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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 Tuesday, March 17

School buses.
Nina Keck
VPR File
Students will move to schooling at home beginning Wednesday.

Vermont reporters provide a quick round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Tuesday, March 17.


Vermont Supreme Court declares a judicial emergency

On Monday, the Vermont Supreme Court declared a judicial emergency due to the spread of  COVID-19, postponing all non-emergency superior Court hearings.

The Court's order cites specific exceptions for high-priority cases that need to be heard. All Judicial Bureau (traffic court) hearings are also postponed. 

The judicial emergency will continue until at least April 15. Read the full emergency declaration.

Sam Gale Rosen

Find a list of FAQs about the new coronavirus, plus resources, here.

Officials look to feed students after school closures

With schools around Vermont set to close Wednesday, officials and parents are scrambling to figure out how to feed students who rely on their schools for meals.

About 31,000 children in Vermont qualify for free or reduced-cost breakfast and lunches. According to Deputy Education Secretary Heather Bouchey, making sure those kids still get fed is a top priority. Bouchey said schools will likely use a combination of strategies, including preparing meals for parents to pick up.

"A particular school or district could set up a drive-through so that they can maintain distance between a family member picking up [a meal] in a car, and the provider," said Bouchey. "It could be a walk-up, grab and go, again maintaining a certain distance for social distancing." 

Bouchey said that some schools may use school buses to deliver meals. Officials hope to have more detailed plans by Wednesday.

- John Dillon

Questions, comments, concerns or experiences you want to share about the new coronavirus? Fill out VPR's brief survey here.

Farmers markets expect to open on schedule this spring

Vermont’s farmers’ markets are vital pieces of the state’s food system, and, despite coronavirus concerns, they should open on schedule this spring according to Grace Oedel, the executive director of Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Vermont. 

"Just like groceries stores, we need to remain open," Oedel said. "We hope that farmers and farmers markets can be seen in the same way."

NOFA will hold its annual farmers market managers' meeting and Vermont Farmers' Market Conference 2020 this week, but both will happen online. 

Oedel said NOFA doesn't control which markets will open on schedule: Each market will make its own decision. 

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Darn Tough Vermont temporarily halts sock production

Sock maker Darn Tough Vermont will shut down its production lines at 11 p.m. Tuesday in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. 

Company spokesperson Brooke Kaplan said Darn Tough, which is based in Northfield, will stop producing socks and stop fulfilling orders until March 27, 2020.

"We're going to be meeting on a daily basis to look at the latest information, and then from a business standpoint, week to week we'll just make decisions about if we are going to open or partially reopen or what that might look like," Kaplan said.

Darn Tough employs about 250 people on its production lines. Kaplan said those employees will all receive pay and benefits while the company is shut down. Other office workers will work from home.

- Henry Epp 

Green Mountain Transit announces free bus service through March

Green Mountain Transit announced starting today, March 17, its bus service will be free, at least through the end of March. It’s an effort to help get healthcare, childcare and other essential workers where they need to go.

However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Green Mountain Transit is asking other passengers to stay home when possible.

Some bus lines are shut down. The Capitol Shuttle is not operating this week. And starting Wednesday, the Mad River Valley service and Neighborhood Special service, in Chittenden County, will be suspended.

The Stowe Mountain Road Shuttle will operate a reduced service through the end of the month.

For the latest changes to Green Mountain Transit's schedules due to COVID-19, head here. 

-Amy Kolb Noyes

Vermont Retail & Grocers Association asks state to ease up on shipping regulations

The industry group representing Vermont grocers and retailers is asking the state to ease some regulations in order to keep stores fully stocked. 

Vermont grocery stores — like many around the country — are finding themselves unable to keep items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer in stock. 

Erin Sigrist is president of the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association. She says her group is asking the state to ease weight restrictions for trucks. 

"Obviously we want to be cognizant of safety for everybody and of course, [of] the actual impact on the infrastructure," said Sigrist. "But if we can just have a little bit of leeway, the more product we get onto a truck, the faster we can get product into the stores." 

She says the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association is also asking that stores be allowed to pause bottle redemption services so more employees can focus on services, like stocking.

-Liam Elder-Conners

Five more COVID-19 cases confirmed in Vermont today, with one more in Clinton County, N.Y.

