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COVID-19 news of the day: Vt. officials discuss surge models, deploy more beds

Valley News Staff Writers
Published: 4/2/2020 9:19:33 PM
Modified: 4/2/2020 9:19:22 PM

Current models show that social distancing measures seem to be helping Vermont avoid the worst-case scenario in terms of cases of COVID-19 outpacing the health system’s capacity, state officials said Thursday.

But they said that could change if people stop adhering to Gov. Phil Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order.

“The worst is still ahead of us,” Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, said in a news conference to go over the forecast models.

Pieciak said he expects the peak in the number of cases to hit the state sometime between mid-April and early May.

Officials could not say when they might be able to lift restrictions on people’s movement, but Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the decision would be informed by the rate of new cases being reported.

Under the likeliest scenario, Vermont would see a peak of 521 patients hospitalized by mid-April, a demand below the 622 available beds.

But the worst-case scenario models, if social distancing fails, suggest 2,575 COVID-19 patients could need hospital beds in Vermont by early May.

And even in the most likely scenario, Vermont is likely to see 114 people needing ventilators, exceeding the 93 now available. And 211 people would need intensive-care unit beds, above the 135 available.

As of Thursday, 338 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont, and 29 people have been hospitalized.

To prepare for the worst-case scenario, which would leave the state short by the hundreds in terms of medical/surgical beds, ICU beds and ventilators, the state is working to add surge capacity throughout the state.

State officials said they currently have enough masks and other personal protection equipment on hand but usage is likely to increase; they have also ordered hundreds more ventilators.

Though they did not provide a projection of COVID-19 deaths — so far, 17 people have died in Vermont — the state has deployed four refrigerated trucks to provide extra morgue space.

State officials are also seeking additional volunteers to manage a surge, including retirees, students and emergency medical service providers.

“We will need people, especially those in the medical profession,” Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.

New medical surge sites announced on Thursday include 400 beds at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex and 150 at Spartan Arena in Rutland. Trailers holding material for another 50 beds apiece are at Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor and Brattleboro Memorial Hospital in Windham County.

Some of the sites, notably Essex Junction, would be staffed primarily by Vermont National Guard members, including medical professionals. Two “portable hospitals” could also be “deployed quickly,” if necessary, the governor’s office said in a news release.

“We continue to expand our medical surge capacity to be prepared for what could be a significant increase in medical need in our state in the coming weeks,” Scott said in the release.

The new sites are in addition to facilities with a total of 250 beds that have been established at a gym at the University of Vermont in Burlington, the Barre Civic Center, and at the Collins Perley Sports and Fitness Center in St. Albans.

Lebanon alumni parade canceled

The Lebanon High School Alumni Association has decided to cancel all festivities surrounding its planned June 13 Alumni Parade, including the golf tournament and dinner and dance.

“Please say safe and healthy while we will be working out the combined festivities for 2021,” Alumni Association President Dianne Grant said on the group’s Facebook page.

Free pizza jam

There were some minor traffic tie-ups Thursday morning in downtown West Lebanon as the Domino’s pizza franchise gave away 500 free pizzas.

Keith Bell, the franchise owner, said at about 12:20 p.m. that the event was scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., but that the store was likely to reach the 500 mark by 12:30 p.m.

He said he decided to offer the free pizzas because “we’ve been blessed to have minimum” impact on its operations despite the general COVID-19 shutdown.

“Our business model is affected, but it’s not nearly as bad” as for other businesses, he said.

The Domino’s store set up a tent at a neighboring bank drive-thru and gave away up to two free pizzas per car, said Bell, who also owns six other Domino’s franchises, including stores in Hanover and Claremont.

Bell said he alerted Lebanon police before the giveaway started, but traffic did back up along Main Street for a time.

Lebanon Police Chief Rich Mello said officers responded and helped get traffic moving. He drove by at noon and said there was a “pretty orderly flow of traffic,” with no backup.

Stagecoach scales back service

Stagecoach Transportation is scaling back some of its routes bringing residents of Orange County and northern Windsor County into the heart of the Upper Valley.

The 89er South #1 AM and #3 PM will run each morning and each afternoon, Stagecoach said, and River Route #1 AM and #2 PM will run each morning and each afternoon.

Stagecoach’s Circulator and local bus services will operate on a Dial-A-Ride basis for access to essential goods and services, and riders are asked to call one business day in advance to schedule a ride.

All riders are being asked to call to request a ride, and passengers should leave an empty row of seats between themselves and others for social distancing purposes.

For more information, call 802-728-3773.

Family stress survival tips from Dartmouth-Hitchock

Dartmouth-Hitchcock experts are offering some practical tips for families who may be feeling the stress as they are all cooped up under one roof and trying to maintain social distancing during the pandemic.

Besides juggling work duties, many parents are also having to supervise their children’s remote education while also worrying about the coronavirus itself.

“Remember that this ‘new normal’ is temporary,” Shiri Macri, a licensed mental health clinician with the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Employee Assistance Program, said in a news release Thursday. “It’s true that we aren’t sure how long it will last, but we do know it won’t be forever.”

Macri said it’s important to “manage expectations” by recognizing that most parents are not certified teachers themselves; encourage creativity, such as having younger children use their math and reading skills while helping to prepare a meal; embrace flexibility in work hours to allow for some time off during the week; and to set up incentives for kids, such as a later bedtime or movie night, if they follow through on required assignments and tasks.

“To help get us all through this time, remember to be gentle and flexible with your family and especially with yourself,” the D-H news release said.

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