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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Tuesday, April 7

A red barn with the words "VT Strong" in lights.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
VPR File
A barn in Putney sends an encouraging message on Saturday, April 4.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Tuesday, April 7.

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Dairy farmers face a precipitous drop in milk prices

Dairy farmers will soon face their worst financial situation in years as wholesale milk prices plummet due to a drop in demand brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.

Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts told Vermont Edition Tuesday that farmers face a "heartbreaking" situation.

"It's a real crisis. It's a real emergency. We heave about 650 dairy farmers, and I would have to say that if the forecasts are true on this, just about every one of them is at risk," Tebbetts said.

Prices were just starting to improve this spring after four years of decline, but Tebbetts said they are now dropping to well below what it costs Vermont farmers to produce their milk. Read or listen to the full story, here.

John Dillon

Chittenden Solid Waste District opposes proposed change to recycling rules

The Scott Administration wants to exempt trash haulers from a mandate to collect and separate recyclable products during the COVID-19 state of emergency. The state's largest solid waste district opposes the change.

Environmental Conservation Commissioner Peter Walke told lawmakers the exemption is justified because of possible health risks to workers handling the recycling.

"I think while the increased risk from handling recyclables may not be significant, it is a meaningful increased risk," Walke said. "And I want to make sure that we have the workers in place to do this critical work."

Chittenden Solid Waste District opposes the change. A district official said recyclables are not a health hazard. The district is also concerned the public may not follow recycling mandates once the current state of emergency is lifted. 

The state also wants to push back the pending ban on landfilling food scraps from this upcoming July to January 2021. 

John Dillon

Rep Welch: 'It's critical that farms get small business relief'

Congressman Peter Welch said it's critical that farms in Vermont are designated as small businesses under the new federal stimulus bill. 

Welch said many farms aren't eligible for provisions of the law because they have secured loans in the past from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and not the Small Business Administration. 

Welch said he hopes a special waiver can fix that.

"That's just a historical artifact, but I want to make sure that those farms are included with that $10,000 emergency grant," Welch said. "Most of us in Congress — Republicans and Democrats — thought that the farms were going to be included." 

Welch said he's working with a bi-partisan group of House members to implement changes as soon as possible. 

For more about how COVID-19 is impacting Vermont's dairy industry, head here.

Burlington Police are prepared to issue fines to those who defy governor's order

Burlington Police can issue fines of up to $500 to people who defy the governor's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order. 

Deputy Police Chief Jon Murad said that so far, people have voluntarily complied. But he said the new fines are still needed for people who are willfully ignoring the directive and gathering in public.

"Sometimes to conduct other unlawful activity, such as drinking in public or using substances, and that need to address folks doing those kinds of activities willingly... with the knowledge... that it's unlawful was part of the rationale behind creating this emergency power," Murad said.

Last week the city also restricted access to parks by removing basketball hoops and locking tennis courts in an effort to discourage large gatherings. 

Liam Elder-Connors

29 residents at Birchwood Terrace now have COVID-19

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases at a Burlington nursing home that experienced an outbreak of the virus has now risen to 29 residents and 22 staff.

In a press release issued Tuesday, April 7, Birchwood Terrace announced that they will re-test all of their residents who had previously tested negative for the virus — even those who have not shown symptoms.

The Vermont Department of Health is working with Birchwood Terrace to arrange testing. They expect test results in the next 24- t0 48 hours.

Karen Anderson

For more about the Health Department's efforts to work with elder care facilities across Vermont on COVID-19 preparedness and prevention, head here.

Vermont could see 100,000 workers file for unemployment benefits

As many as 100,000 Vermonters may ultimately file for unemployment benefits because of the new coronavirus. 

Commissioner of Labor Michael Harrington estimated that as many as 50,000 people have already filed their claims with the state, with many more to come in the next few weeks. He hopes thy will not remain unemployed for long. 

"It's a big number when you combine the two [figures], and maybe close to 100,000," Harrington said. "But I think that for all intents and purposes, that's going to be the immediate number. I don't think it's going to be the sustained number." 

The new federal stimulus package expands unemployment coverage to self-employed people and independent contractors.

Harrington said 40,000 people in Vermont fall into this category and many will file for unemployment. 

Bob Kinzel

Burlington offers property tax relief amid COVID-19

The City of Burlington is allowing property owners to delay paying property taxes in June if their finances have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. 

Under the plan approved on Monday evening, the city could borrow up to $20 million to cover the revenue gap until taxes are paid. 

To qualify for the delay, individuals must meet certain qualifications, like being unemployed or furloughed as a result of the pandemic. Businesses can also apply.

Chief Administration Officer Katherine Schad said landlords who wish to delay their tax payments must agree not to evict tenants for late rent. 

"Taxpayers who receive relief will be listed on the city website so that tenants can easily find that information," Schad said. "If enforcement is needed, they can contact the city." 

