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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, April 1

Shoppers wait in line
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
Shoppers at the Brattleboro Food Co-op practice social distancing while waiting in line to shop.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Wednesday, April 1.

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Total cases of COVID-19 in Vermont rises to 321

The number of cases of COVID-19 in Vermont continues to rise. The state Health Department announced 28 new cases and additional deaths today.

The total number of deaths is now at 16. There are now 321 cases. 

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said a number of cases have been confirmed at eight group living settings, including care facilities, senior living communities and one condominium complex — all in Chittenden County.

They include: 

  • Burlington Health and Rehab, Burlington
  • Quarry Hill, South Burlington
  • Pinecrest, Essex
  • Birchwood Terrace, Burlington
  • Taft Farm, Williston
  • Lancaster Farms, South Burlington
  • Shelburne House, South Burlington
  • University of Vermont Health and Hospice, Colchester

Levine said the rising numbers underscore the need for strict social distancing practices. 
Levine said people can transmit the virus 48 hours before they become symptomatic.

"There are people out there who aren't trying to harm you, but they have no idea they're sick yet and are going to become sick, and they may be capable of transmitting the disease," Levine said. 

Peter Hirschfeld and Amy Kolb Noyes

Vermont Senate mulls a boost to low-wage frontline workers

The Vermont Senate is looking at ways to boost the pay of workers who are providing key roles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said he's concerned that essential workers such as those staffing nursing homes could make more money from enhanced unemployment benefits than they do on their job.

"A lot of people who are working in relatively low-wage hourly positions — everything from housekeeping, to kitchen support, to personal care — have real worries about the inequity of the situation in terms of people being financially disadvantaged by continuing to work," Ashe said.

Ashe has asked senators to examine whether new federal relief funds could be used to provide a pay bump for this low-paid but essential work force.

John Dillon

Outbreak of COVID-19 reported at Birchwood Terrace

A second nursing home in Vermont's largest city has reported an outbreak of COVID-19. 

The infected residents are receiving medical care and are in isolation, according to a press release from Birchwood. 

The 144-bed nursing home reported its first case of COVID-19 on Monday and began testing "numerous residents," including ones that didn't show symptoms. On Wednesday, another six residents tested positive. 

"The health and safety of our residents and staff is our number-one priority," said Birchwood Terrace Executive Director Alecia DiMario in a written statement. "We are testing affected residents to help ensure their health, and we will continue to be proactive and vigilant in curtailing the spread of the virus." 

Birchwood is currently waiting on several other COVID-19 tests, according to the release. 

The facility is not allowing visitors except for "medical necessity and end-of-life situations" and all visitors and employees are screened before entering. The facility is also screening residents daily.

Birchwood is the second nursing home in Burlington to experience an outbreak of COVID-19. At the other facility, Burlington Health and Rehab, 36 residents and staffers have tested positive for the virus and eight residents have died, according to reporting by Seven Days.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Scott Administration sets up COVID-19 checkpoints

The Scott Administration has begun monitoring the flow of out-of-state traffic into Vermont. 

Gov. Phil Scott has tried to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Vermont by discouraging people from New York, Massachussetts and Connecticut from entering the state. 

Scott said public safety officials are now monitoring car traffic along the border. 

"We set up these points at the points of entry, so that we could determine how many people are coming into the state and from which states," Scott said.

Scott said police are not stopping drivers with non-Vermont license plates, or collecting their personal data.

He said he'll use the driver data to decide whether Vermont needs more restrictive orders on out-of-state travelers.

Peter Hirschfeld

New web resource for businesses affected by COVID-19

The Agency of Commerce and Community Development has launched a new website for businesses affected by COVID-19.

Secretary of Commerce Lindsay Kurrle said the website will help businesses navigate the new state and federal aid programs available to struggling companies.

"That resource center will be updated in real time as the coming days, weeks and months unfold, with the latest available resources and exactly how to access them," Kurrle said.

Businesses can access the new information by going to accd.vermont.gov.

Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday also announced the creation of a new economic recovery tastkforce.

Peter Hirschfeld

Rep. Peter Welch is hopeful about another massive economic stimulus bill

Congressman Peter Welch said he is hopeful Congress will pass another massive economic stimulus bill in the coming weeks. 

Welch said a $2 trillion package that was signed into law last weekend is designed to sustain the national economy by giving one-time checks to most individuals, special grants and loans to small businesses, as well as expanding unemployment benefits.

He said the next stimulus plan should include billions of dollars to upgrade access to the internet.

