At a press briefing Wednesday, Gov. Phil Scott said Vermonters can expect at least one more extension of the state of emergency order as he prepares to lay out his plans on Friday for getting people back to work.
“This may get harder before it gets easier, but as soon as the data shows a leveling and downward trend, then, and only then, will we open the spigot a quarter turn at a time to get folks back to work in a way that’s responsible and safe,” Scott said during his update on the state’s response to the coronavirus.
“I know this has taken tremendous sacrifice, and most of you just want to know when is this going to end, when is life going to get back to normal,” he said.
Accompanied by Health Department Commissioner Mark Levine and Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith, the governor said the cases and deaths related to COVID-19 are “tracking at a rate lower than originally projected.”
The number of coronavirus deaths in Vermont is holding steady at 23. The state now estimates that the total number of deaths in this first wave of the pandemic will range between 44 and 100. Scott said the forecast could have been as high as 1,000 if he had not issued orders shutting down businesses, limiting public meetings and requiring individuals to stay at home to help limit the spread.
This comes as the Vermont Department of Labor is set to release a jobs report Thursday that will show at least another 40,000 Vermonters have lost their jobs due to the governor’s shutdown orders in the past month.
Combined with the prior two week’s reports, the number of job losses is expected to reach around 60,000 — and that number may not include thousands more backlogged cases, as the DOL struggles to process a high volume of new claims for unemployment insurance.
Scott said by the end of the week the administration will provide updated statistics on the projections for the virus. He said this data will show some of the early projections for the virus may have been overestimated.
Levine also said real trends show the virus isn’t as severe as originally thought.
“It really does indicate that we are probably not heading towards what we would term a worst-case scenario,” he said. “In fact, the scenario may be even better than was originally thought.”
Like the governor, Levine was not quite ready to tell Vermonters they can get back to work and relax social distancing.
As of Tuesday, the state has administered 7,129 tests — 10 percent or less have turned out positive for the coronavirus.
Levine added that new rapid tests provided by the federal government would begin in days. The new tests developed by Abbott Laboratories involve 15 machines, each of which can carry out 120 rapid evaluations. The medical devices will allow for 1,800 tests to be conducted.
Vermont is not the only state to project more hospitalizations and deaths than have occurred so far. Early modeling of the pandemic forecast up to 2.2 million U.S. deaths from the coronavirus, but latest estimates from The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation have been revised down to 60,400. IHME originally estimated between 48,000 and 65,000 beds would be required for hospitalizations in New York by April 4, but when the date arrived the state needed fewer than 16,000.
A new study by the Imperial College in the U.K. estimates that when accounting for those who never get tested for the coronavirus, the death rate of the virus goes as low as 0.15 percent.
Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. reached 12,754 as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, between 24,000 and 63,000 Americans have died of seasonal flu since Oct. 1.