MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont is preparing to reopen and expand surge hospitals, which previously had been largely unneeded, after a spike in the number of new cases of the coronavirus.
Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday ordered the State Emergency Operations Center to carry out existing surge plans, including redeployment of field hospital sites by National Guard soldiers as a precautionary measure.
Between Oct. 27 and Tuesday, Vermont’s seven-day rolling average of new cases went up more than 43%, from almost 22.5 cases per day, to just over 32.1 cases per day. That figure does not include the new cases reported Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the state reported that 14 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, including six people in intensive care.
There have been 59 deaths in Vermont.
While the number of cases in Vermont is increasing, the state still has the lowest rate in the country of new COVID-19 cases per capita in the last 14 days.
A surge site in Essex Junction that had been reduced to 50 beds over the summer will be increased to 150 beds, with 250 additional beds in reserve. A field hospital trailer near Rutland is ready to expand from 50 to 100 beds.
Scott and other state officials are reiterating their calls for Vermonters to comply with virus guidance, including wearing masks, staying 6 feet (2 meters) apart, avoiding crowds and quarantining.
A number of the recent cases have been traced to social gatherings like baby showers, Halloween parties, deer camps and other small gatherings where masking and physical distance broke down.
“I understand that Vermonters feel fatigued from the pandemic, its impact on all of us and the sacrifices it has required,” Scott said in a statement. “As I have said throughout this pandemic, we all have to do our part to keep each other safe and we must continue to follow the public health practices."
In other coronavirus news in Vermont:
A federal food distribution program aimed at helping farmers and people in need during the coronavirus pandemic has been extended to the end of the year.
The Farmers to Families Food Box Program will hold distribution events daily at sites around Vermont starting Monday, John Sayles, chief executive officer of Vermont Foodbank, said Tuesday, the Times Argus reported.
When the program started, the USDA awarded the contract to the Enosburg Falls-based Abbey Group, but the last two rounds went to out-of-state companies.
Lancaster Foods, a Maryland company, was awarded a $4 million contract to supply over 97,000 boxes of food to Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, according to the USDA’s website. That follows the current contract, which went to Boston-based Costa Foods and Sysco, of Houston, to serve Vermont.
When the Abbey Group had the contract, much of the produce in the boxes was from local sources, but none of the food with the out-of-state companies has been from Vermont.
Working with Lancaster Foods, a large company that distributes food along the East Coast, has gone well, Sayles said.
“Obviously, we would have preferred to have a Vermont company and Vermont food, but they’ve been great to work with," he said. “They run trucks up to Vermont every day, they’re a supplier to grocery chains, so we’ll be able to get the boxes we need when we need them.”
NURSING HOME OUTBREAK
Eight patients and one staff member at a Rutland nursing home have tested positive for the coronavirus.
All residents, patients and staff members of the Rutland Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center were tested Sunday, and more testing will be done on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, Chief Medical Officer Richard Feifer said in an emailed statement.
Mayor David Allaire told the Rutland Herald that he had been briefed by state officials and that the outbreak appeared to be confined to the memory-care unit.
“I guess I would feel better once we had a better idea if we had any exposure outside the building,” he told the newspaper. “So far it appears contained to that unit.”