Local modeling

Reporter debrief: State modeling shows COVID cases, hospitalizations starting to drop

Governor Phil Scott and members of his cabinet provided updates Tuesday, Jan. 25 on the state’s current response to the pandemic.

They touched on the state of Vermont hospitals at this point in the pandemic, recent changes to school coronavirus guidelines, and the availability of home testing.

This is when key indicators show that the omicron surge may be calming down in Vermont.

Vermont Edition Connor Cyrus spoke with reporter Lexi Krupp about the takeaways from the press conference. Their conversation is below and has been edited for clarity.

Connor Cyrus: So Lexi, there’s a lot to dig into from today on schools and testing supplies. But before we talk about that, what is the status of COVID-19 and the omicron variant in Vermont today? And how do things like cases and hospitalizations evolve?

Lexi Krupp: So cases are down in the northeast and across the state. We have data from Burlington sewage showing decreased viral loads, so it’s not just related to testing.

And hospitalizations for COVID are still among the highest they have been throughout the pandemic. But they are starting to drop a bit. And trends in hospitalizations in Vermont – you know, among those hospitalized people, we continue to see older Vermonters, even if they are vaccinated, who make up the bulk of Vermont hospitalizations going forward.

What the state modeling for the pandemic shows is that, you know, if you look at New York and Connecticut, they’re starting to see hospitalizations go down. And Vermont should follow, you know, maybe a week behind them.

The governor and his administration, what do they think of hospitalizations? Is this something that concerns them?

You know, I think they feel like the hospitals in the state can handle the COVID patients that are going to be coming in, that we know we’re going to be coming in over the next few weeks and that the hospitals in the state are going to be able to provide the normal services that they usually do, you know, people who come to the emergency room for heart attacks or whatever.

So yeah, I think they feel like things aren’t going well, but we’re going to be able to get through this. And part of that is also getting help from FEMA workers, nurses and paramedics…those staff members are still at two hospitals. There are also National Guard personnel at several hospitals across the state who help clean patient rooms or admit patients, you know, to the hospital. So there is more help for our health care system.

Watch the Scott administration’s Jan. 25 press conference below, courtesy of ORCA Media:

Press Conference – Weekly Update from Governor Scott and Administration Officials 01/25/2022

There is help for them. But one place where I think a lot of people look for help is teachers and schools. And there is a lot of confusion about the guidance for schools, why they changed earlier this month and what they are.

Lexi, could you explain to us what we heard today from Education Secretary Dan French about school guidance and why that has changed?

Yes, so this reiterates what was announced a few weeks ago, Test to Stay has been moved to a home testing model. The tests are therefore done with the families, not so much in the schools.

And then there’s been a change in who’s considered a close contact, trying to make it simpler how things work so school nurses don’t have to, you know, kind of make those laborious lists of who was close of that for that amount of time. They simply say that any child in someone’s class who has tested positive is considered a close contract.

You know, secretary Dan French said this change was a necessary evolution of our testing. He said the timing was not ideal or even good. But he just, you know, said it had to happen because of what we’re seeing with omicron. It’s so much more transferable. And what we were doing before really wasn’t working.

The Test to Stay program has become a home test, which has put a lot of pressure on parents to ensure children test negative if they were a close contact.

It has also put pressure on schools to distribute these home test kits. We have heard that several schools and school districts are lacking in testing. How are the schools and what is the next step, if there are no tests?

So it was interesting, you know, secretary Dan French said there should be enough tests for schools. But that’s just not really what we hear on the pitch.

And the schools are still, I should add, continuing to struggle with, you know, can they have staff, do they have enough staff to keep the schools running safely?

You know, last week we saw a K-8 school in St. Johnsbury say they didn’t and they had to close the school on Friday. Schools still have a lot of trouble. But one thing I’ve heard in my reports is that this change to simplify contact tracing has been helpful.

More RVPs: Step inside this elementary school in Island Pond as it tries to stay on top of COVID protocols

Now let’s take a step back from the schools. What’s going on with these home antigen tests? How many of them have passed out and does the state expect to receive more? I mean, this seems like one of those lingering issues, how do I get my hands on a test? So what do we know about these?

So we’ve heard that the state and federal government have been distributing numerous tests, one million rapid tests have been distributed in the state since December. And nearly 200,000 tests have gone to schools and daycare centers in recent weeks.

We’ve heard Governor Phil Scott say he’s been on the phone with the CEOs of some of these testing companies trying to make sure Vermont gets its fair share of rapid testing. In particular, as you know, we’ve seen this huge push from the federal government to be able to mail out tests to anyone who registered online.

So rapid testing continues to be an issue, supply continues to be an issue.

Lexi Krupp is a corps member of Report for America, a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues and regions.

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