Hospital officials say patients with COVID-19 are not as big a problem for them as staffers with the coronavirus.
Vermont set a new record with 101 people hospitalized for COVID at the beginning of the week. By Friday that number was still at 100, with 24 individuals in intensive care units. The state saw 2,295 new cases on Friday with a two-week total of 11,619.
The state’s death toll since the start of the pandemic is now 493.
“The volume of cases — a year ago I would have been saying ‘the sky was falling,’” said Dr. Rick Hildebrant, Rutland Regional Medical Center’s chief medical information officer and medical director of hospital medicine. “Now, this seems manageable because we’ve become accustomed to this. ... Space is not the problem.”
Staffing is the problem, Hildrebant said. So many medical professionals have contracted COVID, some hospitals in the state have declared a “crisis,” he said. RRMC has managed by adjusting isolation protocols for staff in light of newer Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance and by taking other steps, including having middle managers work clinical shifts.
“The federal government has deployed health care workers to Vermont hospitals to help with the staffing issues, and the state has contracted with a traveling nurse company to provide more nursing assistance,” Vermont Emergency Management Director Erica Bornemann wrote in an email. “We continue to work with the National Guard and other resources to assess how to support hospitals’ staffing needs.”
The toll continues to be taken in other sectors of the state, as well.
As the recent surge in cases continued, Castleton University announced this week it will begin its spring semester online when classes resume Tuesday.
“Our goal is to preserve the safety of our community while also minimizing disruptions to University operations and your campus experience,” university officials stated in a message to the school community on Thursday.
School representative James Lambert said delaying the start of in-person classes allowed the school to “build up to our full campus population density as we anticipate some students will now arrive at different times.”
While all traditional classroom courses will be remote, Lambert said some field experiences — such as teaching, internships and clinicals — will be in-person, if allowed by partner agencies. Daily operations on campus will continue to be in person, according to school officials. All university offices and services will be open, as will residence halls and the dining hall. In-person learning is slated to resume on Jan. 24.
Athletic events will continue to be held, however, spectators will not be admitted during the first week of the semester.
“Students can choose whether to return to campus as originally planned or delay a return closer to when classes transition to in-person,” Lambert wrote in a Thursday email.
Lambert added that Castleton plans to require the COVID-19 booster shots for students, faculty and staff, however, he said the school will need to evaluate how Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision could impact those plans.
On Thursday, the court blocked President Joe Biden’s vaccine and testing mandate for large businesses.
Elsewhere in the state, Northern Vermont University is requiring all students to have had a booster shot by Feb. 1 or within 14 days of when they become eligible for one.
Colleges around the state each seem to have their own protocols and guidelines for students’ return to classes from the holiday break.
Health professionals continue to urge those who have not yet been vaccinated or boosted to do so.
“The determination of how sick you are is absolutely your vaccination status,” Hildebrant said.
For people who were initially vaccinated and then got a booster shot, Hildebrant said, COVID tends to be like a cold.
“They’re getting a runny nose and a sore throat,” he said. “People who are vaccinated and not boosted, they’re getting sicker. Those who have had nothing, they’re the ones in our intensive care unit.”
Staff writer Jim Sabataso contributed to this report.