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Is COVID-19 claiming more lives in Vermont than originally thought?

(WCAX)
Published: Apr. 29, 2020 at 6:11 PM EDT
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Is COVID-19 claiming more lives than originally thought? New mortality data from the Vermont Department of Health shows an increase in deaths over previous months. Our Calvin Cutler reports.

Like in other states, many of Vermont's COVID-19 deaths have happened in skilled nursing and senior facilities such as Birchwood Terrace in Burlington. In March, there were 570 deaths in the state of Vermont stemming from a number of causes, which is an increase of about 70.

The disease hits people with underlying health conditions especially hard.

New questions regarding increased death rates and whether COVID-19 has claimed more lives than originally thought.

But what if the patient had COVID-19, passed away and then their underlying condition was determined as the cause of death? The Department of Health says they need to dig into the data.

"We're going to have to do a lot more investigation into that to really understand and give you the kind of answer that would be more data-driven and science-based," Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said.

Levine also says now that the pandemic is in full swing, the state is conducting more postmortem COVID-19 testing.

"When it's not obvious, the medical examiner has been quite liberal in making sure postmortem testing has been performed," Levine said.

Most of the state's COVID-19 deaths have occurred in skilled nursing and elder care facilities.

Levine says the state acted early enough and issued guidance restricting visitation on March 13.

Alecia Dimario, the executive director of Birchwood Terrace agrees, saying the state gave the right guidance at the right time.

"I think that the fact that there's only a handful of facilities in the state that have seen the impact we've had have shown that their interventions are successful," DiMario said.

DiMario also says the state's actions prevented widespread outbreaks in facilities across Vermont.

Gov. Phil Scott says when the coronavirus first made it to Vermont, the state didn't have widespread testing. But he says we're making progress and learning how best to fight the virus every day.

"There's no playbook on this and it's something that we learn from. In every crisis, in every emergency, whatever we do, we take whatever we learn from that event and do better in the future. I'm sure we'll learn a lot from this that we'll be able to utilize in the future, as well," said Scott, R-Vermont.

As we reboot our economy, state officials say longterm care facilities and senior homes will be some of the last to open because of how vulnerable they are.

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