COVID spike triggers concern over Vermont hospital capacity

Published: Nov. 5, 2021 at 4:50 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A day after Vermont set a single-day COVID case record, Friday’s number of 377 was high enough for runner-up status. Because case counts are leading indicators of both hospitalization rates and deaths, state officials say they are closely monitoring the two-day trend.

Data shows up to 80% of Vermont’s hospitalizations are among the 53,000 eligible unvaccinated Vermonters. “We’ve seen the unvaccinated positives really increase, whereas the vaccinated has really stayed steady,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith.

Part of the reason for the higher case counts is more people are getting tested. This week saw near-record levels of tests conducted. Vermont is leading the nation in tests per capita, surpassing the second-highest state by 20%. But Governor Phil Scott says if cases stay this high, we could see hospitalizations top 80.

Vermont hospitals say they are already stressed. Administrators say unvaccinated coronavirus patients put an avoidable strain on the system. As of Wednesday, Vermont had just 11 open ICU beds across 14 acute care hospitals. “The challenges are becoming greater as we see unvaccinated COVID patients coming into our ICUs, because instead of staying three or four days, they’re staying 21 days,” said Dr. Gil Allen, chief of critical care at the UVM Medical Center.

But it’s not just COVID putting a strain on hospitals. Health officials say they’re also experiencing a perfect storm of a staffing crisis, deferred patient care, and mental health patients requiring a step-down facility. And should it continue, it could impact elective services

“If you are an unvaccinated person right now and you end up sick with COVID, you are occupying a bed that you didn’t have to occupy if you had gotten vaccinated -- that someone else needs if they were in a car accident, had a heart attack, or had advanced stages of cancer,” said Jeff Tieman with the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

Vermont is working on a plan to free up the hospital bed bottleneck by transferring non-COVID patients to rehab facilities. Officials say it’s beginning to pay off but they also say keeping hospital capacity down is in everyone’s hands. Smith says there’s a shared responsibility to get vaccinated and make smart decisions about masking and testing, especially when it comes to protecting older Vermonters. “The people that don’t want to do this -- we need to convince them to do it, and I think the best way to do that is educate them as we move forward,” he said.

Pharmacies, schools, and pediatricians on Friday began administering vaccinations for eligible children. Over 13,000 of the estimated 44,000 kids have signed up since Wednesday.

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