Five more cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Vermont on March 17. The health department has not released any additional details on those cases.  

That brings the total number of cases statewide up to 17.

Ten of the cases were Vermont residents who tested positive for the disease. Another seven were out-of-state residents who were tested in Vermont.

So far, 495 people have tested negative for COVID-19 in the state.

Governor Phil Scott banned gatherings of 50 or more people on March 16, after the department of health found evidence that the disease had begun to spread through person-to-person contact. Effective at 2 p.m. on March 17, Scott has shut down all bars and restricted restaurants to take-out and delivery services only until April 6.

Additionally, North Country Public Radio is reporting the health department in Clinton County, N.Y. has confirmed its first case of COVID-19

The patient is in isolation in Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital's intensive care unit. He is reported to be in serious condition.

The health department is working to identify anyone the patient may have come into contact with prior to testing.

- Liam Elder-Connors and Amy Kolb Noyes

University of Vermont Health Network cancels all non-urgent medical appointments and procedures

The University of Vermont Health Network is canceling all non-urgent medical appointments and procedures in response to the coronavirus.

The decision is designed to free up medical staff, supplies and hospital beds, and to reduce person-to-person contact. 

It applies to all appointments and procedures that can be safely delayed without an immediate health threat to the patient. The order applies to all University of Vermont affiliates in Vermont and northern New York.

University of Vermont Health Network CEO John Brumstead said of the decision, "Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures." 

Patients will be contacted, and are asked not to reach out to providers. 

Mark Davis

Veterans Affairs Medical Center and affiliated clinics will now screen visitors for COVID-19

With at least one patient in isolation, the VA Medical Center in White River Junction has started screening visitors for COVID-19 in their cars. The same precaution will be taken at VA outpatient clinics in Bennington and Rutland. 

Additionally, anyone under the age of 18 will not be permitted to visit the facilities at all.

To further reduce the spread of infection, veterans are being advised to learn how to use VA Video Connect through an app suitable for use on a mobile device or desktop computer. 

"We're using this [app] for all sorts of stuff," said Tina Kebalka, coordinator of VA telehealth systems. "We're just really lucky that we actually have this in place and we've been doing this for almost a year, and we're not scrambling because of COVID-19. We've had it in place and we're ready to go."

To reduce traffic on Veterans Drive due to the new screening protocol, VA Medical Center staff are being asked to use a different entrance. 

- Betty Smith

Vermont sees a sudden spike in unemployment claims due to COVID-19

According to the Department of Labor, Vermont has seen a sudden spike in unemployment claims due to the coronavirus. 

Because Vermont has had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, the department was processing a relatively low number of weekly claims, said Interim Commissioner of Labor Michael Harrington. 

But Harrington said all that has changed in the past week, and it's taking his department a little time to gear up for the new influx of claims. 

"What this did was immediately increase and spike the number of initial claims that are coming in, which just quickly overloaded the system," said Harrington. "We have, even as quickly as today, been able to double the capacity of people taking claims and probably, by the end of the week, we'll triple capacity." 

Harrington hopes new federal legislation will provide expanded unemployment benefits and paid leave time. 

For more about possible federal funding to support employees affected by COVID-19, head here.

Bob Kinzel

Vermont directs all child care centers serving "non-essential" workers to close

The state is directing child care centers to close, except for those serving essential workers. 

On March 17, Commissioner of the Department for Children and Families Ken Schatz told lawmakers on a conference call that the definition of who is essential is still being worked out.

"The focus that we are taking is [on] recognizing that we need to provide child care services for essential persons, including health care workers and first responders," he told lawmakers Tuesday. 

Lawmakers asked Schatz if the list of essential persons will include grocery store employees and others involved in getting food and other material to the public. Schatz said the list of essential persons will include a broader range of professions than just health care workers and first responders. 

John Dillon

Vermont Attorney General's office will now work remotely

The Vermont Attorney General's office is now among the workplaces closing down and asking employees to work remotely. 

Attoreny General T.J. Donovan made the announcement on March 17, saying the move will facilitate social distancing in light of COVID-19. It will also allow parents to work from home while schools are closed. 

"Through this crisis, we will continue to do our job," said Donovan. 

The office can still be reached by phone or by email, at (802) 828-3171 or AGO.Info@vermont.gov.  

Amy Kolb Noyes

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