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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Wednesday, April 8

Couple sit on Burlington porch
Elodie Reed
Stephen and Betsy Pond enjoy a cocktail and wave to neighbors on Elm Terrace in Burlington Tuesday evening. The Ponds and their dog, Reba, having been sitting on their porch these past few nights. "It's kind of the only way we... see our neighbors."

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Wednesday, April 8.


President Trump approves disaster declaration for Vermont

The Trump administration has approved Vermont’s request for federal disaster funds to fight the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Phil Scott said the state has already spent more than $20 million on its COVID-19 response.

The disaster declaration approved by President Donald Trump on Wednesday means the federal government will pay for 75% of those costs.

Local governments engaged in the COVID-19 response will also be eligible for federal reimbursements.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Vermont Senate approves remote voting

The Vermont Senate returned to Montpelier Wednesday and approved a measure that will allow lawmakers to vote remotely.

Until now, Senate rules required senators to be physically present to vote. Caledonia Sen. Joe Benning said the COVID 19 pandemic forced a change to the time-honored tradition.

“In changing them, we also must recognize that we have a responsibility to the public to be as open and transparent as possible when conducting our business,” he said. “This resolution attempts to do that using the technology that we now have at our disposal. We will not be perfect, but this is our first attempt at making that work.”

A slim majority of 16 senators – all wearing masks – gathered in the Statehouse. But the resolution had unanimous support. Several senators watching on video conference signaled their approval with a quick thumbs up directed at the screen.

The House has also moved to institute remote voting.

- John Dillon 

Sen. Bernie Sanders suspends his presidential campaign

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is dropping out of the 2020 presidential race, clearing the way for former Vice President Joe Biden to become the Democratic nominee.

Sanders' decision comes as the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered much of public life in the country and many states have delayed primaries.

Sanders addressed supporters from Burlington on Wednesday via live-stream. He told them his campaign was too far behind Biden in the delegate count to be viable moving forward.

"I cannot in good conscence continue to mount a campaign that cannot win, and which would interfere with the important work required of all of us in this difficult hour," Sanders said.

Sanders said he'll now turn his attention to working on relief measures for Americans affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Read the full story, here.

- Liam Elder-Connors

'Worst-case' scenario may be avoided, provided social distancing continues

There have now been a total of 605 positive tests for COVID-19 in Vermont, and 120 of the cases are associated with the outbreaks at two Burlington nursing homes. The number of deaths of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus remains at 23.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine announced the latest numbers in an update Wednesday. He said Vermont may be avoiding the worst-case impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but measures to protect the population must continue.

Levine said one hopeful sign is that the number of new positive cases seems to be holding steady over the last few days. 

"It really does indicate that we are probably not heading towards what we would consider to be the worst-case scenario," Levine said. "In fact, the scenario may be even better than what was originally thought." 

Levine said that for this trend to continue, Vermonters must maintain social distancing and stay at home as much as possible.

Gov. Phil Scott also said that he plans to extend the state's stay-at-home order on Friday.

John Dillon and Sam Gale Rosen


Labor Department faces out-of-date equipment amid unemployment surge

Tens of thousands of Vermonters have lost their jobs in recent weeks. Many have encountered delays and long wait times on the phone as they try to file for unemployment claims.

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said one reason is that the state processes the claims on a 30-year-old mainframe computer that has to be taken out of service every night. 

Gov. Phil Scott said the state must improve its service.

"These aren't excuses; they're just reasons," Scott said. "We know we need to do better. We're looking for every opportunity to do that. We're going to have a plan in place for us to be able to receive more calls, so people can talk to a real person. I think that's important. The economic uncertainty that this pandemic has caused is very real for many Vermonters." 

The state expects that up to 100,000 people may file for unemployment, including about 40,000 self-employed workers. 

John Dillon


At least 3 staff at a Mississippi prison housing Vermont inmates have COVID-19

Vermont houses roughly 250 Vermont inmates in a private prison in Mississippi. At leasts three staff members at that facility have tested positive for COVID-19. 

During a press availability Tuesday, Department of Corrections Facilities Executive Al Cormier said at least three people employed by CoreCivic at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Mississippi had tested positive for COVID-19.

None of those staff members worked directly with the Vermont population, but Mississippi was also implementing a mask protocol for all the inmates and staff. 

Cormier said he does not believe any inmates at that facility have tested positive. On Wednesday, Vermont announced its first in-state inmate had tested positive for the virus. That follows four positive test results for Vermont corrections staff.

Emily Corwin


Face coverings now recommended for all out-of-home travel

The Vermont Department of Health has issued guidance on wearing cloth facemasks. 

Face coverings — including cloth face masks, bandanas or scarves — are recommended for anyone leaving their home and going places where they are likely to encounter other people. The coverings should include multiple layers of cloth and cover your nose and mouth.

Face coverings are recommended because there is increasing evidence that COVID-19 can be spread before a person has any symptoms. The full guidance can be found at the Health Department's website.

Amy Kolb Noyes

Burton donates a half-million respirator masks to healthcare workers

Burton Snowboards is donating a half-million respirator masks for healthcare workers in the Northeast.

Hospitals serving Vermont, including Dartmough Hitchcock Medical Center, have already received 48,000 masks from Burton. The remainder of the masks will be distributed over the next two weeks.

Half the masks will go to the high-need areas of Boston and New York City.

Burton purchased the masks in China through one of its manufacturing partners. The company is also making medical face shields at its Burlington prototype facility and donating snow goggles to medical professionals.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Three Swanton prison staffers and one inmate test positive for COVID-19

The first Vermont inmate has tested positive for COVID-19. The man is incarcerated in Swanton at the Northwest State Correctional Facility.

According to a press release, the man began showing symptoms of the new coronavirus early Monday. He was subsequently moved to a negative pressure cell.

Over the next 24 hours, the department says it will test every Swanton inmate and staff member. 

Three staff members at the Swanton prison previously tested positive for COVID-19. Two were in recent contact with inmates before developing symptoms. One was a correctional officer, and the other was a parole-type officer, who recently redeployed to the prison. 

The Swanton facility is now on full lockdown, according to facilities executive Alan 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 [in those spaces] to 10 at a time," Cormier said.

According to the department, all staff and inmates in Swanton have been provided with face masks. To date, four DOC staffers have tested positive for COVID-19.  Read the full story, here.

- Emily Corwin

For more reporting about the experiences of inmates in Vermont during the COVID-19 pandemic, head here.

Independent healthcare providers get creative amid COVID-19

Two weeks ago, Dr. Michael Lyons, senior partner in the White River Family Practice in White River Junction, thought he and his colleagues might not be able to continue to care for their roughly 10,000 patients through the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Since then, they've applied for help through The CARES Act, and most insurance companies are allowing telehealth services to be billed in lieu of face-to-face visits. 

Lyons said that by around April 18 to April 25, they'll be open seven days a week. 

"We're having a tent set up outside, [which is] safer for everybody from an infection control standpoint," Lyons said. "That's first and foremost on our minds right now, [so] that we can do a good job through the surge."

Lyons expects that they can keep the practice going while they adjust to whatever the next phase will be, in about three months' time.

Betty Smith

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