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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Friday, April 3

Caution tape around a swing set.
Elodie Reed
/
VPR File
Caution tape and signs warn people to stay off the playground at Calahan Park in Burlington. City officials announced Thursday that dog parks, tennis courts and basketball hoops would be off limits to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Friday, April 3.

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COVID-19 cases spike as testing ramps up

The number of COVID-19 cases in Vermont jumped Friday by 51, the largest single day increase since the disease was first reported in the state last month.

The spike in cases brought the total number of reported COVID-19 infections up to 389. There are also 17 deaths associated with the disease.

The increase comes as the state ramped up testing over the last week and allowed people with mild and moderate symptoms to be tested.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the state has supplies to continue the high volume of testing.

“We certainly have well over a week or 10 days and maybe even double or triple that depending on how much we need,” he said.

The state has conducted over 5,200 tests.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Gov. plans to extend stay-at-home order

Gov. Phil Scott said he expects to extend a statewide stay home order in the next two or three days.

Scott’s initial order directing people to remain home and closing in-person operations for non-essential businesses was set to last until April 15.

However, modeling from the administration released Thursday predicts COVID-19 cases in Vermont will peak in late-April or early May.

At a press conference Friday, the governor said the extension of the order is imminent.

“We’ll extend for a period of time, and then update as necessary based on the science, the data we received,” Scott said.

- Liam Elder Connors

Senate Agriculture Committee Zoom call porn-hacked

A remote hearing of the Vermont Senate Agriculture Committee was disrupted this Thursday by a hacker who briefly displayed pornographic images on the screen.

The committee was taking testimony on the school lunch program when the images appeared. Senators looked on in dismay before the video conference was shutdown.

Senate President Tim Ashe said the Legislature's IT staff were already working to strengthen security protocols. He said the incident clearly highlights the need for additional security as the Legislature meets online during the pandemic.

- John Dillon 

DCF to move youth in juvenile detention to different facility, again

The Department for Children and Families will again move youth once held at the state’s juvenile detention center to a temporary facility in Middlesex.

The youth were initially moved to a facility in St. Albans after the state decided to use the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility to house adult psychiatric patients with mild cases of COVID-19.

But then two youth broke out of the St. Albans facility, which did not have locks.

On Monday, DCF will move the four youth to a locked psychiatric facility in Middlesex – that building has been empty since the end of March when the Department of Mental Health moved its patients to the state psychiatric hospital in Berlin.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Middlebury, Champlain colleges cancel in-person classes for rest of semester

Two more Vermont colleges have called off in-person classes for the remainder of the semester.

Champlain College and Middlebury College both made the decision Thursday, also canceling in-person commencement ceremonies. UVM also ended in-person classes last month and said its commencement likely won't go forward as planned.

Middlebury said approximately 120 students are still on campus and they will be allowed to stay until the end of the semester, unless federal or state policies change.

Both schools announced they would hold virtual graduation ceremonies in May and an in-person event at a later date.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

State officials ask Vermonters to recreate close to home

State officials are reminding Vermonters to maintain social distancing while taking part in outdoor activities, like hiking.

The governor’s stay-at-home order does allow people to go outside to exercise, but Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore said Friday if people go out, they should stay close to home.

Moore added that people should avoid congregating at parks and trail heads.

“If you arrive at a crowded trailhead or a place with an unmanageable parking situation, see that as a sign, please turn around and choose an alternative that is not as crowded,” she said.

The state and recreational groups have closed many popular trails because of the risk of people crowding together during the pandemic. In addition to the Long Trail, trail managers have also closed the Catamount Trail and the Kingdom Trails network.

Michael Snyder is Commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation. He said trails are often closed during mud season anyway. He added trail maintenance is not one of the essential services exempted from the governor's stay-at-home order.

“I'm proud that our general philosophy at the agency is that we want to keep public lands open, whether they are state forests, state parks and WMAs,” Snyder said. “But lands and facilities are not the same thing. Bathrooms are closed, facilities are closed, and that includes trails. We want to make some available as much as we can that are reasonable to use.”

Snyder said there are still plenty of open spaces and public land available for people to get outside.

He recommends exploring the gravel roads in state forests.

"We have hundreds of nice gravel roads through the state forest system,” he said. “Those are great places for people to get out. You can spread out. There's room. And you can still get movement, fresh air and connection to nature.”

- Liam Elder-Connors and John Dillon 

Vermont inmates report inconsistent access to soap and hand sanitizer

According to recent conversations with Vermont inmates and advocates, many behind bars have irregular access to soap or cleaning supplies, must eat elbow-to-elbow in mess halls, and — until VPR inquired about it — were still playing full-contact basketball.

Jim Baker, commissioner of the Department of Corrections, said “every facility that is under my supervision and corrections has adequate supplies." He could not say how supplies were distributed within facilities.  Read the full story here.

- Emily Corwin

No permanent closures yet for Burlington's Church Street Marketplace

Dozens of retail shops and restaurants in downtown Burlington have had to move to online sales and delivery of their products — and many have laid off workers. But according to the Church Street Marketplace, no businesses have permanently closed at this point.

Jed Davis owns the Farmhouse Group, which operates several restaurants including three around Church Street. He has had to lay off all but five of his 230 employees.

Once the crisis is over, he said, he expects to rehire them.  But, he said, there’s “absolutely no question that some of our most-loved small businesses will not make it through.”

- Liam Elder-Connors

For more about the impact of COVID-19 on Burlington's Church Street business district, head here.

Health department recommends face masks in public

The Vermont Health Department is now recommending everyone — including people with no symptoms of COVID-19 — wear a cloth mask out in public. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the new advice reflects the fact that people with no symptoms can still spread the disease.

The announcement comes as the number of known cases of COVID-19 in Vermont took another jump, following the expanded availability of testing.  Levine said that medical-grade masks should be reserved for medical professionals.

Vermonters are still being urged to practice social distancing and stay at home whenever possible.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Brattleboro Hospital announces layoffs

The Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is laying off its non-essential, non-clinical staff amid predictions of medical surges and COVID-19 outbreaks.

In a community email, hospital president Steven Gordon said the furloughs represent less than 10% of employees, and are necessary after the hospital cut back on services such as elective surgery and outpatient services, which generate 80% of the hospital's revenue.

“It is my personal goal to bring back all staff after this pandemic subsides," he wrote.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

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