Vermont discloses 86 previously unknown COVID-19 deaths

By ERIN PETENKO

VTDigger

Published: 01-06-2023 10:01 PM

The Vermont Department of Health on Friday revealed that 86 more Vermonters than previously known have died from COVID-19. A revised count raises the state’s pandemic death toll from 791 to 877.

The deaths, which were revealed by an analysis in late December, date back to April 2020, but most — 73 out of 86 — occurred in 2022, according to a press release from the department. Throughout the pandemic, real-time reports of the state’s COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and fatalities were key to the public’s understanding of the virus and to the state’s emergency response efforts.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said in the press release that he regrets that the data was not reported “in a more timely manner,” but added, “it is important to understand that because these deaths occurred over time — and spread across many months from across the state — we are confident this would not have had an impact on the trajectory of the data or on our approach to the pandemic.”

The 86 deaths raise the pandemic-long death toll from COVID by about 11% and the 2022 death toll by about 23%, according to a VTDigger analysis of department data.

Vermont still has the second-lowest death toll of any state, behind only Hawaii, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the press release, the deaths initially were not reported because of an issue with the state’s surveillance system. The Vermont Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is charged with reporting COVID deaths by entering them into that system, but a health department analyst found that several reports had not been entered. When the department conducted a review, it found that some COVID death reports were not processed correctly, partly due to reduced staffing as the state “scaled back from peak emergency operation,” the news release said.

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The department plans to update the state’s COVID data portal with the new fatality data in its routine data update next Wednesday and to include it in future weekly surveillance reports.

“Our data team are among the heroes of Vermont’s pandemic response. Working long days with few days off from the moment we learned of the first case,” Levine said in the press release. “Nonetheless, we are reviewing our systems to ensure data oversights like this one can be avoided, while supporting these dedicated public health workers.”

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