Vermont National Guard Builds Alternate Care Site, As COVID Cases Climb

The Air Guard and Army Guard collaborated on building an alternate medical facility at the Champlain Valley Expo

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Vermonters on Thursday paused to remember their neighbors who died with COVID-19, as the state recorded another death and a record number of new daily infections.

Flags flew at half-staff across the state on orders from Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, as they have been flying on the 19th of every month—marking the date Vermont's first deaths from the virus were recorded back in March.

The count of COVID-19-related deaths in Vermont as reported by the Vermont Department of Health stood at 61 Thursday, including the day's newly-reported death.

In a written statement, the governor sent his condolences to the loved ones of each of the people who passed away with COVID-19, and thanked the health care heroes who cared for them.

"Today, as we remember those we've lost, let's honor them by renewing our commitment to protect one another, to support one another and to listen to what the science and the data are telling us," the statement from Scott read in part. "If we do, we'll get through these difficult times faster, and recover stronger, than any other state."

The small state reported a daily record number of new infections Thursday—148.

Also Thursday, the Vermont Army and Air National Guard worked on building an alternate healthcare space at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction, which they'd like to see go unused.

"God forbid we actually need any bed space here," said Staff Sergeant Micah Erno of the Vermont Army National Guard.

The work is really a re-construction.

The Guard built pods in the spring, when COVID-19 was first surging in Vermont, then disassembled them when case numbers dropped.

Now that those numbers are on the rise again, the walls are going back up, too, forming nursing stations and room to potentially treat up to 200 non-COVID patients.

You can think of the facility as a pressure relief valve that could help preserve formal hospital space if the pandemic worsens.

"I hope people get that reassurance that there's a place to go if things escalate, which, of course, we all hope it doesn't," said Vermont Air National Guard Staff Sergeant Alex Arsenault.

In Vermont, like the rest of the country, COVID-19 cases are going up.

There's also a separate isolation area at the Expo for people with COVID-19.

The UVM Medical Center told NECN it appreciates having the resources nearby, adding that it learned so much about preparedness and needs back in the spring that it doesn't think it'll have to reopen its own overflow site.

The surge facility set up in the university gym complex in April never saw a single patient, according to UVMMC Vice President of Hospital Services Dawn LeBaron, because hospital capacity was never maxed out.

However, there is a playbook in place in case the worst happens, LeBaron noted.

"We're concerned, we're attentive to it, we're spending a lot of focus on it, it is a priority for us as an organization, but we are not stressed with COVID activity at this time," LeBaron said.

The hospital leader is pleading with the public to help keep it that way. She said everyone has a part to play by wearing masks, keeping their distance, and putting social gatherings on pause—including Thanksgiving.

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