Bracing for Coronavirus Spread, Vermont Frees Up Hospital Beds | Off Message

Bracing for Coronavirus Spread, Vermont Frees Up Hospital Beds


Health Commissioner Mark Levine (left) and Gov. Phil Scott - COLIN FLANDERS
  • Colin Flanders
  • Health Commissioner Mark Levine (left) and Gov. Phil Scott
Vermont officials said on Friday that the state has "significantly" increased its number of available hospital beds and ventilators in recent days to prepare for the continued spread of coronavirus.

Whether it will be enough to withstand a widespread outbreak remains unclear, however, with officials on Friday saying that they are still working to predict how many beds and ventilators might be needed in the weeks to come.

Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, said at a press conference Friday morning that the state is consulting with experts to examine "best-case and worst-case scenarios."
Vermont currently has 29 cases, well below the threshold of 100, at which forecasting models are typically more accurate, Pieciak said. Officials have seen some data internally, he said, but are working to firm up projections before releasing them publicly.

Vermont reported seven new coronavirus cases on Friday, four of which involve patients at the Burlington Health & Rehabilitation Center nursing home, where an elderly woman died on Thursday after contracting the virus. The jump in cases marked the biggest since the virus was first detected in Vermont on March 7.

The number of cases is expected to rise as more people are tested, though it's hard to know just how high it could get without the modeling data. Area hospitals appear to be bracing for impact, working this week to free up their available beds.

The University of Vermont Health Network and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health care system each announced that they would be suspending elective and nonurgent procedures — a move that Gov. Phil Scott has now mandated. And the White River Junction VA Medical Center announced it was working to double its capacity after two area military veterans were diagnosed with the virus. One has since died.

The moves have increased the number of available beds statewide to 500 as of Friday, according to Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith. That's nearly double the 273 that were free on Wednesday.

Smith also said the state has increased its number of ventilators, investing in an additional 87 to bring the current total to 240. He said officials want even more.

"We are looking at how to convert other ventilators for the purpose of COVID-19," Smith said. "We are seeing, or learning from, other states on how to do that. And we think that will boost our numbers as well."

Vermont Emergency Management has also kept tabs on the state's capacity. Director Erica Bornemann told Seven Days on Thursday that her department  is identifying sites around the state where non-coronavirus patients can be treated and housed to free up additional hospital space. She added that further contingency plans are continually being discussed among the state's senior leadership.

"Our No. 1 priority is maintaining the integrity of the health care system," she said. 

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