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While the Vermont Department of Health is reporting 217 new cases of COVID-19 in Bennington County in the past 14 days, the chief medical officer for Southwestern Vermont Medical Center said the hospital has not seen a marked increase in patients needing hospitalization. 

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BENNINGTON — While the Vermont Department of Health is reporting 217 new cases of COVID-19 in Bennington County in the past 14 days, the chief medical officer for Southwestern Vermont Medical Center said the hospital has not seen a marked increase in patients needing hospitalization.

“There definitely is increased prevalence” of the virus in the area, Dr. Trey Dobson said, adding the hospital’s internal testing data mirrors the results the state is reporting.

“What’s interesting is we’re not seeing a significant increase in patients. We are seeing a significant increase in positive tests,” Dobson said.

Inpatient volume has remained relatively constant, Dobson said, with a mild increase in patients presenting symptoms in outpatient settings, such as the emergency room and urgent care clinic. “Really it’s positive tests that have increased.”

To that end, Dobson recommends that people wear masks in public indoor settings where it’s not clear who’s vaccinated and who isn’t, “because the prevalence of virus is so high.” But in smaller groups of vaccinated people, “the risk is sufficiently low you don’t need to mask unless you’re immunocompromised.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting the county has a 4.41 percent positive test rate over the past seven days.

On Thursday, the Vermont Department of Health reported 314 new cases of COVID-19 in a day. The Health Department warned that an outside vendor’s computer glitch might have delayed the delivery of results, leading to totals greater than the actual number. But if it stands, it would set the record for the most cases in a day in Vermont, breaking the previous mark of 266 cases on March 31 of this year.

“At this time, we believe the issue has been resolved. We are therefore investigating whether or not the IT glitch and subsequent fix may have impacted today’s case count, as well as our previous days’ case counts,” the Health Department said.

“It is possible — but not confirmed — that we will see older tests come through over the next few days. We are actively working to assess the impacts, monitor the situation, and we will keep the public informed, including providing updated numbers, as we learn more,” the department said.

The state Health Department also reported two more deaths, for a total of 294 since the start of the pandemic. Vermont Interfaith Action will host a memorial service to honor all Vermonters lost to COVID at 3 p.m. Sunday on the Statehouse lawn in Montpelier.

Bennington County is reporting the fourth-most cases in the past 14 days, the Health Department reported. Chittenden County the state’s most populous, leads that category with 551 cases in the past 14 days, followed by Washington County with 207 cases and Rutland County with 246.

Windham County is reporting 155 new cases in the past 14 days, and nine new cases on Thursday.

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The good news, Dobson said, is “because we have such a high vaccination rate, our hospitalizations have not significantly increased. I think that’s important to calm to community.”

A second important point, Dobson said, is that children ages 5 to 11 get vaccinated once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves that step.

“About 50 percent of positive tests are coming from unvaccinated children. That is unbelievable compared to six months ago.”

While Dobson said it’s not a surprise that cases are on the rise given the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 and the return of unvaccinated children to school, the evidence suggests widespread transmission is not taking place in schools.

“While we are seeing transmission among families, particularly among children who are unvaccinated, I want to emphasize so far we are not seeing significant transmission at school,” Dobson said.

According to the state Health Department, 82.3 percent of eligible Bennington County residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. While Vermont remains among national leaders in vaccination, state officials are still promoting vaccination as the state’s best defense against the coronavirus.

Statewide figures from the Health Department website show a 3.2 percent seven-day average for positive COVID tests.

The increase in numbers led Lt. Gov. Molly Gray to call on the governor and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine to reconsider a statewide indoor masking mandate, until more progress can be made on vaccinating Vermonters who have not chosen to get the shot, until a vaccine is approved for children under 12, and until booster shots are available for adults. So far, Gov. Phil Scott has resisted reintroducing an emergency order that would allow for a new mask mandate.

“Because the current masking guidance is not yielding the outcomes intended ... we must take greater measures to protect Vermonters,” Gray said. “To that end, I have strongly encouraged Governor Scott and his administration to take steps to further clarify indoor masking and social distancing recommendations, and to consider steps necessary to issuing mask requirements or other measures critical to preventing spread and saving lives.”

“Under Governor Scott and Commissioner Levine’s leadership, Vermonters have proudly led the nation in pandemic response. I know that Vermont can continue to do so, but we must come together to protect our communities by taking additional measures at this time,” Gray said.

According to the nonprofit website CovidActNow.org, Bennington County’s risk level is “very high.” The website said the county has a daily new case rate of 48.7 per 100,000 people, an infection rate of 1.06 per 100,000, and a positive test rate of 5.2 percent per 100,000.

Testing and vaccinations are available at the SVMC’s COVID Resource Center, at 981 Mansion Dr., Bennington (the former campus of Southern Vermont College).


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