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Vermont hospitals hit new post-Thanksgiving COVID peak

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 9:34 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 8, 2021 at 5:26 AM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A post-Thanksgiving COVID surge continues to stress Vermont hospitals and state officials say they expect to see continued elevated case counts for the remainder of the month.

The post-Thanksgiving delta spike in Vermont continues to fill up the state’s hospitals. There are currently 90 people in hospitals, with 31 of them in the ICU -- a 24 percent increase in ICU patients since last week.

Officials Tuesday reported a 31 percent increase in COVID cases over the last two weeks, with the highest number of infections in those under 49. They say the high numbers are driven by Thanksgiving gatherings and some of the highest per capita testing in the U.S. “Make no mistake about it, this is a true post-Thanksgiving surge,” said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

Health officials said that there were just 11 ICU beds available statewide on Tuesday out of about 100 that are normally available. They say 90% of the COVID cases in the ICU are among the unvaccinated. Half of those in the ICU are over 60. Revised data shows unvaccinated Vermonters are 15 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who are fully vaccinated and boosted. “It continues to show the strengths of the first two doses but also shows the strength of your first two doses and the booster shot as well,” said DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak.

But even with a nation-leading booster response, ICU capacity remains a concern. The governor says they are looking to prevent hospitalizations, decompress patient load and expand capacity by continuing to urge vaccinations, masking, and treatment with monoclonal antibodies. They are also building capacity by opening new ICU beds in Franklin and Chittenden Counties and opening 80 non-ICU beds at rehab facilities and requesting FEMA help for EMTs to staff them.

“Everything we’ve done from the beginning is trying to focus on the hospitalizations, trying to increase the capacity to make sure our health care system is protected,” Governor Scott said.

While the state responds to cases and hospitalizations, it’s also expanding free at-home testing. Governor Scott directed the Department of Financial Regulation to issue an emergency order requiring private insurers to pay for at-home tests dating back to December 1. He said the tests are a key tool and an “important step to take during the holiday season.” The order is expected to benefit 140,000 Vermonters who can now get the free at-home test at their local pharmacy by showing their insurance card.

“You are going to see this type of testing continue and will be our main testing strategy in the future -- rapid results and take-home tests,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith.

Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements for testing are coming next month. Many pharmacies are seeing supply chain issues with the tests, so officials are hoping more will be available by the spring.

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