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

Most COVID-19 Deaths Among Older, Chronically Ill Vermonters

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ORCA Media
Gov. Phil Scott at his thrice-weekly press conference on April 22. The health commissioner said most Vermont COVID-19 deaths were among older, chronically ill residents.

Most COVID-19 related deaths in Vermont were in older people with underlying medical conditions, according to new analysis by the state health department.

As of April 22, there were a total of 40 deaths in Vermont related to the new coronavirus. In its analysis, the health department looked at the state’s initial 29 fatalities and found that all but two were people above the age of 65.

In all the instances the health department examined, the person who died had underlying medical issues, said Health Commissioner Mark Levine.

“Some heart disease, some lung disease, some kidney disease, some immune-suppressing conditions, some obesity,” Levine said, listing off the conditions during the governor’s Wednesday press conference.

Levine said of the state’s initial 29 deaths, 13 occurred at long-term care facilities. Those patients’ ages ranged from 70 to 95. The median age among the state’s fatalities was 80 and the youngest person to die was 39, according to Levine.

The worst outbreaks of COVID-19 have occurred at two nursing homes in Burlington. More than 100 residents and staff between the two facilities have contracted the disease.

More From VPR: 'Losing Sleep, Worrying:' COVID-19 Sweeps Through Two Vermont Nursing Homes

In recent weeks, the state instituted universal testing at any long-term care facility where the virus was detected. During Wednesday’s press conference, Levine said the health department was working with the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention to pilot a more aggressive testing strategy.

"Continuing to take action to protect yourself and those around you is really still critical." — Health Commissioner Mark Levine

“That would actually take that facility that tests positive and [implement] even more frequent testing of the residents and staff in that facility after the time that [the virus] was discovered — more to come on that in the future,” Levine said.

Nationally, there has been a growing concern about the virus’ disproportionate impact on minority communities. About a third of all COVID-19 fatalities have been among African-Americans and many states have not released complete demographic data of coronavirus fatalities, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.

Levine said the state had demographic data for 26 of the 29 fatalities and that of those cases, 24 of the affected individuals were “white, non-Hispanic.”

COVID-19 cases slow

Overall, COVID-19 activity in the state appears to be trending downwards and health officials have expressed cautious optimism that Vermont could be at or even past its peak.

In recent days, there have been few new cases of COVID-19 reported. On Wednesday, there were only five positive tests, bringing the statewide total to 823.

But Levine said the health department’s analysis of deaths showed older and chronically ill Vermonters are still at risk for serious cases of the disease and he reminded people to stay home and wear cloth masks outside of the house.

“Continuing to take action to protect yourself and those around you is really still critical,” Levine said.

Reopening Vermont

During Wednesday’s press conference, Gov. Phil Scott did not announced any updates on whether more businesses will be allowed to open soon, but he did dismiss the idea of selectively allowing counties to re-open early.

"You might imagine if we were to say just the Northeast Kingdom were able to open up, we would have a mass of people coming to your communities...That would just create another hot spot." — Gov. Phil Scott

There are only 23 reported cases of COVID-19 among the three counties that make up the Northeast Kingdom, but Scott said orders to re-open the economy will be done at a statewide level.

“You might imagine if we were to say just the Northeast Kingdom were able to open up … we would have a mass of people … coming to your communities,” Scott said. “That would just create another hot spot.”

More From VPR: 'It's A Big Hit': Even With Federal Aid, Vermont Businesses Worry About Surviving COVID-19

Wednesday's press conference coincided with a small protest in Montpelier over Scott's stay-at-home order. About a dozen people gathered outside the statehouse to call on the governor to re-open to state's economy.

Scott has said drastic measures were needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Scott allowed some construction and landscape businesses to resume operations on Monday and he said he’ll slowly re-open businesses based on data and guidance from public health experts.


The governor said the state was also continuing to clear unemployment claims and has issued 46,000 payments over the last few days. He said the state was setting up a new call center Wednesday to help people file for unemployment benefits.

Vermont, like states around the county, has seen an unprecedented number of people file for unemployment since the pandemic hit. In Vermont, thousands of claims were stuck in limbo for thepast month.

More from VPR: Scott Promises Relief For Jobless Vermonters Snagged In Unemployment Backlog

While the state recently cleared tens of thousands of claims from its backlog, Scott said there may still be some bumps going forward.

“But we’ll face them and continue to put people over the process,” Scott said.

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