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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Friday, March 20

Social distancing sign
Elodie Reed
A sign promoting social distancing hangs on the door at the entrance to the Vermont Department of Health lab in Colchester.

Vermont reporters provide a quick round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Friday, March 20.


The number of COVID-19 cases in Vermont rises to 29

There are now 29 cases of COVID-19 in Vermont, the health department said Friday.

The state has conducted a total of 808 COVID-19 tests and is monitoring more than 260 people for potential exposure to the coronavirus. 

Two elderly people died on Thursday, March 19 from the virus.

Karen Anderson

Vermont Department of Labor braces for a big increase in unemployment claims

The Vermont Department of Labor is bracing for a big increase in unemployment claims due to the new coronavirus. 

Many workers in the state's retail and tourism industries were laid off this week, as the impact of the virus spread throughout Vermont's economy.

The Department is encouraging people who have been laid off from work due to the new coronavirus to use the Department's online process to apply for unemployment insurance.  

Department spokesperson Kyle Thweatt said the state's unemployment insurance claims center has been inundated with calls all week, and some people haven't been able to get through.

Thweatt said the Claim Center will be open on Saturday for calls, but he encouraged people to go online to apply. 

"Individuals that are looking to be eligible for unemployment [insurance] can start the process by filling out that online form," said Thweatt. "That just gets the process going. It's really to take the need for talking to an individual out of the equation." 

The federal government and the Scott Administration are both moving to expand unemployment benefits to workers who have been laid off due to COVID-19.

Thweatt said the Department has never dealt with a situation like this one.

"Individuals are taking advantage of the online form," Thweatt said. "Having this be such an unprecedented situation that we've never really seen before, we can't really speak to what the future might hold." 

Information about the eligibility standards for unemployment benefits can be found at the department's website: https://labor.vermont.gov.

Bob Kinzel

Sen. Leahy reports it's likely the U.S. Senate will pass a $1 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package next week

Sen. Patrick Leahy said he's hopeful the U.S. Senate will pass a $1 trillion stimulus package early next week. 

Leahy, who is the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations committee, said it's critical for Congress to act quickly to offset the economic impact of the new coronavirus, but not by favoring Wall Street.

"We're also making it clear we're not going to pass hundreds of billions or even a trillion dollars just to benefit large corporations that are going to make it through anyway," Leahy said. "We're far more interested in the people that work for them; that's what affects us in Vermont the most." 

Leahy said it's also likely that the legislation will include $500 billion in cash payments to all Americans. 

The average payment is expected to be $1,000 per person.

Bob Kinzel

As COVID-19 spreads, Vermont sees a shortage of cleaners

The owner of a small cleaning company in White River Junction said the spread of the coronavirus has him in a bind.

Skip Beisler's crew of eight is already working double shifts for a long-time client, and he's considered hiring more workers. However, he said it's hard to find people willing to work where the virus might be.

"Right now, with the coronavirus looming around, there's a shortage of people that actually want to have anything to do with... cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting," Beisler said. "Nobody wants to be anywhere near the coronavirus." 

At the same time, demand is growing. Beisler is getting calls from people looking for cleaning help, but that would mean finding more workers.

Betty Smith

For more about how distilleries are adapting to the shortage of hand sanitizer, head here.

Vermont National Guard offers staff to aid with COVID-19 response

Seven members of the Vermont National Guard have been put on active duty to help with the state's response to the new coronavirus.

Two soldiers are serving as planners to help increase Vermont's medical capacity. Additionally, five airmen will help with warehouse logistics in that effort.

The news comes one week after Gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency.

The Guard said more personnel could be put to work if needed.

Mark Davis

Unemployment benefits will soon be available to Vermonters who lose work due to lack of childcare

Gov. Phil Scott said unemployment benefits will soon be available to Vermonters who can't go to work, due to a loss of childcare.

Earlier this week, Scott ordered the closure of all childcare centers in Vermont, to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Scott said that expanding unemployment eligibility is one way to mitigate the financial impact of his order. 

"My team and I are fully aware these initiatives are not enough," Scott said. "People are hurting and businesses are at risk."

Scott said he and lawmakers will roll out additional aid measures for workers and businesses in the coming days and weeks. 

Scott said those initiatives will include a loan program for small businesses and that he and lawmakers will create loan options for companies through the Vermont Economic Development Authority.

"We will pull every lever and turn every dial we possibly can to support folks through this time, and look towards economic recovery even while we're closing in on the eye of the storm," Scott said.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Closures of schools, bars, restaurants and childcare centers will likely be extended

Governor Phil Scott said the state will likely need to extend the ordered closure of schools, bars, restaurants and childcare centers. Right now, the closure is set to last through April 6. Scott said the period will likely need to be longer. 

"We Vermonters need to prepare for a much longer period of time, but at this point, [we] are not ready to declare that," Scott said. "It certainly looks as though we're going to have to consider moving that date much further forward."

Scott said the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vermont continues to rise. 

He said the mandatory bar and restaurant closures have inflicted enormous economic damage on workers and companies. However, he said they are needed to avoid a public health catastrophe.

Peter Hirschfeld

For more about how Vermont bars and restaurants have been affected by COVID-19, head here.

