Vermont on Wednesday reported 72 new coronavirus cases — the most since the illness was first identified in the state in March — heightening fears of a second wave as the pandemic surges across the country.
The newest figure eclipses the previous record of 70 set on April 3 and brings Vermont's seven-day case average to 38, about three shy of what it was at the peak of the pandemic's first wave back in the spring.
Fourteen people are currently hospitalized, including six in intensive care — again, the most since late April — while another four were hospitalized with suspected cases.
“I understand that Vermonters feel fatigued from the pandemic, its impact on all of us and the sacrifices it has required,” Gov. Phil Scott wrote in a Tweet on Wednesday. "But we must all do our part to slow the spread, protect our neighbors, keep kids in schools and keep our economy open."
The latest case spike comes a day after Scott's administration reinstated mandatory quarantine requirements for all out-of-state arrivals and said it would start carrying out unannounced compliance checks on lodging facilities and other businesses where people congregate indoors, such as bars and restaurants.
In response to the recent surge, Scott has directed the State Emergency Operations Center to begin reconstructing several field hospitals that could treat overflow patients if primary care sites become overwhelmed.
The state initially set up these surge sites during the pandemic's first wave in March but took them largely off-line once it became clear that Vermont's number of hospitalizations was on track to be below the worst predictions. Officials have said the sites can be rebuilt within 48 hours.
The state also has a 50-bed field hospital staged near Rutland that could double in size in response to major surge, according to Wednesday's press release.
One key difference between the pandemic's first spike and the current one is the number of tests being administered. In early April, when the state was routinely conducting less than 600 tests a day, the weekly positivity rate was over 9 percent. By contrast, the state is now reporting thousands of new tests per day — nearly 7,500 in a single day alone last week — and the current weekly positivity rate remains below 1 percent.
Still, while many cases during the first wave were linked to facilities such as nursing homes, the latest infections appear to be spread throughout communities. The Vermont Health Department said Tuesday that it was dealing with 20 "outbreaks" and 63 "situations" — the most since the pandemic began.
Nineteen of Wednesday's new cases were in Washington County, while Chittenden and Rutland counties each had 11, according to health department data. The rest were sprinkled across the state.
Officials say many of the new cases have been linked to out-of-state travel or private social gatherings where wearing masks and physical distancing breaks down. They are encouraging anyone who has traveled out of state, had a visitor from outside Vermont or attended any gathering with people outside of their normal social circles to get tested.
Officials said Tuesday that Vermont will begin offering testing at sites throughout the state within the next week or two thanks to a new contract with a Massachusetts company. A list of current health department pop-up testing sites can be found here.
The City of Burlington also plans to offer several free pop-up testing sites later this week after its wastewater surveillance program detected an alarming spike in virus RNA in the New North End.
The testing will be offered from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at the Robert Miller Community and Recreation Center. The tests are intended for anyone who works or lives in the New North End. Reservations are required for the pop-up site and can be made here.