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Levine offers perspective on Vermont's COVID-19 numbers

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Amid the spread of the coronavirus-caused disease known as COVID-19 in the United States, Vermont's health commissioner has said that while cases are going up, he doesn't see the increase as an indication that the state is "way behind" in its response.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Vermont Department of Health reported 321 positive test results of the 4,495 conducted, with 16 deaths.

The state has received truckloads of Personal Protective Equipment, and Vermonters are abiding by social distancing requirements set forth by Gov. Phil Scott, said Health Commissioner Mark Levine at a press conference on Wednesday.

"There are good things happening," he said.

But the state's cases of COVID-19 are increasing, and the country as a whole is in the acceleration phase of a pandemic of COVID-19.

There is a "distinct trend going in an upward direction" in the percentage of COVID-19 tests in Vermont that are positive, Levine said.

Now, it's in the 10-12 percent range, but early on, it was less than 5 percent, he said.

Levine said he expects to see more positive cases in Vermont, as the state has upped its testing.

Two additional COVID-19 testing sites have opened in Essex and Grand Isle counties to provide Vermonters with as broad access to testing as possible, according to the Health Department's daily update on Wednesday.

The sites are located at the Island Pond Health Center in Island Pond and at the Champlain Islands Health Center in South Hero. Everyone must have a referral from their provider to be tested, and patients who aren't experiencing symptoms won't be tested.

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Levine recently announced that the Health Department was updating its guidelines to allow more latitude in testing.

Levine said at the press conference that he'd like to remind people that the state wants to test people "in a much more expansive way."

That's to make sure that those who have the condition know they have it, so they can isolate appropriately, and so those who have been in contact with people who have the disease can understand their level of risk, he said.

Levine said he had been concerned about the state having enough testing supplies, until later last week.

He said he is now satisfied that the state has what it needs for testing resources, including testing people who are symptomatic, but not severely ill.

"That's the group we really want to capture here," he said. "That will really help us as we begin to understand where we are in the trajectory."

It is possible, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to transmit COVID-19 when one doesn't have symptoms yet, Levine said.

"There's about a 48-hour period before symptoms might appear that someone might be capable of transmitting the disease," he said. "The more important message is that social distancing is really now more important than ever."

Scott, like many state governors across the country, has imposed strict social distancing requirements in recent weeks as COVID-19 has spread, including ordering schools, restaurants, bars and many businesses to close and directing citizens to stay in their homes, leaving only for essential reasons like food, medicine or essential work.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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