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Most Burlington Infections Tied to Nursing Homes, New Data Show

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An ambulance at Birchwood Terrace on April 9 - MATTHEW ROY
  • Matthew Roy
  • An ambulance at Birchwood Terrace on April 9
Residents of two nursing homes account for more than 60 percent of coronavirus cases in Vermont's largest city, an analysis of newly available state data shows.

The Vermont Department of Health on Monday released town-by-town COVID-19 case tallies, after previously providing only county-level data. The new figures, while incomplete, offer a more precise view of the virus' spread throughout the state.

Two-thirds of Vermont's 855 confirmed infections are concentrated in just 30 of Vermont's 255 cities and towns, the data show. Town-level distribution of the remaining cases is unknown, because the state withheld data from municipalities with fewer than six cases, citing patient privacy concerns.

"I don't want to put a scarlet letter on people," Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.

Among cities and towns for which data was disclosed, infection rates varied significantly, but many of the figures were so small that a single household could sway a town's ranking.

The state assigns cases to the town where the patient resides, not where the patient works or was tested. For instance, a nursing home resident who tests positive is counted where the home is located, but employees who were exposed at the facility are counted in the towns where they live.

Wilmington, Whitingham, Vergennes and the town of St. Albans have the highest rate of infections per capita of the towns for which the state released data. Though the state's initial data release put Swanton at the top on a per-population basis, with 44 cases, officials said inmates at Northwest State Correctional Facility should have been reported in St. Albans Town. The prison has had 38 inmates test positive.

With those inmates counted in St. Albans Town, Swanton's count drops to just 6.

Some of Vermont's larger cities have relatively low infection rates. Bennington, population 15,000, and Wilmington, population 1,800, each have 10 confirmed cases.

Burlington, with 157 confirmed cases, has an infection rate twice that of South Burlington, which has 37.

But even in the state's most densely populated area, most cases appear to stem from just two outbreaks inside nursing homes.

Residents of Birchwood Terrace, in the New North End, and Burlington Health & Rehabilitation Center, near downtown, make up a combined 97 confirmed cases, according to facility outbreak data provided by the state.

A combined 24 residents have died from the virus, which accounts for more than half of all 47 COVID-19 deaths in Vermont.

It's likely that some of the 57 infected workers at the two homes also live in Burlington, which would bump the proportion of city cases associated with long-term care facilities even higher.

The other 257 cases in Chittenden County are distributed in surrounding cities and towns, including 47 in Essex and 38 in Colchester.

New infections have slowed dramatically over the last week, with just 35 identified. Gov. Phil Scott's "stay-at-home" order remains in effect until May 15, but some nonessential businesses have been able to resume activity, with restrictions.

The Health Department said it plans to update town-by-town data each week.