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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Wednesday, March 11

A brick building on a green.
Liam Elder-Connors
/
VPR File
UVM announced Wednesday it would hold its classes remotely following spring break due to concerns about the new coronavirus.

VPR reporters provide a quick round-up of local coronavirus news for Wednesday, March 11.

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UVM, Champlain College move to remote classes

The University of Vermont and Champlain College announced Wednesday that both schools will hold all classes remotely amid concerns about the new coronavirus.

UVM is asking students not to move back to campus when spring break ends this week. Champlain will extend its spring break, which begins on March 16, by one week.

Middlebury College announced a similar move Tuesday.

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at UVM, Champlain or Middlebury.

UVM said it decided to move to remote coursework out of an "abundance of caution." The university will remain open and employees are expected to report to work, but events and gatherings will be limited to 25 attendees or fewer.

The shift to remote coursework does not apply to the medical school, which is creating its separate plan, according to UVM.

There's no timeline for bringing students back to campus, said Gary Derr, Vice-President for Operations and Public Safety at UVM.

“I think we're going to look at it daily and just watch,” he said. “We still only have one case in Vermont, but we're going to have to keep an eye on that, and as the whole situation changes, we're going to be monitoring it and making decisions as we go.”

However, Derr said the UVM basketball game scheduled for Saturday is still on, as are spring sports.

“The athletic director is looking the spring sports and teams and assessing what they're going to be doing,” Derr said. “But the plan is for – like, I think it’s the lacrosse team, is going to continue, the track team, they're going to be here.”

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Champlain College, in a statement, said remote instruction would be in effect for at least three weeks, but cautioned that students and faculty should expect a longer period of remote classes.

Champlain’s campus will stay open and the college said faculty and staff can continue to work on campus. The college said it will cancel or “virtualize” events and meetings that bring external groups and people to campus. It will hold virtual admitted student days next month. 

Inside Higher Ed editor Scott Jaschik told Vermont Edition that online instruction is a temporary solution that serves some students better than others:

"Generally, students from low-income backgrounds have not done as well,” he said. “So, you need to have a private space where you can study, you need to be uninterrupted by others, you need to be used to it. So, this is not a replacement in a permanent way for higher education."

- Liam Elder-Connors

Vermont Agency of Education seeking free meal waiver for low-income students

The Vermont Agency of Education is seeking a federal waiver that would allow low-income students to remain eligible for free meals, in the event of widespread school closures.

Secretary of Education Dan French said the request is part of the state’s broader response to COVID-19.

“There’s a requirement with the USDA to offer meals in a congregate setting, so we need a waiver to feed students not all together in a cafeteria,” French said.

Several Vermont schools have closed in recent days over concerns related to the new coronavirus.

French said his agency doesn’t have any immediate plans to preemptively close schools to mitigate the spread of the disease. But he added the state wants to be prepared for that possibility.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Welch proposes mandated sick leave

As organizations prepare for increased disruption due to COVID-19 outbreaks around the United States, Congress is contemplating economic measures to ease the financial pressure.

President Trump has floated the idea of a payroll tax cut, but Vermont Rep. Peter Welch told Vermont Edition he'd like Congress to go even further.

“We're now in the process of putting together legislation that would provide paid sick leave,” Welch said.

He added this would likely be a mandate.

Find a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the new coronavirus, plus resources, here.

“The challenge here is to abate the extraordinary hazard of the coronavirus,” Welch said. “Understanding that it's going to inflict immense economic hardship on  individuals, in order to help them through it economically, and to encourage them to comply with medical advice, things like paid sick leave, extended unemployment insurance, these things would be very, very helpful.

Big companies like REI Co-op and Olive Garden recently announced voluntary changes to their sick leave policy to ensure workers don't go to work when they're sick in order to keep their jobs.

A government mandate for private companies to offer paid sick leave would be a major federal change. A bill has not yet been introduced.

- Jane Lindholm 

Burlington airport ups its cleaning

Burlington International Airport is cleaning more and has bought additional hand sanitizer dispensers in an effort to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

The airport already wipes down surfaces, like hand rails, three times a day, said Director of Aviation Gene Richards.  In addition to those steps, Richards said the airport is spraying a disinfectant fog throughout the facility every night.

There haven't been any direct flights to Burlington from areas of the country, like Washington state, where there have been large coronavirus outbreaks. But Richards said the airport isn't screening arriving passengers.  

“That would probably come from the airline,” he said. “We pretty much maintain the airport, we don't regulate anything. The regulation is put in by the airlines and the FAA.”

Richards said the decision to shut down the airport would come from Burlington's mayor, in consultation with the state health department.

Airlines are reducing flights, including at Burlington International Airport, over concerns over the coronavirus.

Richards said despite the expected reduction of flights in the near future, airlines are adding trips in summer months.

“They're expecting there to be a drop off but then a pick back up in the summer,” he said. “So I think it's a collection of time we're going to have to be cautious just like the flu and everything else.”

- Liam Elder-Connors

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New England Silvers Meet canceled

The Upper Valley Aquatic Center, in White River Junction, has canceled a big swim meet this weekend.  It's a precautionary move in response to COVID-19.

More than 500 swimmers were expected to compete in the New England Silvers Meet.
 
The aquatic center said the decision to cancel was made with the guidance from the Vermont Department of Health, the Center for Disease Control and medical professionals.

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