Vermont expects more COVID cases as college students return

Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 5:51 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Concerns about college students returning to Vermont came up in the state’s weekly COVID-19 data presentation. But state officials say all the data points to Vermont’s ability to handle any new cases.

"Vermont continues to hold the distinction of having the lowest case count in the U.S.," Vt. Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak said.

More good news for the Green Mountain State.

Friday, the latest data pointed to dropping cases on the national level but deaths remaining high. In the Northeast-- a better picture. A 7% drop in cases in the region. Good news as more travelers are eligible to visit Vermont without a quarantine. Click here for Vermont’s COVID-19 travel map.

But while cases here remain steady, the state is expecting to find up to 10 more cases a day for the rest of the month as college students come back.

"Many of these students are returning from areas of the country with a higher disease prevalence than Vermont. This combined with the robust testing schedule means we are likely to see higher case counts over the next three weeks," Pieciak said.

But despite new cases predicted to show up with the returning students, the state's data modeling experts say our hospital system-- if needed-- could handle more people, pointing to the 30% buffer and the fact that many of the new cases are likely to be among younger people.

"With college kids-- younger, healthier generally-- less likely to have severe illness, less likely to need hospital care," Pieciak explained.

We asked for an update on the state's surge sites set up to handle any influx in cases this spring. They went basically unused and some were dismantled. Only two are still in place in Essex and in Rutland. But both are not staffed.

When we asked about pop-up testing and whether that would continue this fall, Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, and Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine both said they envision it continuing. Levine said the pop-up sites are a resource for people who are asymptomatic and who need a test. If you have symptoms, they want you to contact your doctor.

When asked about meeting the demand in populous areas like Chittenden County, Levine said they have started to increase capacity slightly at the pop-up sites but not too much.

“What we have to be protective of with the pop-up sites is not that we don’t have people to collect the specimens, we want to make sure that we have timely turnaround of the specimen result,” Levine said.

The health commissioner was also asked about the reliability of saliva testing and whether he would support its use for detecting COVID-19. Levine said he has a team looking at that right now and if it’s effective, using it may be a reasonable strategy.

You can watch Friday’s news briefing below.

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