Vermont doctors warn of perfect COVID storm in coming weeks

Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 4:33 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - As COVID cases continue to surge throughout Vermont, doctors are warning the next few weeks could put the health care system under severe stress.

At the UVM Medical Center, they say every major service is beyond capacity as a perfect storm of staffing, holidays and a new variant in omicron has brought challenges.

After a brief and subtle lull in cases, hospitals are once again busy reflecting the surge of omicron in the population.

“People aren’t seeing quite as many ICU cases as with previous variants. We are hoping that is the silver lining to the dark cloud, that our hospital is well beyond capacity for yet another year,” said Dr. Tim Lahey, an infectious disease specialist at the UVM Medical Center.

Lahey says they are getting ready for a difficult four to six weeks.

COVID is infecting vaccinated and unvaccinated people quickly around the state, which now has a 12.6% positivity rate.

Over the last seven days, cases in people who are not fully vaccinated have increased 64%, while fully vaccinated cases have increased 119%.

“If you’re unmasked in a room with somebody outside of your household, you should expect that you may have been exposed to COVID. In the age of omicron, that likelihood of exposure just went way up,” Lahey said.

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine agrees, saying people should be wary of getting the virus, instead of being steadfast on the old exposure rule of six feet for more than 15 minutes.

“The rules about how much time you need to be exposed to someone and how much distance doesn’t apply so much when we are in a time of a surge of a very transmissible virus,” Levine said.

The rapid spread of omicron is also impacting the number of medical workers available for duty.

“With growing infections, you have a growing number of people getting COVID. That could mean a partner who has to stay home with a sick child or a parent who has to quarantine themselves or just individuals who are exposed and can’t go to work. And that will diminish our supply of health care workers at a time when they really need them,” said Jeff Tieman of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

Vermont state data suggests the surge is still continuing as omicron is now likely 82% of cases in New England per the CDC.

Vermont reported 2,711 more cases this week as compared to last week.

Hospitals continue to see far more unvaccinated people getting the sickest and dying, although Lahey says some data is pointing to the fact omicron could be producing fewer ICU cases.

He says the next four to six weeks are going to be tough with soaring cases and losing more Vermonters.

However, he hopes there is a silver lining that with Vermont’s high vaccination rate and more people gaining immunity that the springtime will be easier.

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