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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 Friday, March 27

A computer monitor with small squares showing people.
John Dillon
/
VPR
After two weeks of meeting by phone, the Vermont Senate switched over to video conferencing on Friday.

Vermont reporters provide a quick round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Friday, March 27.

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National Life's Do Good Fest is canceled

National Life's Do Good Fest is among the events being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The annual benefit music festival was scheduled for July 18, 2020, in Montpelier. National Life said the festival will return next year.

Amy Kolb Noyes

 

Hospitals, businesses and individuals to benefit from $2T stimulus package

On Friday, President Trump signed into law the largest economic stimulus package in the history of the country, shortly after the bill was passed by the U.S. House

Of the $2 trillion approved by Congress, Vermont will receive roughly $300 million in grants to offset virus related expenses and the state's hospitals will also get $260 million to balance their budgets.

Small businesses and large corporations will also be eligible for loan and grant programs.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch said Friday that the bill includes a program that converts small business loans into outright grants if the business maintains its staffing levels for the foreseeable future.

“The discussion is, if we give grants to some of these small businesses where they maintain in effect last year's payroll at 80 %, that loan would turn into a grant,” he said.

Welch’s office confirmed Friday afternoon that Social Security recipients will be eligible for the one-time cash payment of $1,200, and the bill also expands unemployment benefits who are laid off because of the coronavirus.

“Number one, we have to help individuals, and a one-time check is nice, but bottom line, we've got to boost unemployment benefits, and they have to include folks who are independent contractors or self-employed,” Welch said.

The bill increases the maximum weekly unemployment benefit by $600 for the next four months.

- Bob Kinzel

For NPR's coverage of the economic stimulus package passed today by the U.S. House and signed into law by President Trump, head here.

State is going to ramp up COVID-19 testing

The state health department will test more Vermonters in an effort to contain COVID-19.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Friday the state has aggressively worked to increase its supply of testing kits, and will now test Vermonters with mild-to-moderate symptoms of the disease.

Levine said broader testing has proven an effective strategy in other countries. 

“The objective here is to identify more COVID-positive patients early, isolate them and slow the spread of the virus,” he said. “And we’re going to do it full bore, even if it means we run ourselves to be at risk for eventually not having enough supplies 10 days or more from this point, because this is really the critical juncture.”

People still need a doctor’s referral to get tested and they must have symptoms of the virus, which include a fever, cough and in severe cases, shortness of breath.

- Liam Elder-Connors

COVID-19-related deaths now up to 10 in Vermont

New numbers out Friday show there are 183 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vermont, up 25 from Thursday.

And there's been another death in the last 24 hours, bringing the state's tally to 10.

According to the health department, that person was a resident of Burlington Health & Rehab, where there's been an outbreak of the disease.

So far 33 residents and 33 staff members of that facility have been tested for the coronavirus. Of those, 17 residents and 10 staffers tested positive. Seven residents have died in the outbreak.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Arts community to benefit from federal stimulus package

Vermont’s cultural community will get help from the federal stimulus package.

Approximately $400,000 will be available soon through both the Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Humanities Council.  

“So the creative sector accounts for more than 9% of the jobs in our state,” said Karen Mittelman, the Vermont Arts Council executive director. “That’s over 40,000 jobs a year. Think not only about a musician or a dancer or a performer. A theater hires sound engineers, lighting technicians, video producers, electricians, cleaning staff. The impact of the loss of all those jobs is enormous.”

Both individual artists and arts organizations will be able to apply for grants.

- Betty Smith

Vermont judge: Child custody, visitation still in effect

One of Vermont's top judges says child custody and visitation agreements remain in effect during the state's stay at home order.

Chief Superior Court Judge Brian Grearson said Vermont’s order does not allow parents to ignore custody exchanges they’ve already committed to.

Grearson added potential exposure to the coronavirus when transferring custody may be grounds to request an emergency hearing.

“Then they have a right to petition the court for an emergency request to perhaps modify the parent-child contact,” he said. “But again, the orders that are in effect remain in effect until they are modified.”

Grearson told Vermont Edition he urges parents to work out child visitation changes on their own —before requesting an emergency hearing.

- Matthew Smith

Sanders calls on Amazon to outline worker protections against coronavirus

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar want to know how Amazon plans to protect its warehouse workers during the global pandemic.

They were joined by a dozen other lawmakers in signing a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and say the issue is urgent since workers at 10 Amazon warehouses have tested positive for COVID-19.

Sanders' office said more than 1,500 Amazon workers signed a petition asking for better protection from the new coronavirus.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Vermont state budget should withstand coronavirus crisis

Vermont's budget was in relatively good shape heading into the COVID-19 crisis and should be able to withstand the coming fiscal shocks. That's the word from State Finance and Management Commissioner Adam Greshin, who testified before the Senate Finance Appropriations Committee Thursday.

Greshin said the predicted revenue shortfall in the next three months will be around $224 million. But he says that is mainly because tax payments are being deferred.

“I would note, however, that that $224 million deficit, a lot of that will be returned in July when people in fact do pay their taxes. So not all of that is disappearing.”

Greshin said he expects all but $62 million of that $224 million dollar shortfall will eventually flow into state coffers. 

The finance commissioner also said Vermont will eventually get $1.25 billion under federal legislation designed to help states deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

Greshin noted the federal aid comes with a very big string attached: The money has to be used on state costs incurred directly due to the crisis.

“It can't be used to fill general revenue holes,” he said. “A number of states have questioned that. I will say, and I feel good saying this, I don't think Vermont has the fiscal challenges that many other states do. I think our house was much more in order going into this.”

Greshin said the Scott administration is expecting a big jump in expenses in areas like public safety and health care due to the crisis.

- John Dillon

Gov. orders schools closed through end of academic year

Schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Districts are being asked to develop remote learning plans by April 13.

Gov. Phil Scott initially closed schools until April 6 – but citing guidance from the health department and the Agency of Education, Scott decided to keep schools closed for in-person instruction the rest of the year.

In a statement, Scott said he understood it would be challenging for some schools to institute remote learning plans, but he said he was “encouraged by the creativity” he’d seen from districts.

Districts are being asked to develop remote learning plans by April 13. The Agency of Education said it will provide more guidance by the end of the week.

Don Tinney, an English teacher and president of the Vermont National Education Association, said the union is not surprised by decision – but that teachers need to be involved as districts develop remote learning plans.

“They have to be able to contribute to the discussion to add their ideas to know what’s doable and what’s not doable.”

For the full story about the governor’s announcement to shutter schools through the end of the year, head here.

Click here for coverage of Gov. Phil Scott's press conference on the matter.

- Liam Elder-Connors

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