Vt. ICU capacity stable ahead of expected omicron peak

Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 5:57 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - COVID hospitalizations hit triple digits in Vermont this week with the flood of omicron cases continuing to burden facilities already stressed from staffing shortages.

At Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, officials say staff is managing the surge, which is not expected to crest for at least two weeks. “Everyone knows there’s only so much we can do, and we will do that extremely well. But if that exceeds our capacity, then standards of care will have to change,” said the hospital’s Dr. Trey Tobson.

Out of the 100 hospitalizations reported Friday, state health officials estimate up to half are people checking into the hospital for other reasons and test positive when they arrive. Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says the state is looking to disaggregate that data starting next week, but that it’s not always clear cut. “They can also have underlying medical diseases that were doing well until they contracted COVID and the stress of things precipitated the admission,” he said.

But while the state hit a new record for hospitalizations Monday of 101, it’s still not seeing record levels in the ICU. Levine says there are 23 people as of Friday and another 16 beds open statewide. But Levine and other health officials say “a positive is a positive,” and dealing with quarantines, donning PPE, and other COVID protocols still put a strain on staff.

“You have to take a bunch of measures in the hospital to make sure you don’t spread the virus from that person who’s infected, to the vulnerable person who’s in the next room. It still adds to the strain even if they aren’t wicked sick,” said UVM Medical Center’s Dr. Tim Lahey.

The next few weeks of omicron will likely be the most challenging yet for closures and disruptions. Levine says that inflection point -- combined with the state’s high vaccination rate and natural immunity -- could bring us one step closer to ending the pandemic. “That combination will put us on the pathway to when this is endemic, when it’s part of what we live through year-to-year, like the flu,” he said.

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