Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Tuesday, March 10
VPR reporters provide a quick round-up of local coronavirus news for Tuesday, March 10.
No new cases of COVID-19
Since Monday, the health department has started monitoring an additional 16 people for possible exposure to coronavirus. In the last day, six more residents have tested negative for the illness and 13 have completed monitoring.
— Liam Elder-Connors
Middlebury College moves courses online after spring break
Middlebury College announced Tuesday it will be holding all classes remotely after spring break over concerns about the new coronavirus. The college will also begin its break on Friday, a week earlier than originally scheduled.
After the break, students are expected to remain home and not return to Middlebury’s campus “until further notice,” the college said in a statement.
Middlebury is the first college in the state to cancel classes over the potential spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
There are no confirmed cases of the disease at Middlebury, but the college said a visitor who attended a campus sporting event was just diagnosed with COVID-19. Middlebury added the Vermont Health Department “confirmed” that the individual was not a risk to the community when they visited.
In its statement, the college said the rapidly developing situation and the confirmed case in Vermont, plus the multiple cases in border states like New Hampshire and New York contributed to the decision to cancel in-person classes and move all coursework online.
Students who cannot go home for spring break, like international students, can request permission by Thursday to stay on campus, the college said.
Courses will resume, remotely, on March 30 and the college will re-evaluate the policy in the first two weeks of April.
For the rest of this week, Middlebury has canceled all athletic events and practices, limited campus gatherings to no more than 120 participants and banned visitors on campus.
UVM expects classes to resume after break
The University of Vermont expects to resume classes next week after its spring break and will continue, for now, to hold sporting events on campus.
But Gary Derr, Vice President for Operations and Public Safety at UVM, said the situation is fluid and could change quickly. He said UVM has encouraged staff to develop online teaching methods.
"So what we've asked our faculty to do is to prepare, to get ready,” Derr said. “Because it may come with fairly limited notice, when we would have to switch to a remote delivery in the future.”
Derr said UVM is also considering alternative ways to show the campus to prospective students, who often tour the school at this time of year.
"We would do it as a webinar,” he said. “We’d have the exact same presentation, but people would be all over the country observing that, and there’d be a way to send in a question, and we’d do our best to respond to those questions."
— Nina Keck
Lawmakers discuss efforts to prevent spread of coronavirus in statehouse
Vermont lawmakers are back in Montpelier after a weeklong break for Town Meeting Day, and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the Statehouse is suddenly at the top of the legislative agenda.
The Statehouse is already known as a breeding ground for nasty contagions, such as the cold or flu. With hundreds of people sharing tight quarters every day, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said it’s no wonder why.
“In a normal winter, we will joke about kennel cough, and how a cold or a little virus might move through a committee or move through certain sections of the Statehouse,” Johnson said Tuesday.
Johnson said it’s critical that lawmakers take steps to prevent the Statehouse from becoming an incubator for COVID-19. And she, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe and other legislative leaders met first thing Tuesday morning to begin considering new protocols.
“Any infectious possibility in any region of the state, you know, could find its way to the Statehouse very quickly, and from here to all other communities," Johnson said. "That’s part of the reason we are trying to be very vigilant.”
House and Senate leaders don’t have a protocol in place yet for what happens if a lawmaker, lobbyist or Statehouse staffer contracts COVID-19, but Johnson said lawmakers will be getting advice from Health Commissioner Mark Levine Tuesday afternoon.
Johnson said she’s looking for ways to limit Statehouse traffic, including using phone or video for witness testimony. And she said the Sergeant at Arms is trying to screen visitors to the Statehouse, to make sure none have recently been to high-risk areas.
Johnson and Ashe impressed upon lawmakers the importance of staying away from the building if they have any symptoms associated with COVID-19.
“I am very sensitive to the sort of conflicting incentives of, ‘Stay home if you don’t feel well,’ with, ‘Oh, and by the way, you can’t vote on issues that matter to you and your community if you’re home,’” Johnson said.
She added she’s looking at a adopting a special rule that would allow lawmakers to cast committee votes remotely from home. However, she said she’s not sure whether that’ll be possible for floor votes.
— Peter Hirschfeld
AG: No reports of price gouging or scams in Vermont
Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan said, as of Tuesday, his office had not received any complaints about price gouging or scams related to the new coronavirus.
Online retailers like Amazon have struggled to stop third-party sellers who are overcharging for products like hand sanitizer and face masks, according to CNBC.
“Certainly price gouging is something that I'm concerned about," Donovan said. "I don't think we have any reports of it in Vermont. I know in other states there have been reports of it, so we're monitoring the situation, we're going to stand up and protect consumers.”
— Liam Elder-Connors
Gov. Scott activates emergency operations center
Gov. Phil Scott ordered state agencies to begin coordinating through the state’s emergency operations center. The center will begin regular daily operations on Wednesday.
Erica Bournemann, director of the Vermont Emergency Management Department, said the SEOC will help state agencies work together.
“Because we're really at the point in time where we need to continue to prepare and ensure a coordinated statewide response,” Bournemann said. “Especially as we expect to see cases increasing and also to prepare for the application of certain community mitigation measures should they be necessary.”
The SEOC will work closely with the state health department’s Health Operations Center, Bournemann said.
The last time the SEOC was activated was after a storm last Halloween caused statewide flooding.
— Liam Elder-Connors and Bob Kinzel
Department of corrections prepares
Jim Baker, Vermont’s interim Commissioner of Corrections, said Vermont inmates have access to hand-sanitizer and hand-washing stations needed to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Baker didn't specify if there were limitations to inmates' access to these products, but said his department is “providing them with everything that we have at our disposal to keep their hygiene to the point where we're cutting down on the risk of spreading."
Additionally, Baker said Vermont correctional facilities have increased their on-hand food supplies from 10 days to 20 days, and instituted a verbal screening process for staff and visitors.
— Emily Corwin
Ben and Jerry's postpones Free Cone Day
Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream has postponed its yearly "Free Cone Day" due to the coronavirus.
Free Cone Day usually takes place in April, and can lead to long lines at scoop shops, but in a post on their website, Ben and Jerry's said the event will be rescheduled due to precautions around large gatherings being put into place by local governments.
The company says they hope to reschedule for later in the year.
— Sam Gale Rosen