Panda Shidler, a nurse from southern Mississippi in Vermont through a FEMA program, cares for a patient at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center last month.

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BENNINGTON — In a push to increase the number of COVID-19 vaccinations in the region and protect especially young Vermonters from the virus, the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center will hold a pediatric vaccination clinic on Jan. 28 from 1 to 5 p.m. for children ages 5 to 11 at the hospital’s COVID-19 Resource Center.

Although hospitalizations statewide are hitting record numbers — 115 on Thursday, 27 in intensive care units — SVMC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Trey Dobson said his hospital has not seen that increase. In fact, he said, COVID-related admissions have plateaued over the past seven days. Eight of the 10 intensive care beds are filled, although not all with COVID patients.

“We are faring fairly well,” he said. Dobson said this region has a high vaccination rate, and while the number of COVID cases in and around Bennington County is relatively high compared to other areas of the state, many of those cases are fairly mild and do not require a hospital stay.

Another factor driving the area’s high case count is the easy access to testing. SVMC’s COVID-19 Resource Center is open for testing six days a week. The more people who are tested, the more positive results will be recorded.

“A lot of places don’t have access to that” level of testing, he said.

Dobson said SVMC has seen 15 to 20 deaths over the course of the pandemic. He said additional COVID patients were likely transferred to other hospitals because of medical complications, and passed away there. Across the state, more than 500 Vermonters have died from COVID-19, the Health Department reported.

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Dobson said that although hospitalizations have held steady at SVMC in recent days, the staff is still feeling the strain. He said 40 staff were out at one point recently, testing positive for the virus, adding, “That’s a lot.” He said the level of staffing at any given moment is tenuous.

But, he said, “They are strong. They are committed.” The good news, he added, is those who have recovered from the virus, and met the COVID protocols after a positive test, are returning to work. And four of the initial 11 American Medical Response emergency management techs and paramedics who arrived from around the country in December to help out at SVMC extended their stay and are still on site, with the other seven heading to assignments elsewhere in the U.S.

Staff safety is a priority. “We support each other … me too, I’m a staff member, too.”

Case counts throughout Vermont have begun to decline after hitting record highs of over 2,000 per day. However, hospitalizations lag behind positive cases by between 14 and 28 days, so it will take that long before SVMC knows the impact of current case trends. That uncertainty is difficult, Dobson said. If he knew hospitalizations would climb or fall in the coming weeks, “I could plan for it.”

Still, with cases declining, “There is a sense of hope. There is a sense that the staff are proud of what they are doing and appreciate the community support.”

{span}SVMC has deployed an online tool to facilitate community members sending meals to frontline staff during the COVID-19 crisis in partnership with the Southwestern Vermont Chamber and their food, dining and restaurant members. Community members can visit {/span}{span} and volunteer to purchase a meal for as few as two staff people or as many as 25 staff people. R{span}estaurants will make “no-contact” deliveries to SVMC in Bennington, the Centers for Living and Rehabilitation in Bennington, and the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Hoosick Falls, N.Y.{/span}{/span}


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