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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 Thursday, April 2

Vermont Strong Sign
Abagael Giles
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VPR
In Shelburne Village, one closed business across from the town green offered a message of hope.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Thursday, April 2.

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Model projects Vermont may be short on ICU beds, ventilators

Vermont-specific computer modeling unveiled by the Scott administration Thursday shows that the state might not have enough intensive care beds or ventilators to treat patients during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “likeliest case” scenario for COVID-19 infections forecasts a peak need for 211 ICU beds, 76 more than the state has on hand now. It also projects the need for 114 ventilators; hospitals currently have 93 in stock, according to the administration.

The modeling projects that the peak will come in late April or early May. The modeling indicates Vermont could see as many as 12,500 cases of COVID-19 in the coming weeks or as few as 2,500.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Learn more about the Scott administration's presentation of the Vermont-specific COVID-19 model by heading here.

Vermont now has 338 cases of COVID-19

The number of cases of COVID-19 continues to rise in Vermont. There are now 338 reported cases of the disease — up from 17 on Wednesday.

The health department also reported another virus death on Thursday, for a total of 17. 

Twenty-nine patients are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and another 42 hospitalized patients are being tested for the disease. The state has conducted just over 4,700 tests.

Liam Elder-Connors

Agency of Education: 'Remote learning does not constitute online learning'

When Gov. Phil Scott closed Vermont's schools for the remainder of the school year, he said he wanted districts to come up with learning plans for teaching their students remotely.

The Agency of Education has been setting guidelines for the remote learning and this week said students should not be required to spend too much time in front of their computers.

"Remote learning does not exclusively mean online learning," the agency's Continuity Learning Plan reads. "Students should not be required to access devices for the traditional length of the school day."

Students should instead engage in self-driven projects and problem-solving, the memo reads.

The state said schools should consider the impacts of increased screen time and that students should explore their outdoor environment to an extend that is within the public health parameters set forth by the Vermont Department of Health. 

Scott asked districts to come up with their remote learning plans before April 13. 

Howard Weiss-Tisman

New Hampshire National Guard prepping surge site in Lebanon

The New Hampshire National Guard has been working to establish a COVID-19 surge site in Lebanon.

Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos said the location makes sense because of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and other nearby hospitals.

“What this system’s designed to do is to push people out of the critical care facility to maybe a smaller hospital, like an Alice Peck Day or Valley Regional or New London,” Christopoulos said. “And when they’re at capacity, then their care may be transferred to one of these flex sites or alternate care sites.”

Discussions are underway with Dartmouth College about a building with a 125-bed capacity that the Guard would adapt. Volunteers will provide most routine care. 

Just as the region's hospitals serve communities on both sides of the river, so too will the COVID-19 surge facility.

- Betty Smith 

Nurses demand greater say in Vermont's COVID-19 response

A group of five organizations representing Vermont's nurses said nurses should have more input when it comes to the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The group sent a letter to Gov. Phil Scott on Thursday, April 2, saying they want to be involved in all levels of the state's planning and response. 

In the joint statement, which was also sent to Congressional leaders, the five organizations said more inclusion would build confidence and trust, reduce stress and ensure that nurses are protected as they work to combat the virus. 

Howard Weiss-Tisman

Gov. Scott announces additional pop-up medical facilities in Essex, Rutland

Gov. Phil Scott has announced two new pop-up medical facilities, in case hospitals in Vermont become overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases. 

The medical surge care sites are being set up by the Vermont National Guard in Chittenden and Rutland counties. 

Four-hundred emergency beds will be housed at the Champlain Valley Expo, and overseen by Guard members. A facility supported by the Rutland Regional Medical Center will provide 150 beds, if needed.

High-capacity surge sites have already been set up in St. Albans, Barre and at the University of Vermont, in Burlington. The announcement said medical surge trailers are positioned across the state, including at hospitals in Brattleboro and Windsor.

The Scott Administration is encouraging people with health care experience to sign up as volunteers with the state's Medical Reserve Corps. 

Amy Kolb Noyes

For more about the need for volunteers to join Vermont's COVID-19 response, head here.

Despite COVID-19, Jamaican farmworkers will soon arrive in Vermont

State agricultural officials had good news on Thursday for vegetable and apple growers concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic would prevent foreign workers from entering the country. 

Deputy Agricultural Secretary Alyson Eastman said the Jamaican workers who normally arrive in mid-March will soon be back in the field. 

"For the most part, the problems we have been experiencing have been due to the international travel shutdown," Eastman said. "They were scheduled to come on a plane earlier, but because of the commercial airlines canceling, we actually had to charter a plane out of Jamaica to get them here." 

