Does the data show Vermont should reopen faster?

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Four new test-confirmed cases of coronavirus in Vermont brought our total up to 866 on Thursday. Of the 15,000+ tests conducted in Vermont, just 5% have come back positive. Of those who tested positive, 5% have died.

That data marks yet another day where Vermont's increase in cases has been in single digits.

Meanwhile, unemployment claims are in the thousands and the state is looking at hundreds of millions of dollars in financial losses.

Three times a week or more we hear state officials tell us they're going to use the data and science to make their decisions. But as more data comes out, more people are now questioning whether the state's numbers justify the continued economic and social shutdown.

"I think in hindsight we're going to look back at this and say, 'Wow, that got out of hand quick,'" said Aimee Stephenson of Burlington.

Stephenson wrote to WCAX News frustrated. She has a doctorate in microbiology and says in the early days of the coronavirus, closing businesses and restricting movements might have been justified because so much was unknown. But she says now we know the disease isn't fatal for most people and most didn't even need hospital care.

She says the state's own data shows Vermont has never even come close to needing its surge sites because we aren't exceeding our health care system's capacity.

"The original rationale was to flatten the curve. So, if we don't have a hospital capacity issue, that is the metric we should be looking at," Stephenson said.

Flattening the curve so that our hospitals wouldn't be overwhelmed was the mantra from state officials early on. We heard it from the health commissioner, the governor and the emergency management director.

"Really our strategy here is to ensure that we can protect the integrity of the health care system," Vt. Emergency Management Director Erica Bornemann said on March 11.

We asked Wednesday what the state's focus is now. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine told us not overwhelming the health care system is still one of those goals. But he says, right now, the state also has a goal of trying to maintain our low viral activity.

"We do want to keep this period of suppression going for a very, very long time," Levine said. "So that if a vaccine gets developed and it's effective and safe to use on the population, we all have the opportunity to receive that vaccine without having gotten to the point where we were severely ill with COVID in the first place."

Stephenson says a vaccine will take a while to develop. And in the meantime, it leaves Vermont more vulnerable to a second wave of the virus because we haven't built up much herd immunity.

"That's the only way in the near future, without a vaccine, that we're going to protect all Vermonters from COVID including our most vulnerable," she said. "The restrictions and the lockdown are just placing a false sense of security on the situation."

What does she want to see happen? She wants to see state officials open the spigot faster.