"We have to have in rural America, broadband that works for everybody, so our kids can do their homework, so we can do telemedicine, so our businesses, when we have to work at home, can have access to high-speed internet, so there's a focus on something that would be vital to our economy across the board," Welch said. 

Welch said he's optomistic that Congress will consider the plan later this month.

Bob Kinzel

Governor calls on skilled volunteers to join Vermont's Medical Reserve Corps

Gov. Phil Scott is asking former health care workers to sign up for the state's Medical Reserve Corps

Scott said the state was dealing with a shortage of health care workers even before the arrival of COVID-19. He said the pandemic has put even more pressure on the health care workforce.

"With all the hours these workers are putting in, and unfortunately we know some will become ill, we need to build this reserve corps." 

Scott said people with medical backgrounds or health care experience can be brought back as reinforcements.

He said the reserve corp is especially interested in licensed and certified health care professionals who no longer work in the field. 

For more about the governor's call for volunteers to register with the state, head here.

New testing data suggests COVID-19 is spreading faster than thought

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said testing data are generating new concerns about the prevalence of COVID-19 in Vermont.

Levine said 12% of the tests for COVID-19 in recent days have come back positive.

He said fewer than five percent of tests came back positive during the early days of the pandemic.

"That gives us a nice indicator of where we're going and how prevalent COVID-19 is in the population, to some degree," Levine said.  

He said the higher percentage of positive test results suggests that COVID-19 is spreading across the population, and added that the data underscore the importance of social distancing and self-isolation.

Peter Hirschfeld

More than 30,000 Vermonters file for unemployment

An unprecedented number of new unemployment claims in Vermont has created a bottleneck at the Department of Labor. 

Commissioner of Labor Michael Harrington said more than 30,000 Vermonters have filed for unemployment in recent weeks.

He said many of those laid off workers have been unable to connect to his department's call center.

"The most patience you can give and just, again, continue to be resilient, and try to get through to our department — that is the best course right now," Harrington said.

Harrington said Wednesday that anyone who is eligible for benefits will receive them, even if they haven't been able to file their claim yet.

The state is also in the process of creating an unemployment program for self-employed Vermonters who have lost work as a result of COVID-19. 

Peter Hirschfeld

For tips about how to apply for unemployment benefits, head here.

Evictions continue despite coronavirus crisis

Despite efforts at some courthouses, many Vermonters still face potential eviction and homelessness during the coronavirus crisis.

While the governors of states like California, Oregon and Michigan have banned evictions during coronavirus, no such statewide ban exists in Vermont.

In the meantime, fewer than half of Vermont's county courthouses have announced a temporary hold on future evictions, and lawyers say even in those counties, people with existing eviction orders are still facing potential homelessness.

Maggie Frye is managing attorney for Legal Services Vermont. She said sheriffs in Vermont who have already received eviction orders must force those tenants to leave their homes.

“There's nothing to stop those from being executed unless we individually petition the court for more time,” she said.

Frye added that just yesterday, her office intervened to prevent the eviction of two tenants. She encourages anyone with outstanding eviction orders to contact Vermont Legal Aid.

Gov. Phil Scott has said lawmakers may implement a statewide hold on evictions in the future.

- Emily Corwin 

Two additional COVID-19-related deaths in Vermont

The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Vermont continues to rise. The state health department announced 28 new cases and three additional deaths Wednesday.

That brings the total number of deaths to 16. There are now 321 total cases.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said a number of cases have been confirmed at eight group living settings, including care facilities, senior living communities and one condominium complex, all in Chittenden County. They are:

  • Burlington Health & Rehab
  • Quarry Hill in South Burlington
  • Pinecrest at Essex
  • Birchwood Terrace in Burlington
  • Taft Farms in Williston
  • Lancaster condo complex in South Burlington
  • Shelburne House in Williston
  • UVM Home, Health & Hospice

For a full summary of the Scott administration's press conference Wednesday, head here.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Juveniles moved from detention center escape St. Albans facility

As state officials scramble to prepare for the full impact of the coronavirus crisis, they have adjusted services to meet new needs.

For example, the Woodside juvenile detention facility in Essex will now be used to house people with mental illness who are sick with the virus. Meanwhile, the four young people who were at Woodside were moved to a rented building in St. Albans.

But that space proved inadequate. Department for Children and Families Commissioner Ken Schatz said two of the juveniles escaped this week because the building did not have locks.

“Consequently, we are as we speak looking for another site where we would be able to have the capacity to lock the doors and windows to make sure it is a more secure facility,” he said.

As of late Tuesday, one of the two runaways had been returned to custody. The department did not say whether the second youth had been found.

- John Dillon

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