Vermont Health Dept.: Washington and Orange counties driving latest COVID surge

Positive COVID-19 test results in Washington and Orange counties have accounted for nearly 40% of the infections in Vermont over the last two weeks, the Health Department said. 

State health officials are urging residents of those two counties to join stepped-up local efforts to stem the spread of the virus, a news release stated. 

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that as of Friday the state continued to follow 17 outbreaks. On Monday, the state again broke its daily record for positive cases, reporting 122 new infections. 

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A map released by the Vermont Department of Health shows the number of cases in each county over the last 14 days. This snapshot of the data was captured showing data as of Nov. 16, 2020.

State officials monitoring 50 situations in two counties

There have been 789 cases reported in the last two weeks in Vermont, according to the Health Department’s news release issued Monday. Of those, 68 are in Orange County and 233 cases are in Washington County. Both have incidence rates that the state average by two or three times, the news release stated. The incidence rate in both counties are two to three times the state average, according to the department.

The Health Department is currently monitoring and investigating more than 50 active situations in the two counties, Levine said. “Situations” is a term the department is using to encompass case clusters, outbreaks, cases affecting a community of people at places such as work sites or schools, etc. 

“Additional follow-up is needed in addition to normal contact tracing, such as notification of a work site, school, or healthcare facility, or coordination of testing in response to a large number of exposures,” Levine wrote in a statement. “We need to do all we can to focus people’s efforts on prevention and containment.”

Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, addresses the Winooski COVID-19 cluster at a press conference on Friday, June 5, 2020.

Levine and members of Gov. Phil Scott’s administration plan to meet with towns and elected officials within Washington and Orange counties to organize and mobilize efforts to reduce the number of new cases in the communities. 

Health officials have said an outbreak in October among people who gathered after playing recreational hockey in central Vermont had caused a number of outbreaks in the state, including one at St. Michael’s College in Colchester. The direct effects of that initial outbreak are waning, but Levine said on Friday that the department is now seeing tertiary-level cases that stemmed from an outbreak that can be traced back to the hockey gathering. 

COVID-19 cases across Vermont are also higher 

While Washington and Orange counties have stood out for a high prevalence of new cases compared with its population, cases have also risen considerably throughout the rest of Vermont.

Essex County, which has seen 14 cases, had the third highest incidence rate over the last few weeks with cases appearing in 23 people per 10,000 — twice the state’s average rate. 

A University of Vermont Health Network critical care team conducts drive-up testing for Covid-19 at the Essex fairgrounds in Essex Junction, Vt., on Monday, March 16, 2020. Patients must be referred by their doctor to undergo testing.

The state is focusing on strengthening Vermonters’ commitment and ability to adapt their behaviors to better prevent the spread of the virus, the Health Department said. Levine said all Vermonters must commit to limiting their contacts and gatherings, following travel and quarantine guidelines, and getting tested when they suspect they may have been exposed to the virus. 

“Each case leads to the virus spreading in the community which leads to outbreaks,” Levine said. “We can end this.”

Contact Elizabeth Murray at 802-651-4835 or emurray@freepressmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizMurrayBFP.