COVID-19 Pandemic: 10. Vermont’s Public Health Impact

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Vermont’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was decisive in the lockdown phase and cautious in the reopening.  From a pure public health perspective, this would appear to have been the right course of action for the State to take.

One of the key challenges faced by the State of Vermont was its location in the northeast.  This article will discuss COVID-19 infection rates and death rates in Vermont, the states and provinces that surround Vermont and the states with the lowest rates in the country.  As will be clearly demonstrated, Vermont is surrounded by territories with some of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in North America.

Despite its high risk of exposure from neighboring states and provinces, Vermont has had one of the lower COVID-19 infection rates in the country.  The decisive actions taken by the State government, with the broad support of the population, must bear much of the credit for this outcome.

A Dangerous Neighborhood

As of July 11, Vermont had experienced 1,283 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 56 deaths.  As sad as this is for the individuals involved, it’s a good outcome for the population as a whole relative to most other states in the country.

The chart below compares Vermont with all the other New England states, New York State and the Province of Quebec with respect to coronavirus cases and deaths.

         Coronavirus Cases & Deaths per 100,000 People as of July 11 

Area Coronavirus Cases per 100,000 People Coronavirus Deaths per 100,000 People
USA 1003 42
     
Vermont 206 9
     
New York 2,087 165
Massachusetts 1,610 121
Rhode Island 1,633 92
Connecticut 1,326 122
Quebec, Canada 689 69
New Hampshire 443 29
Maine 263 8

Source:  Wikipedia and US Census Bureau

As indicated above, Vermont’s infection and death rates from coronavirus were only 21% a of the USA averages.  However, the states bordering or in close proximity to Vermont all had significantly higher infection and death rates.  New York, on Vermont’s western border, had 10x the infection rate and 18x the death rate of Vermont.   Even New Hampshire, with no urban centers the size of New York, Boston or Montreal, had 2.2x the infection rate and 3.22x the death rate.

Vermont’s experience with COVID-19 was more in line with those states with the lowest coronavirus infection rates, as follows:

                 States with Low Coronavirus Infection Rates July 11

State Coronavirus Cases per 100,000 People Coronavirus Deaths per 100,000 People
Vermont 206 8.8
Hawaii 83 1.3
Montana 157 2.7
Alaska 227 2.1
Wyoming 318 3.6

Source:  Wikipedia and US Census Bureau

How Bad is COVID-19?

USAFacts recently published a report on the causes of death in the USA (https://usafacts.org/articles/top-causes-death-united-states-heart-disease-cancer-and-covid-19/).  Over the full calendar year 2018, heart disease was the number one cause of death with a death rate of 163.6 per 100,000 people.  Cancer was number two at 149.1 per 100,000.  Accidents, including drug overdoses, was a distant number three at 48 per 100,000.  Flu and pneumonia on a combined basis were way down the list at 14.9 per 100,000.

The death rates for COVID-19 are only based on the last five months since the disease found its way to the USA.  The average USA death rate of 42 per 100,000 would already be the fourth highest cause of death, and this number will be much higher over a full twelve month period.  New York’s death rate of 164.6 per 100,000 would be the number one cause of death!  This number is also going higher over a full twelve month period.

So, in a very short period of time COVID-19 became a new and major cause of death in the USA despite massive government efforts to mitigate the spread.  Imagine COVID-19 unchecked by the government.

Big Regional Differences Within Vermont

While every county in Vermont experienced COVID-19 cases, the brunt of the damage was done in the Northwestern part of the state.  Chittenden County alone accounted for 51% of total cases and 70% of total deaths. When combined with Franklin County, these numbers go to 60% and 81%, respectively.

As of July 11, five counties in the state had no COVID-19 deaths at all.  Seven other counties had 3 or fewer deaths.  Orange, Grand Isle and Essex counties had only ten, ten and five coronavirus cases, respectively, and no deaths.

Summary

Unlike large and remote states such as Montana and Alaska, Vermont is located in a very precarious geographical position with respect to COVID-19 hotspots.  The State government has taken decisive actions to protect its citizens from the pandemic and it would appear these actions have greatly mitigated the spread of the disease in Vermont.  Indeed, it is easy to imagine a much worse healthcare outcome had the State taken a more reluctant or lenient approach to the pandemic.

While the healthcare outcomes have been good, the impact on the economy has been devastating.  The next article in The Informed Vermonter will take a look at the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Vermont.

 

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