Schad said taxpayers who can still make their payments should continue to do so. 

Liam Elder-Connors

For an update from Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger about his office's response to COVID-19, head here.

Governor files for federal disaster relief

Gov. Phil Scott says Vermont has already spent more than $20 million on its response to COVID-19, and he’s asked the federal government to reimburse the state for the majority of those costs.

Scott filed a request with the Trump administration Monday for a major disaster declaration in Vermont. If approved, state and local governments will be reimbursed for 75% of eligible costs related to their response to COVID-19.

“What we’re seeing are what we call emergency protective measure costs, or costs that are incurred by state and local entities, hospitals, to scale up operations and to respond with personnel, equipment,” said Erica Bornemann, director of the State Emergency Operations Center.

Bornemann said the bulk of the $20 million in expenditures so far has been for ventilators and personal protective equipment. But she said personnel costs associated with the state’s response to COVID-19 would also be eligible for reimbursement.

She added the state and towns can also be reimbursed for costs related to medical care, food and cleaning, as well as work to support nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Scott has also asked the federal government to pay for costs associated with the activation of the Vermont National Guard.

Bornemann said the Guard has estimated that its COVID-19 response could cost more than $12 million.

“If we’re approved to activate our National Guard troops under U.S. Title 32, that means that their pay and benefits will be paid by the federal government, versus state active duty,” Bornemann said Tuesday.

Vermont would otherwise have to pay for 25% of the costs incurred by the Guard during its activation.

Members of the Vermont National Guard are constructing and operating a 400-bed hospital surge unit in Essex, and they have helped install various “surge” sites around the state.

- Peter Hirschfeld 

Vermont corrections facilities getting more hand sanitizer

The Vermont Department of Corrections acknowledged Tuesday its facilities do not have enough alcohol-based hand sanitizer to go around.

On a call with reporters, facilities executive Al Cormier said SILO Distilleries in Springfield will provide the Department of Corrections with nearly 100 gallons of hand sanitizer. Employees at the Springfield and Burlington Probation and Parole offices will then pour the hand sanitizer into 8-ounce bottles.

“We'll be filling those bottles and distributing them out to all facilities beginning Friday and through next week,” Cormier said. “And we will continue doing that on a regular basis.”

Currently, four prison staffers have tested positive for COVID-19. They include three staff members at Northwest Correctional Facility in Swanton, and two were in recent contact with inmates before developing symptoms.

The Swanton facility is now on full lockdown according to Cormier.

“We are implementing plans now to get inmates out in small groups to the rec yard, to get inmates out in small groups to the day room, limiting that number of inmates to 10 at a time,” he said.

According to the Department, all staff and inmates in Swanton have been provided with face masks. To date, no inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, but one is in isolation awaiting test results.

- Emily Corwin 

Health department unveils new data dashboard

The Vermont Department of Health has unveiled a new COVID-19 data dashboard. In addition to showing numbers for testing, monitoring, related deaths and a county-by-county map of cases, the new tool breaks down the number of coronavirus cases by age, sex and per capita.

It also shows the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 and those hospitalized but under investigation for COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the first day the dashboard was in use, health officials reported no new deaths but an additional 32 positive tests for COVID-19, bringing the case total to 575 in Vermont. Twenty-nine people are hospitalized for the illness, and another 51 are hospitalized but under investigation for the coronavirus.

- Elodie Reed

Public Safety Commissioner: Increase in deaths by suicide

The state has seen a decline in public safety calls in the weeks since Vermont declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There has also not been a spike in domestic violence calls, as was feared, according to the Department of Public Safety.

But Commissioner Michael Schirling said the state has seen in an increase in deaths by suicide.

“There are hotlines, there are places you can call for assistance. This is a difficult time for everyone … please reach out for help if you need it,” Schirling said.

The commissioner did not have additional details about the increase, but said his department would more closely monitor the issue going forward.    

Crisis resources:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Vermont Suicide Prevention Center: Text VT to 741741
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE
Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 

Burlington mayor declares "emergency" in annual speech

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, in his annual state of the city address, said the city was in an “emergency” as it grapples with the  COVID-19 pandemic.

Weinberger delivered the speech alone in city hall over a live video stream. In the address, Weinberger said over the next year, Burlington would face unprecedented public health and economic challenges.

For now, he said residents need to follow the statewide stay-at-home order.

“If we remain committed to social distancing and the current trends reported by the Department of Health continue, hopefully we will drive down new cases to levels we need sometime in the next one to two months,” Weinberger said.

He said his administration is taking steps to help economically struggling residents. One of those plans, approved by the city council Monday night, allows residents and business owners to delay paying June property taxes.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Vermont jury trials suspended through May 15

The Vermont Supreme Court has suspended jury trials through May 15.

The decision was announced Monday to extend the original Judicial Emergency, which was issued March 16 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The court has also postponed the July bar exam to a later date.

- Karen Anderson 

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