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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Wednesday, March 25

Sign at Park
Emily Corwin
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Gov. Phil Scott has ordered Vermonters to "Stay Home, Stay Safe," in a new order that goes into effect at 5 p.m. on Wed., March 25.

Vermont reporters provide a quick round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Wednesday, March 25

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'Stay at home' order goes into effect tonight

On March 24, Gov. Phil Scott announced a new “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order. It goes into effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday, closes all in-person business and nonprofit work unless it's deemed critical to public health or national security. The order directs people to stay home for all but essential matters. It does allow Vermonters to leave home for the following reasons: 

Got questions? We've got answers.

More from Gov. Phil Scott's press conference.

After brief derailment, House approves relief measures

The Vermont House first had to overcome a procedural challenge before voting Wednesday on legislation designed to address the COVID-19 crisis.

House and Senate leaders had worked out a strategy in advance to move bills and resolutions related to COVID-19 quickly through both chambers, with as few people in the Statehouse as possible, to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

One bill extends unemployment benefits to workers who lost their jobs as businesses shuttered. Another makes it easier for health care providers to use telemedicine and to hire workers from out of state.

The Senate approved the measures Tuesday. But the House's carefully choreographed plan to quickly follow suit was derailed for hours by Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington. She repeatedly halted the proceedings by calling for a quorum – or voting majority – of the 150 members. Read the full story here.

- John Dillon

Feds set to pump $260 million into Vermont hospitals

Vermont hospitals are in line to receive several hundred million dollars as part of the proposed federal stimulus package. Many are facing severe financial pressure after cancelling elective surgeries in response to coronavirus.

Rep. Peter Welch said hospitals are slated to get $260 million from the federal stimulus bill. "Institutions like our hospitals, that play a critical role in our community both as employers and as the providers of health, we've got to put them back in the black so that they can be here to continue serving Vermont when business goes back to normal."

Congress could approve the stimulus package on Thursday.

- Bob Kinzel

Independent doctors struggle to stay open

An association that represents independent doctors says the arrival of COVID-19 has left some of the state's few remaining independent practices on the brink of extinction. 

New distancing guidelines that discourage routine screenings and other non-urgent care have seen patient traffic plummet at many clinics. That’s sent many independent practices reeling, said Susan Ridzon, executive director of Vermont HealthFirst, an independent practice association.

“It’s a huge issue,” Ridzon said. “Some of our practices have seen a 95% drop in their revenue.”

Since independent practices aren’t affiliated with hospital institutions or other large healthcare groups, Ridzon said, they don’t have the financial reserves to weather that strain. She said some practices in her association are a week or two away from insolvency.

Telemedicine isn’t an option for independent doctors such as hand surgeons or gastroenterologists, Ridzon said, so the loss of revenue related to new distancing guidelines can’t be replaced.

“They’re not able to staff and keep their doors open to be able to service those urgent patients that’ll inevitably come up,” she said.

Ridzon said independent doctors could play a key role in the healthcare system’s response to COVID-19, but will need “an infusion of cash” to do that.  Additionally, she said, “we need to be included and prioritized fairly high on the chain for things like personal protective equipment.”

She said they’ll need that cash soon in order to stay afloat.

- Pete Hirschfeld

Virus-related scams on the rise

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan said his office is seeing a rise in scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said common reports include entities posing as charities raising money for coronavirus relief, and offering so-called remedies for the virus.

Donovan also said his office has received reports of price-gouging. "We're on it, and we're going to continue to do our job to protect Vermont consumers," he said. 

Donovan instructed Vermonters to contact his office's Consumer Protection Unit to report any potential scams or price gouging activity.

-Liam Elder-Connors

Resident at South Burlington eldercare facility tests positive for COVID-19

A woman who lives at the Residence at Quarry Hill eldercare facility in South Burlington has tested positive for COVID-19.

Seven Days reports that a spokesperson for LCB Senior Living said the patient developed symptoms days after a stay at Burlington Health and Rehab earlier this month. 

The patient lives in Quarry Hill's memory care unit, which consists of 25 individual apartments that are separate from the independent and assisted living areas.

The spokesperson said the facility's 91 other patients are in self-isolate.

Sam Gale Rosen

Congress, White House approve nearly $2 trillion aid package

Congress and the White House have reached a deal on a nearly $2 trillion stimulus package. 

The legislation includes individual checks for all Americans, grants and loans for small and large businesses, expanded unemployment benefits, additional funds for hospitals and direct payments to states to help them offset big revenue reductions.

For more about how COVID-19 could affect Vermont's revenue, head here.

Congressman Peter Welch said the federal government should provide financial assistance as quickly as possible to help the economy recover from the coronavirus.

"The goal is to help us be in a position to fight another day once we can all fo back to work," Welch said. "This is a bill where the federal government has to be the one that's the backstop to our states, to our small businesses and to individuals." 

The deal on the bill was reached in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, March 25.

Bob Kinzel

Travel restrictions halt state visits to Vermont inmates held out of state

Vermont's Defender General said his office cannot assess conditions for Vermont inmates being held out of state, given travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 200 Vermont inmates are being held at a private prison in Mississippi.

Defender General Matt Valerio said that right now, his office is unable to conduct their monthly visits to the facility.

"I can't say with any kind of certainty that I have any real idea of what's going on in Mississippi, except for what Mississippi might tell us on the phone or the department relays to us," Valerio said. "We have no real ability to verify."

Civil liberties advocates in Vermont are calling for the state to reduce its inmate population. The Department of Corrections said one staff member at the state prison in Newport has tested positive for COVID-19, but there are no reported cases among inmates. 

Liam Elder-Connors

New online portal connects essential workers with childcare

Vermont is using an online portal to connect so-called "essential" workers with emergency childcare during the coronavirus crisis. 

Nonprofit Let's Grow Kids organized the website to track the child care needs of workers, and is encouraging essential personnel to sign up even if they don't currently need child care.

Let's Grow Kids CEO Aly Richards said they're helping connect workers to childcare who haven't needed it in the past.

"695 essential workers have used this intake portal, representing about 1,000 children across the state," Richards said. "And actually, 172 of those workers are just there to be counted in case their situation changes." 

Richards said accurately measuring the child care need during the emergency is critical as the list of essential personnel grows. 

Matthew Smith

For more about how Vermont's remaining child care centers are adapting amid COVID-19, head here.

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