Which states had the best pandemic response?

For this story, reporters interviewed a wide range of health researchers, public officials and academic experts to ask them which states were standouts in their management of the pandemic. What we heard repeatedly were lessons culled from a handful of states that others could follow.

We’ve distilled their insights into three categories that represent the greatest challenges states are facing: fighting the virus, managing the economic fallout and reopening schools.

FIGHTING THE VIRUS

Leading the way in the rural Northeast

Few states have a record as unblemished as Vermont.

The odds could have been stacked against the state. The virus arrived in Vermont during the first wave sweeping the country. It shares borders with some of the hardest-hit states and has the third-oldest population in the country.

But Vermont swiftly flattened its initial wave and has since gone weeks at a time without any new confirmed infections. Fewer than 60 people have died, giving the state the second-fewest deaths per capita behind Alaska, which has seen surging caseloads in recent weeks. If the country as a whole had the same per capita death rate as Vermont, the nationwide death toll would be 30,000 instead of more than 215,000.

“This should be the model for the country, how you’ve done it,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said during a briefing with state leaders in September. “Notwithstanding that this is a small state, it should be the model of how you get to such a low test positivity that you can actually start opening up the economy in a safe and prudent way.”

While health experts say the state has likely benefited from its rural geography, other sparsely populated areas of the country that let their guard down were overwhelmed by the virus this spring and summer. That sense of complacency never took hold in Vermont, where a moderate Republican governor and a Democratic-led Legislature helped defuse partisan tensions that hampered the response elsewhere.

“Any state that’s going to succeed against Covid has got to have the compliance of the population, because every single thing you do is telling people to alter their personal behavior,” Mark Levine, Vermont’s health commissioner, said in an interview.

What works:

— Vermont reopened slowly. The lockdown it put in place in late March is still gradually being lifted, restaurants and bars are still limited to 50 percent indoor capacity and even outdoor gatherings are still subject to a 150-person limit.

— Local governments have authority to set their own stricter rules. Burlington, the state’s most populous city, reduced its outdoor gathering limit to 25 in late August when college students began returning to nearby campuses.

— The state is also strict about visitors, requiring a two-week quarantine for people arriving from places with higher infection rates. And it invested early in testing and contact tracing and implemented a state-wide mask mandate early on.

“They took action early, they let science lead, and they were consistent

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Virginia governor critical of Trump’s coronavirus response in first appearance since testing positive

About 65 staff members who had close contact with the Northams were told to self-isolate for two weeks. Northam said none tested positive, which he called “a testament” to the value of wearing masks.

He noted that masks protected several staff members who could not physically distance from him before he tested positive, including a press secretary, photographer and security detail who traveled in an SUV and airplane with Northam.

He contrasted that with the largely mask-free Rose Garden ceremony last month that Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, has called a superspreader event. Trump, first lady Melania Trump and several others subsequently tested positive for the virus.

“No masks, no social distancing — and look at the number of people that tested positive,” Northam said Tuesday, referring to the White House event. “We talk about science, it doesn’t get any clearer than that … I would remind every Virginian: Masks are scientifically proven to reduce the spread of this disease, plain and simple.”

Northam, a former Army doctor and pediatrician, said he and his wife’s symptoms were mild. He warned Virginians not to let down their guard, particularly as cooler fall temperatures and shrinking daylight hours make outdoor socializing less appealing.

The governor said he is unlikely to ease pandemic-related restrictions in the near term. He acknowledged pressure to return to in-person education at public schools, but urged continued caution.

“Numbers are going up in a number of states across this country, so we’re not out of the woods,” he said. “We’re nowhere close to being out of the woods.”

The greater Washington region on Tuesday reported 1,763 additional coronavirus cases and 20 new deaths. Virginia added 1,235 cases and 11 deaths, Maryland added 482 cases and nine deaths, and the District added 46 cases and no deaths.

Virginia’s daily caseload was above its rolling seven-day average, lifting that number to 1,089 — the state’s highest daily average since Aug. 13. The seven-day average in Northern Virginia rose Tuesday to 264 cases, a four-month high in the region.

Daily caseloads Tuesday in Maryland and the District were below their rolling seven-day averages. It’s the third consecutive day that both jurisdictions reported new infections at or below their recent average amid an uptick that began earlier this month.

The recent caseload rise across the region has coincided with an outbreak at the White House, although local health officials have said it’s unclear whether there’s a connection.

Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.

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Emergency Medicine Foundation to Fund Research to Improve Nation’s Response to COVID-19

WASHINGTON, April 14, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — The Emergency Medicine Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) to advance research and education in emergency medicine, has recently announced that it will award up to $100,000 in new research grants to further the medical community’s understanding of and response to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. 

“Emergency Medicine Foundation sponsored research has been defining and refining the practice of emergency medicine for almost 50 years, and it is imperative that we act immediately as new threats, like COVID-19, arise,” said David Wilcox, MD, FACEP, Chair of the EMF Board of Trustees.

Through these funds, the Emergency Medicine Foundation and ACEP seek to effect quick and meaningful change by advancing emergency patient care, improving how our health care system responds and ensuring that our health care workers are protected during this and future pandemics.

Proposals are due June 5, 2020 and eligible applicants must be a United States-based emergency physician as principal or co-principal investigator with a project active and in place by July 1, 2020. Proposal topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including Design, Cleaning, Re-use
  • Ventilator Scarcity
  • Telemedicine
  • Laboratory Testing
  • Rapid Screening, Triage and Testing
  • Clinical Diagnosis
  • Epidemiology of Disease
  • Therapeutics
  • Diagnostic Radiology, including Point of Care Ultrasound
  • Emergency Medicine Workforce, including Safety
  • Emergency Physician Wellness
  • Special Populations (High Risk, Homeless, Non-English Speaking, Transplantation Patients)

Click here to read the request for proposals.

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) is the national medical society representing emergency medicine. Through continuing education, research, public education and advocacy, ACEP advances emergency care on behalf of its 39,000 emergency physician members, and the more than 150 million Americans they treat on an annual basis. For more information, visit www.acep.org and www.emergencyphysicians.org. 

The Emergency Medicine Foundation (EMF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1972 by visionary leaders of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). EMF supports scientifically rigorous research and education that improves the care of the acutely ill and injured. To date, EMF has awarded more than $17 million in research grants to advance emergency medicine science and health policy. For more information visit www.emfoundation.org. Companies or individuals interested in contributing to support emergency medicine research can contact Peggy Brock, EMF Executive Director, at [email protected].

SOURCE Emergency Medicine Foundation

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