‘You’re all heroes’: UVM Medical Center president says Vermont avoided expected COVID-19 surge

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University of Vermont Medical Center President Dr. Stephen Leffler called Vermont residents “heroes” for participating in measures meant to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Leffler’s comments came during a news conference Wednesday with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger while talking about the recent progress he’s seen at the the hospital.

As of Wednesday, the hospital had 10 COVID-19-positive patients, four under investigation, and no patients on ventilators. 

“You’re all heroes because you’ve saved lives,” Leffler said.

COVID-19 is the official name of the disease related to the coronavirus that first started to affect people at the end of 2019. Vermont saw its first confirmed case of COVID-19 in early March.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal. 

Leffler: Spikes and surges may come as Vermont reopens 

Leffler said he believes Vermont avoided the expected surge in this first phase of COVID-19 because of the strict measures limiting Vermonters’ movement and contact. The measures helped slow the number of new cases so hospitals did not get overwhelmed, and it allowed health care professionals to begin preparing for the next phase: reopening the state. 

“I think it’s extremely likely that we’re going to see spikes and surges in cases around that,” Leffler said. “We’re preparing for that.” 

Last week, the University of Vermont Medical Center began doing in-house testing. As of Wednesday, Leffler said the hospital has capacity to do 2,200 in-house COVID-19 tests per day. This and the rest of the capacity to test statewide will become important in the next phase of fighting the virus. 

“While that’s still not enough to meet every challenge, it’s a huge improvement, and it’s expanding by the day right now,” Leffler said. He added, “We want to be ready when this comes back to use lots of different testing options.” 

Leffler said the hospital is also in “reasonably good shape” regarding access to personal protective equipment. This is another area where hospitals across the state are focusing on in preparation for the next phase.

The strategy for containing COVID-19 will likely move from mitigation measures to suppression methods because the state will be able to quickly test and isolate any new cases, Leffler said. He sees these methods continuing for possibly 12 to 18 months, until there is built-up community immunity or a vaccine against COVID-19. 

Some Burlington city services restarting

Gov. Phil Scott also saw the slowing spread of the virus, and late last week he announced measures that would allow some businesses to reopen with restrictions. 

As a result, the city of Burlington has been able to resume some non-emergency city services, Weinberger said Wednesday. These services include: 

  • Permitting and inspections: The city can issue some new building, electrical and plumbing/mechanical permits for construction operations.
  • Park clean-up: The Department of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront can start spring clean-up and tree planting in one-to-two-person teams. 
  • Public Works services: Burlington’s Department of Public Works can restart graffiti removal, street sweeping, regular storm water and sewer main cleaning, and other services.
  • Library pick-up: Fletcher Free Library is working on restarting its outside pickup service next week. 

A full list of services that have reopened will be available at the city of Burlington’s website, Weinberger said.

Burlington’s COVID-19 data is now available to the public

Since the beginning of the pandemic in Vermont, a team of Burlington data analysts has been collecting data showing the effects COVID-19 on the city and Chittenden County, and how Burlington has worked to combat the virus. 

That data is now available on the city of Burlington’s website, Weinberger announced Wednesday.

The data is broken into two topic-specific web pages: “COVID-19 Impacts” and “Response Efforts.” It can be accessed by visiting burlingtonvt.gov/covid-19/dashboard.

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

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