More Vermonters will be screened for coronavirus in the coming days as the state relaxes its testing protocols to further contain the spread of COVID-19, Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced on Friday.
The state leveraged its connections with “people in high places” to procure more test kits, Levine said. He didn’t reveal the source beyond saying they “have some connection to Vermont and actually have some understanding of what Vermont is going through.”
The state will continue to prioritize testing for vulnerable populations — including health care workers and patients who are hospitalized, in long-term care facilities or with underlying health conditions — but doctors will have more latitude to order tests for patients with mild and moderate symptoms, Levine said.
“We’re going to do it full bore even if it means we [put ourselves] at risk for eventually not having enough supplies 10 days or more from this point,” he said. “This is really the critical juncture.”
The development came as officials on Friday announced 25 additional Vermont coronavirus cases, bringing the state’s total to 183. The state’s death toll is now 10. Seven of those deaths have been patients at Burlington Health & Rehabilitation, a nursing home that's become the epicenter of the state's outbreak.
Levine said the new testing protocol will help during Gov. Phil Scott’s stay-at-home order, which went into effect Wednesday evening. The goal, the health commissioner said, is to test early, isolate people with positive results and perform contact-tracing. The state will enlist personnel from the Vermont Department for Public Safety to assist in the latter effort, Levine said.
The new technique will deplete the state’s testing supplies, but it’s proven effective in other countries to stem the virus’ spread, Levine said. He did not disclose how many test kits the state currently has, or how many it recently received to allow the expanded operation.
“Vermont is still early enough on the curve that this strategy may be effective,” Levine said.
Patients still need a referral from their doctor be tested; people without symptoms are still not eligible for a test, Levine said.
Correction, March 27, 2020: A previous version of this story misstated the number of positive coronavirus cases in Vermont.