BENNINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont's first suspected coronavirus case has been identified in an adult male patient in Bennington County and confirmation from the CDC is expected on Monday.
The man was admitted Thursday and immediately placed in isolation in a negative-pressure room at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. He is in critical condition as of Sunday.
Hospital officials tell WCAX News that eight hospital staff members have been asked to self-quarantine at home, after coming in contact with the patient. The infected patient did not make contact with other patients at SVMC.
Dr. Adam Cohen of the hospital says staff are following safety protocol and are working to prevent the virus from spreading.
"Everyone is being put in a mask right away, and then brought back to a treatment area in the emergency department. All of our staff are pretty well rehearsed at this point on how to apply personal protective gear to ensure that they're not being exposed," said Dr. Cohen.
Health officials are investigating the patient’s travel history and are conducting contact tracing for anyone who has been in close contact with the person. Those individuals will be assessed for their exposure risk and provided with guidance for testing, their health, and recommendations for self-isolation or other restrictions.
“Our thoughts are with this patient and for their recovery,” said Tom Dee, president and CEO of Southwestern Vermont Health Care. “The continued care and safety of our patients is of the utmost importance and, while we hoped the virus did not spread into Vermont, SVMC and the Department of Health have been preparing for when COVID-19 crossed our border.”
Dr. Cohen says there is no need for widespread concern in the Bennington community, but encourage residents to be cautious and aware.
"I think the most important thing is if you're experiencing mild symptoms and you are concerned about it, the first step should be to contact your primary care doctor and discuss what your next steps are. For most people, that's going to mean staying at home and waiting until you get better," said Dr. Cohen.
Those WCAX News spoke with in the community, are on heightened alert.
"[It's] really scary. I mean I could never imagine this happening this close," said Terry Volz of Bennington.
"I don't feel threatened. I must admit I'm a little nervous and apprehensive. I have a a men's clothing store so I deal with the public. You know if somebody comes in, you don't always know whether they're ill or not. So I'm a little apprehensive," said David Shaffe of Bennington.
To help prevent the spread of the virus to patients and staff, SVMC has started drive-up testing for COVID-19, which allows patients to remain in their cars.
Emergency Department staff wear personal protective equipment, swab patients in their cars, and remind patients to practice self-isolation until results are known.
Samples are sent to the Vermont State Lab for results, which typically arrive to the primary care provider within 72 hours. The State of Vermont is not charging for the test, and the patient will not incur charges.
Following Department of Health protocol, outpatients have been instructed to contact their health care providers if they have traveled internationally and have symptoms. Their provider will contact SVMC’s nurse designee in the emergency department, who will coordinate a time for the patient to drive to SVMC to be tested.
Officials say the hospital is safe and open for patients. Southwestern Vermont Health Care recommends everyday preventive actions to help decrease the spread of respiratory diseases.