On May 5, 2020

How mitigation measures worked to keep cases, deaths lower than projected

By Polly Mikula

Since the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Vermont on March 7, Governor Phil Scott and his administration has taken swift action to shore up the necessary supplies  for testing and treatment, expand medical facilities to handle a surge of patients should demand overtake hospital capacity, and implement mitigation measures for social distancing to flatten the curve of infection.

Although, at first, testing was not widely available and hospitals and clinics had to ration personal protective equipment (PPE), the governor and his team worked creatively and successfully to increase supplies and got them both faster and in greater quantity than neighboring states.

By the end of March anyone with symptoms of Covid-19 could get a test, via their primary care doctor’s recommendation.

While supplies of PPE were still being rationed to some extent  at the end of April —Rutland Regional Medical Center continued to reuse N-95 masks after putting them in paper bags for five days to disinfect, (FAQs page 5)—the state reported that within weeks of the first confirmed case it had enough supply to get through the highest projected surge.

But perhaps the most effective measures that Scott took were the mitigation measures he put in place by executive order.

On March 13, he declared a State of Emergency, but started mitigation orders slowly by limiting non-essential public gatherings to 250 or less at first. (He then decreased that number every few days until the max was set to 10 on March 21.)

The closure of Pre-K-12 schools on March 15 was the first of many that required major life adjustments for many Vermonters.

Bars and restaurants were next to close on  March 16.

On March 21 he ordered the closure of close-contact businesses, followed on March 24 by the stricter “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, which closed all in-person operations for all non-essential businesses and directed Vermonters to stay at home, leaving only for essential reasons, critical to health and safety.

On April 10 he extended the State of Emergency declaration and all subsequent mitigation measures through May 15. (See detailed time line on page 3.)

“I need all Vermonters to understand that the more quickly and closely we follow these stay-at-home measures, the faster and safer we can get through this and get our daily lives, and our economy, moving again. I have tremendous faith in Vermonters and our ability to follow these guidelines, to save lives and support each other throughout – even as we are physical separated,” Scott said.

“Vermonters are literally saving hundreds of lives by staying home,” Scott reminded his constituents frequently.

“We will continue to watch the trends, and as soon as the data shows a downward trend, we can open the spigot, a quarter turn at a time, to get folks back to work in a way that’s responsible and safe. Please know, I will work every hour of every day, for as long as it takes, to see Vermont through this and to help rebuild stronger than we were before.”

Phased reopening

The April 10 extension order, however, authorizes lodging operators to accept reservations for stays and events occurring on June 15 or later.

Next, on April 17, Scott announced a phased restart of the economy, allowing small crews/offices of one-two people to reopen on April 20 and for retailers to open for delivery and curb-side service. It also allowed farmers’ markets to open May 1.

Scott announced that more measures would be relaxed each Friday so long as the positive trends continued.

Scott emphasized that reopening was only possible because the mitigation measures had worked to slow the expected spread of the virus.

Specifically, the state’s modeling at that time showed the growth rate in new cases had averaged below 4% for the last 12 days, the rate at which cases double had slowed dramatically, and the number of people requiring hospitalizations remained stable.

“We’re seeing some promising results and continue to trend below even the best-case scenarios predicted in recent forecasting,” said Scott.

The governor’s measured, phased approach to reopen the economy balances the need to improve overall social and economic wellbeing with the need to prevent a resurgence of Covid-19 outbreaks.

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