BENNINGTON — A little over 10 months after the pandemic hit Vermont, Bennington County has recorded the largest coronavirus spread among Vermont counties.
On Wednesday, the state health department reported that since March, the county has seen 229.6 coronavirus cases per 10,000 residents. It overtook Chittenden County, which had 223.3 cases per 10,000 residents — making the COVID-19 infections in Bennington County the most widespread within a county’s population.
On Thursday, Bennington County’s cumulative case rate inched higher to 234.9 cases per 10,000 residents.
“Unless you’re getting a big outbreak, it’s a reflection of the amount of virus that’s circulating in the area,” said Vermont health department spokesman Ben Truman.
He said there are a couple of active outbreaks in the county, but the numbers are so small he can’t identify the location to protect the privacy of the affected individuals.
What factors have led to the county’s having the highest cumulative infection rate at this point isn’t clear, Truman said, but added that the figure is affected by the COVID-19 clusters and outbreaks that the county has seen since the start of the pandemic.
The county — along with the rest of the state — has seen an uptick in cases since the holiday season following multifamily gatherings and interstate travel. Recent local outbreaks have included those at the Bennington Police Department and the Vermont Veterans’ Home.
The Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, in Bennington, said it has been closely watching the statewide rise in infections but hasn’t seen an alarming trend.
SVMC has been treating more COVID-19 patients since around late November, but this hasn’t strained hospital resources, said SVMC’s chief medical officer, Dr. Trey Dobson. To help suppress the virus’s spread, the hospital has tightened its visitor policy since November.
Dobson said it’s important to look at the latest COVID-19 incidents in order to plan ahead. This means the health department’s 14-day total per county, where Bennington County had 252 cases on Thursday. On this metric, it stood at No. 3, behind Chittenden County (712 cases) and Windsor County (261 cases).
To put Bennington County’s high cumulative infection rate in context, Dobson said even a slight increase in positive cases can offset the rate because of Vermont’s small local populations.
But he acknowledged that interstate travel for business or leisure helps transmit the virus, as well as not social distancing or wearing a mask. Young people, the doctor said, can be more vigilant in taking precautionary measures.
“A lot of folks that are more vulnerable are actually doing much better at distancing and mask wearing, so it is the younger population that’s driving those numbers.”