The number of ventilators available in Vermont will soon double

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said a shipment of ventilators coming to Vermont will boost hospitals' ability to care for patients with severe cases of COVID-19. 

Smith said the 87 ventilators en route to Vermont will increase existing inventory by more than 50 percent. Additionally, Smith said the number of surgical beds and isolation units has also increased since last week. 

"The numbers have gone up significantly since yesterday because of the governor's action dealing with elective and non-urgent procedures being postponed," Smith said.

Countries hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak have struggled to provide hospital care to critically ill patients, due in part to a lack of ventilators. 

Smith said Vermont is trying to avoid that outcome by increasing medical supplies and slowing the spread of disease.

Peter Hirschfeld

For more about how Dartmouth Hitchcock has dealt with a shortage of personal protective equipment for its healthcare providers, head here.

Vermont closes 12 of its 16 rest areas

Vermont is suspending service at its highway rest areas, saying that it's too difficult to staff them during the COVID-19 crisis.

VTDigger.org reports 12 of the state's 16 rest areas closed Thursday; the other four — one each in Bennington and Guilford, and two in Williston — will close at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 20. 

Karen Anderson

Vermont City Marathon to be postponed

The Vermont City Marathon and Relay has been postponed until October due to concerns over COVID-19. 

Run Vermont announced the delay on Friday, March 20.

Karen Anderson

For more about how Vermonters are finding connection online while as social distancing becomes the norm, head here.

Hannaford Supermarkets makes donations, offers special shopping hours for those most vulnerable to COVID-19

Hannaford Supermarkets will offer dedicated shopping hours for people age 60 and older, as well as for those with compromised immune systems. 

In a press release on March 19, the supermarket chain announced its stores will open early, from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., Tuesday through Thursday, to help serve vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. 

In addition, Hannaford is shortening its operating hours starting Saturday, in order to provide for additional time to clean, stock shelves and give associates time to rest. The new daily operating hours are from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Hannaford also announced on March 20 that it will donate $250,000 to support area food backs that are experiencing increasing and unprecedented demand during the widening of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

-Karen Anderson

State officials say there is an "outbreak" of COVID-19 at a long-term care facility in Burlington

State health officials said there is an "outbreak" of COVID-19 at a long-term care facility in Burlington. Officials have asked the Centers for Disease Control to help contain the outbreak.

One resident of the facility who tested positive for the disease died on Thursday, March 19. An elderly man in Windsor County who tested positive for COVID-19 also died yesterday.

Health Commisioner Mark Levine said there are four new positive COVID-19 cases associated with the Burlington Health and Rehab nursing home. 

"When we became involved very quickly after the first case, it was obvious they were already pursuing appropriate infection control procedures," Levine said.

He said the state is helping the facility conduct contact tracing to determine other residents and workers who could have been exposed to the virus.

State health officials announced on Friday morning that there are now 28 positive cases of COVID-19 in Vermont. 

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said he's asked the CDC to send a team to the facility.

"The CDC is probably as overwhelmed as everyone in every state is feeling at this time, so I don't know how feasible or realistic that is," Levine said. 

Levine said that state health officials have been at the facility since yesterday to help workers there contain the outbreak. 

His department is monitoring residents and health care workers at the nursing home for symptoms of COVID-19.

Liam Elder-Connors

For more details about the outbreak, head here.

Vermont sees first two deaths of patients who tested positive for COVID-19

Two Vermont residents who tested positive for COVID-19 died on Thursday. These are the first deaths of Vermonters who were diagnosed with the disease. 

Gov. Phil Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced the deaths Thursday evening. One was a Windsor County man who was treated at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in White River Junction, and one was a woman who lived at the Burlington Health and Rehab nursing home.

Scott said both were elderly patients.

"Which is an important reminder that the virus is most dangerous to seniors and those with serious, underlying conditions like heart and lung disease. There is no doubt this is sad for all of us, but's not unexpected news."

Twenty-two cases of the disease have been identified in Vermont.

Levine said the cases are not believed to be travel-related.

"These deaths — and I hope we will experience no more — highlight how extremely important it is for all of us, young and old, to take extra care to protect those most vulnerable to serious illness," Levine said. 

Scott said he knows many are feeling scared and worried amid this crisis, but also offered a hopeful message. 

"In times like this, Vermonters rise to the occasion. We help our neighbors, we answer the call of duty and we get creative to solve the challenges ahead," Scott said. "I'm seeing the good in people every single day."

Henry Epp

For more details about the governor's announcement, head here.

Vermont lawmakers voice concern about new federal legislation that asks employers to pay for COVID-19 sick leave

Vermont lawmakers have concerns about new federal legislation that provides 10 days of paid sick leave for workers affected by the new coronavirus.

The new legislation requires that businesses foot the costs of paying employees during the leave period. Though the federal government will eventually reimburse employers with a tax credit, Caledonia County Senator Joe Benning said it will be months before they receive that compensation.

"I don't know how they're going to rise up to pay employees at a time when they don't have the liquidity being produced in their businesses," Benning said. 

An aide for Rep. Peter Welch said the Vermont congressman shares those concerns and will try to find a fix in the next COVID-19 relief bill. 

Benning said many businesses in his region are dealing with catastrophic revenue losses as a result of COVID-19. 

Peter Hirschfeld

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

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