadly outcomes. Weddings and other close, indoor gatherings where people were unmasked became "super spreader" events. "Social distancing," and isolation and the closing of schools led to lingering mental health issues and a drop in educational attainment. 

The economy changed. It will never be what it was before, which is not to say it will be worse. 

Many employees were forced to work remotely. "Zoom" meetings became a generic term and are likely here to stay, as is working from home. The restaurant industry still has not fully bounced back and general hospitality is still struggling, in part because of a shortage of workers who have found other jobs. Anger became endemic. COVID riled up politics nationally even more than it was already riled.

Soon after the pandemic hit the United States, the federal government came together and put $2 trillion into the economy. The Paycheck Protection Program did its job and saved many businesses. More federal money would continue to pour into the economy. While we all complain about the subsequent inflation, it seems like a small price to pay for saving the entire US economy and likely the global one as well. 

Now in Vermont, the labor situation is back to just about where it was before COVID hit and Phil Scott is still governor and was widely praised for keeping a steady hand through the pandemic. 

Health care workers receive the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the University of Vermont Medical Center on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

Health care workers receive the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the University of Vermont Medical Center on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

Some dates to remember:

The Vermont Department of Health announced the state's first case of COVID-19 on March 7, 2020, in a patient who had arrived at a hospital emergency department in Bennington two days before.

March 13, 2020: Governor Phil Scott declared a State of Emergency in Vermont in response to COVID-19, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.

On March 19, the first two deaths from COVID-19 were announced, one a male in White River Junction and the other a female in Burlington. Both were over 80 years old.

First vaccine: on December 11, 2020, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine became available under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for individuals 16 years of age and older, and the authorization was expanded to include those 12 through 15 years of age on May 10, 2021. Most adults began getting their first vaccines in March and April of 2021. The vaccines were developed in a historically fast timeline and employed mRNA not to kill the virus but to keep it from spreading.

June 15, 2021: With more than 80% of eligible Vermonters having received at least one dose of a COVID-19, vaccine, Governor Scott removed all state COVID-19 restrictions and the State of Emergency expired at midnight.

As we continue to Zoom, work from home and even wear masks in some situations, the health effects still have not disappeared. Fatalities from COVID this past January were the highest they've been in nearly a year. People are still getting sick. And while the worst cases and deaths are mostly behind us, we hope, the lingering effects from the impact on the economy and on society, and of "long-COVID" and more than a million American deaths and more than 1,000 fatalities here in Vermont, are not.


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