Vermont health care providers can resume some elective visits and procedures after weeks of putting off these nonessential services due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Phil Scott said Monday.
Scott's latest order — which lifts restrictions put in place March 20 to slow the spread of the virus and preserve vital medical equipment — comes as Vermont continues to see a small number of new coronavirus cases.
"While the initial restrictions were necessary, we also know that procedures put on hold are important to overall health," Scott said at a press conference Monday. "So we thank everyone for their patience as we made sure we didn't risk the ability to care for COVID-19 patients."
Providers can begin nonessential visits, diagnostic imaging and outpatient surgeries or procedures as long as they follow stringent social distancing and infection control measures, officials said. Procedures that require overnight stays remain prohibited.
Providers must screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms and adopt written procedures for disinfecting common areas. They must also space waiting room chairs six feet apart and should also consider continuing telemedicine services when possible, said Health Commissioner Mark Levine.
Continued positive trends may allow Vermont to reopen more sectors of its health care system, such as dentistry and eye care, Levine said. On the other hand, another wave of the virus could force officials to reinstate the restrictions, whether in a particular region or throughout the state.
Scott's announcement will likely come as welcome news to Vermont health care providers for whom elective procedures are a key source of revenue. Last week, the University of Vermont Health Network announced a series of austerity measures — including pay cuts and a hiring freeze — in anticipation of a $152 million loss in revenue this fiscal year, due in part to the cancellation of elective procedures.
And while many providers have pivoted to telemedicine during the pandemic, remote visits remain inadequate for treating and diagnosing certain ailments, according to physicians at the Vermont Orthopedic Society, which issued a press release on Monday urging patients to take advantage of the lifted restrictions.
"Now that the first COVID 19 surge is past and we have enhanced safety techniques, you no longer need to have untreated aches, pains, injuries and disabilities," said society president Melbourne D. Boynton in the release.