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Vt. health officials concerned by drop in people seeking COVID tests

RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) – Vermont health officials say they are seeing a decline in people getting tested for COVID-19, something they say is both concerning, but also understandable.

“There is hope on the horizon. And yes, it is understandable that you might not feel the urgent need to get tested,” said Vermont Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan. But she says it is still important for Vermonters to get tested if they have been to a social gathering, traveled, have symptoms, or are questioning if they have the virus. “We do have a lot of testing available all over the state, but on most days we are not seeing all of our testing location spots fill up.”

On average, the state hosts about 18 clinics every day. It’s not clear how many tests that is, but sometimes half of those slots go unfilled. When new clinics are announced, it does help to get more people in the door. That’s what just happened in Stowe, where the police department went on Facebook to tell the community about a new clinic. “The more information we can get out there and the quicker we can get it out there, we hope people will take part in the testing process,” said Stowe Police Chief Donald Hull.

Rufus Smith was tested a few weeks ago. The Rutland resident says he had symptoms but tested negative for COVID-19. “I think people should be tested even if they don’t… because they could be asymptomatic,” he said. Both Smith and his wife have received their first shot of the vaccine but are still being very careful. “I am not taking any more chances just because I got vaccinated.”

So is the increase in vaccinations creating a false sense of security leading to more people shunning tests? Dolan says it could be a factor. “The sense that the vaccine is here, the sense that this is almost over — It is. We’re in the home stretch, but there are a lot of reasons to be very careful still because we continue to have cases and continue to have hospitalizations. And unfortunately, even though it is reducing, we continue to have some deaths,” she said.

Dolan says the decline in testing also means the state knows less about the extent of the virus in Vermont. “For the most part, we have contained pretty much every outbreak, and so it really helps us for you to get tested,” she said.

Over one million tests have been administered in Vermont in the past year and about 333,000 individuals tested. Even though health officials are hoping it’s only a few more months until everyone is vaccinated, Dolan says continuing to follow established state safety guidelines is essential.

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