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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Test Kits, School Guidance And Insurance: State Eyes Coronavirus Measures

A man at a podium and several people standing behind him.
Liam Elder-Connors
VPR File
Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine at a press conference on Thursday. Levine said there are still no cases of COVID-19 in the state, but he expects eventually there will be.

Officials from across state government are preparing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The number of cases in the United States has risen quickly this week and 10 people have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far no one has tested positive for the disease in Vermont, but every bordering state as well as the province of Quebec has confirmed at least one case.

Click here for VPR's coronavirus coverage

As of Thursday afternoon, five people have tested negative for COVID-19 in Vermont and the state is currently waiting for tests results from seven people, said Health Commissioner Mark Levine at a press conference Thursday.

Levine expects Vermont will have cases of the disease and the majority of them will be mild.

“Greater than 80% of the humans that have contracted the virus have had what would be termed a mild or moderate illness,” he said. “Certainly not one requiring hospitalization.”

Symptoms include fever and a dry cough and in more serious cases, shortness of breath. The health department says people should practice preventive measures, like washing their hands, covering their mouth when they cough and staying away from sick people.

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The state currently has 250 test kits for COVID-19 and they're expecting to get more next week according to state epidemiologist Patsy Kelso.

“Right now our lab has the personnel capacity to do plenty of tests,” Kelso said. “We could do 26 every day if we had that many to test and by next week we think we'll be able to do over 50 a day and then more beyond that.”

All tests are being conducted by the state, and it takes about 24 hours to get results back.

The health department has instituted a new, broader policy for conducting tests for COVID-19.  Now, individuals who aren’t hospitalized but have symptoms and a history of travel to countries with the virus or exposure to an infected person will be tested.

The department is also asking Vermonters who have visited certain countries affected by coronavirus to follow CDC guidance and stay at home for 14 days to limit the spread of the disease. Those countries are: Italy, Iran, South Korea and China.

Travelers who have recently been to Japan should monitor their health for 14 days, but do not have to self-isolate, the department said.

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Other state agencies are making preparations for the potential of confirmed cases as well.

The Agency of Education, working with the health department, has issued guidance to schools about prevention measures and it's currently drafting guidance on school closures.

“We do not believe school closures are necessary at this time,” said Dan French, the Secretary of Education. “Our forthcoming guidance will address how the decision to close the school will be made and if such a decision becomes necessary.”

The Agency of Health and Human Services is exploring ways to make sure people on Medicaid or private insurance aren’t charged a copay for anything related to the new coronavirus, said HHS Secretary Mike Smith.

Gov. Phil Scott has also formed an inter-agency task force to develop a COVID-19 response plan. The task force, which met for the first time on Thursday, is made up of a number of groups, including the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Health and the Vermont National Guard.

Earlier this week, New Hampshire reported a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical employeetested positive for COVID-19. The employee defied advice to quarantine and attended a party in White River Junction last week.

The Vermont Department of Health is working with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services to track down the people who attended the party in White River Junction and monitor any potential cases of COVID-19.

Another Dartmouth business student who attended that party has since developed flu-like symptoms and is self-isolating. The Tuck School of Buisness at Dartmouth canceled classes Thursday, the last day of term. Core class exams will be offered online.

Spring term is expected to begin the week of March 23, as scheduled.

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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