Omicron forecast to cause major Vt. disruptions in coming weeks

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 5:18 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Delayed COVID numbers from Vermont Health officials released on Wednesday show the impact of the omicron wave that has yet to crest.

Officials say the updated numbers show more than 10,000 new COVID cases in just the last week. With infection rates forecast to reach upwards of 6,000 cases daily, the state is preparing for the impact of possible mass quarantines.

While omicron appears to be less severe than Delta, especially among fully-protected Vermonters, it’s spreading like wildfire. “Many are talking now about not if but when,” said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Tuesday.

Even with record-high case counts, leaders say many cases are going unreported. Fully vaccinated and boosted Vermonters are highly unlikely to experience a severe case, but Governor Phil Scott is concerned that with thousands testing positive and quarantining, it could have a major impact on schools and the broader workforce. “My concern is making sure that we provide for those essential services,” Scott said.

The governor stresses hospitalizations and deaths are driving public policy decisions. Hospital administrators are worried about the effect of widespread quarantines on staffing. “The next few weeks in Vermont are easily the most challenging of the pandemic so far,” said Jeff Tieman, president of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. He says the staffing shortage could have numerous consequences. “Postponing or canceling elective procedures, reassigning nurse leaders to work at the bedside, moving people to different units in the hospital, hiring travelers which is difficult and expensive.”

UVM Medical Center has more than 400 employees out from quarantines or exposure. Starting on Thursday the hospital is enacting an emergency staffing plan and reassigning staff to areas of high need. Hospital officials say they were unable to even comment on the changes because of staffing shortages.

Main Street Vermont is also bracing for more cases and potential exposures. Business groups are asking for patience as they prepare for the effect of quarantines. “This isn’t our first rodeo at this point,” said Cathy Davis president of the Lake Champlain Chamber.

She says those quarantining for at least five days could mean more remote work, potentially reduced store hours, or online shopping only. She says businesses and shoppers have the tools to pivot. “It will have a negative impact on our economy. The impact would not have been as negative as it would have been two years ago, and we’ve been through some of this already.”

Experts say the omicron wave is expected to peak in late January and then fall drastically in February.

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