Vermont's coronavirus cases will peak in late April or early May, but as long as residents stay the course and remain home, the state can largely avoid overwhelming hospitals and the supply of ventilators.
That's according to estimates from state modeling data, which the Vermont Department of Health released on Thursday. Based on confirmed COVID-19 cases, the models convey the best, worst and likely scenarios for how the virus could strain the state's health care system.
Overall, the models show that Vermont is on track to avoid the worst possible outcomes during the coronavirus crisis. They also show that social distancing is working: The state's case count was rising at a faster rate until late March, when Gov. Phil Scott issued a "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order, officials said.
"That should be a glimmer of hope for Vermonters that their sacrifices are working," Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, said on the afternoon Zoom call. "It tells us also that they need to keep up those sacrifices and, in fact, double down on them because ... we do know that the worst is still ahead of us."
The data show that Vermont is likely to max out its intensive care unit rooms and ventilator capacity by mid-April. But the model doesn't account for the state's ongoing efforts to change those trajectories.
Vermont has ordered more than 450 ventilators, according to Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling, but it's unclear when the equipment will arrive.
Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith added that the graphs don't show how hospitals are actively increasing "surge capacity": "We are basically putting up as many ICU units as possible," he said.
The models predict that Vermont will not run out of hospital beds unless there is an immediate surge of cases in the coming days, a scenario that Pieciak said is unlikely. Vermont will most likely need 521 beds by mid-April; the state has more than 600 available beds and is setting up nearly 1,000 more at medical surge sites.
As of Thursday, 29 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized. Eight were in ICUs, and just one was on a ventilator. The state predicts that just more than half of the ICU patients will need a ventilator.
Whether the state's supply of personal protective equipment can keep up with the demand is an open question. Schirling said he's optimistic that the supply is adequate for now, and he noted that the state will release modeling data on PPE "as soon as we're confident that they're projecting the right numbers."
"At the moment they look like they're going to hold, but we're not relying on that as a strategy," Schirling said. "We're continuing to buy as much as possible."
State officials were clear that the numbers will stay on track only if Vermonters continue to follow Scott's executive orders.
"I can't emphasize this enough: Lives are at stake," Smith said. "People must continue to conform to the mitigation efforts to help prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed."