BENNINGTON — Another day, another COVID-19 case count record broken.
The Vermont Department of Health reported that 2,642 people tested positive for the virus on Saturday, breaking the previous single-day record of 2,188 set last week. Ninety-two people were hospitalized, 17 of them in intensive care units. The percent of positive cases hit 13.8 percent, up from 12.4 percent last week. The death total in Vermont is 483.
The case-count in Bennington County on Saturday earned the troubling distinction of highest in the state, even higher than the more populous Chittenden County. On Saturday, 309 people in Bennington County tested positive for COVID, 2,865 cases per 100,000 in the past 14 days – also the highest in the state.
In Windham County, 105 people tested positive on Saturday, with 1,443 cases per 100,000.
With significantly fewer people testing on Sunday, just over 1,000, the number of positive cases fell to 203, with 90 people hospitalized, 19 in the ICU. The percent of positive cases held steady at 13.8 percent. Bennington County saw 47 new positive cases on Sunday; Windham County reported 10.
“We see nationally, and here in Vermont, both a high prevalence of virus and a relatively high amount of surveillance testing. In other words, many people are asymptomatic and undergo testing for work, for being a close contact, for travel, or because they are concerned in general,” said Dr. Trey Dobson, chief medical officer at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington. “We know the prevalence is extremely high, with over 600,000 positive tests per day and increasing over the past 14 days.
“I am highly concerned about the next 30 days,” he added. “SVMC has prepared for an influx of patients to the best of our ability. Like all hospitals, there is a limit to the number of patients we can absorb. Resources and staff are finite. If the volume of individuals needing care exceeds our capacity, the standard of care will change by necessity.”
He said he is less concerned about the situation beyond mid-spring.
“There is a steep rise in virus transmission at present, and we will soon see a steep decline, as the virus will have few remaining individuals to infect,” Dobson said. “Vaccination, particularly with a booster, has proven highly effective against severe illness. COVID-19 will likely become a minor inconvenience to healthy, vaccinated individuals and remain a cause of severe illness and death to vulnerable people, just like influenza and other respiratory viruses.”
Dobson said when the prevalence of the virus is high, as we are experiencing now, surveillance testing is of little value. “The virus is nearly ubiquitous, with a 15 percent to 20 percent positive rate. So today’s test reflects today, and tomorrow, many additional people will test positive. Thus, surveillance testing is no longer as helpful in identifying and removing individuals as a tactic to limit spread.”
He said SVMC will likely shift its testing strategy, “reserving tests for those with symptoms and in limited surveillance testing, such as staff and visitors in skilled nursing facilities.”
In all, between March 5, 2020 and Jan. 5 of this year, 2,442 cases in the town of Bennington have been positive; 1,124 in Brattleboro; and 522 in Manchester.
Roughly 472,700 people have been fully vaccinated in Vermont, according to the Health Department. The breakthrough cases – those affecting vaccinated individuals – represent about 3.4 percent of the fully vaccinated population. Health officials have said repeatedly that the overwhelming majority of cases now, particularly severe cases, are occurring in the non-vaccinated population.