The Jamaicans are allowed to enter the country legally under a federal program that allows foreign workers to be here during the growing season. 

John Dillon

Birchwood Terrace now has 14 cases of COVID-19

Another seven residents at a Burlington nursing home have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases at Birchwood Terrace to 14. 

The nursing home said it will now test all residents and staff for the virus.

All infected residents are receiving medical care at the nursing home and are isolated, according to the facility.

Birchwood said all employees are being screened before entering and residents are having their temperatures taken twice per day. 

Birchwood Terrace is one of eight group living communities in Chittenden County that have seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases in recent days.

Liam Elder-Connors

Unemployment surges to new historic levels

Claims for unemployment benefits in Vermont have surged to historic levels in the past week. 

At this time last year the state had seen 397 claims — this week there were an additional 15,000 claims finalized, and tens of thousands more are still being processed.

To date, the Department of Labor has now processed over 28,000 claims since Gov. Phil Scott invoked his "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order, closing all in-person activity for non-essential businesses on March 25.

Labor spokesperson Kyle Thweatt expects this number will skyrocket as the department works through its huge backlog of claims.

"Our best estimates right now are in the range of about 40,000 to 50,000 initial claims... for people who have established an unemployment claim with the department," he said.

Thweatt noted most claims have come from service industry workers across Vermont.

“There's no one region that's being impacted differently than another,” he said. “Every part of the state has restaurants and bars and businesses that aren't necessarily on that essential list, so that's kind of the wave that we've seen coming in."  

Officials are expecting another surge in claims next week.

Next week is also when the federal government's $2 trillion stimulus package begins providing unemployment benefits for self-employed people and independent contractors.

Those individuals will be able to enroll starting April 10. As a result, self-employed Vermonters who apply now for the benefits will be told that they aren't eligible.

But Thweatt said that will change.

“Those individuals that are self-employed aren't yet eligible in the current U.I. system, and that is something that we are working on updating and really creating from scratch,” he said.

He added that the delay, benefits for self-employed workers will be retroactive to the date they stopped working.

- Bob Kinzel

For advice about how to file for unemployment benefits, head here.

Industry leaders urge skiers to think twice before skinning up closed resorts

Experts are urging skiers to think twice about skinning at closed ski resorts.

While there's still a lot of snow, slopes are not being groomed at shuttered resorts as they normally would, which can mean icy and variable surfaces. 

Ski Vermont, the state's ski industry association, is reminding anyone who wants to skin up and ski down that there are no ski patrol personnel and responding to on-hill situations puts EMS personnel at additional risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sugarbush and Mad River Glen sent out a joint statement, saying both mountains will be closed to all skiers after today. Some other Vermont resorts have already banned skinning.

Nina Keck

For more about how ski towns are weathering COVID-19, head here.

Iconic Hanover diner goes mobile in response to COVID-19

These days, many restaurants across the region are improvising.

Lou's Restaurant in Hanover, N.H., the iconic diner near Dartmouth College, is still offering take-out and delivery. But they've also decided to run a food truck. 

Campus is closed, so Lou's owner Jarrett Berke was able to borrow the truck from the students who usually run it. 

He's also accepting public support to provide free meals to frontline workers and their families, among them, local firefighters.

"The first chef came in at 5," Berke said. "He actually started 15 breakfast burritos, which we brought over to the Hanover Fire Department as a part of a donation that came in from the community, not just from us." 

Berke said having the truck is helping him keep staff on the payroll.

Betty Smith

A second DOC staffer tests positive for COVID-19

The Department of Corrections announced on Wednesday evening that a second staff member has tested positive for COVID-19.

The staffer works at Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton. In a press release, the DOC said the employee was last in the facility a week ago and did not have symptoms at that time. The department said the employee had "limited interactions" with inmates.

All DOC employees entering facilities are being screened for symptoms of COVID-19.

Liam Elder-Connors

Questions about coronavirus? We've got answers. Here are a few common ones.

N.H. allocates $2.6 million to fight crime behind closed doors

New Hampshire is spending $2.6 million to target crimes committed behind closed doors during the coronavirus pandemic.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu on Wednesday announced $2 million to help the state respond to and prevent child abuse, and $600,000 for programs serving victims of domestic violence.

Moira O'Neill, director of the Office of the Child Advocate, said home confinement and disrupted routines could be contributing to child abuse, but calls to a state hotline have dropped because children are "out of school and out of sight."

She and the governor urged neighbors, delivery people and others to watch for possible abuse.

Sam Gale Rosen

For more about information about resources for survivors of domestic violence in Vermont during COVID-19, head here.

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