On Saturday, the state Department of Health reported 16 new cases of COVID-19, the largest single-day increase since the numbers have been released, with seven of the cases reported from the Burlington Health and Rehabilitation Center.
Vermont has reported two deaths from COVID-19, or novel coronavirus. One of them was a resident at BHR, who died Thursday.
Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, called the pandemic “perhaps the most complex public health event most Vermonters have experienced.”
“And I can’t repeat this enough: It is extremely important for all of us, young and old, to take extra care to help protect the people most vulnerable to serious illness: older Vermonters and people with chronic illnesses or who have impaired immunity,” Levine said.
The new cases reported on Saturday include two Franklin County men, both older than 80, who are hospitalized at Northwestern Vermont Medical Center in St. Albans; and a Windham County woman in her 50s hospitalized at Cheshire Medical Center in Brattleboro.
The remaining new cases, not from BHR, are a Chittenden County man in his 30s; a Chittenden County woman in her 40s; a Chittenden County woman in her 20s; an Addison County man in his 70s; a Windsor County man in his 70s; and a Windsor County woman in her 30s.
The seven new cases at BHR are a woman in her 60s; a woman in her 70s; two women older than 80; two men in their 70s; and a woman in her 70s.
Health department epidemiologists have been on site at BHR, and issued updated guidance for the facility and all long-term care facilities statewide with a known infection.
Health officials also have spoken with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. BHR has been following CDC guidance on treatment and isolation of COVID-19 patients since March 16.
The health department has prioritized identifying and testing any symptomatic patients and health care workers at the facility following the initial positive tests. The facility is checking the temperature of all staff before they enter the building and having employees who are symptomatic stay home.
In a statement, Levine said that all health department staff are “deeply concerned.”
“Unfortunately, this new coronavirus can be very serious, especially for vulnerable Vermonters, and we have seen long-term care facilities across the country struggle to contain the virus,” he said.
The health department's plan for residents include keeping residents and staff who test positive for COVID-19, or who have COVID-19 symptoms, at BHR unless they need to be hospitalized; discharging residents who are eligible and keeping them quarantined for 14 days if they show no symptoms; and urging quarantine for residents discharged in the last 14 days.
The plan for staff includes: requiring staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have symptoms to return or stay at home and follow CDC recommendations; restricting staff from entering other long-term care facilities or communal settings with groups at higher risk for COVID-19; submitting to an assessment from BHR of the employee's risk of exposure which may exclude employees from work for 14 days after their last exposure if appropriate; and continued use of stringent personal protective equipment and access control measures with twice a day temperature checks.
In a news release, health department officials advised care facilities to continue to take “aggressive measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 including checking the temperature of all staff before they enter the building and having employees that are symptomatic remain at home.”
Testing will continue to he prioritized for health care workers who are symptomatic, people who are hospitalized, residents of long-term care facilities, people who are immuno-compromised, and other high-risk groups.
In addition on Saturday, Gov. Phil Scott announced additional community mitigation measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In consultation with the Department of Health, the governor ordered the closure of gymnasiums, fitness centers and similar exercise facilities, hair salons and barbers, nail salons, spas and tattoo parlors no later than 8 p.m. on Monday, March 23.
“As I’ve said throughout this crisis, I will continue act to slow the spread of this virus in Vermont because we must protect those at greatest risk of serious illness and ensure they can get the care they need, when they need it,” said Scott. “We will continue to make decisions based on science and guidance from our experts. I don’t make these decisions lightly and my heart goes out to these workers and small business owners who are feeling the negative effects.”
For up-to-date information and guidance for staying healthy and preventing the spread of illness, go to: healthvermont.gov/covid19