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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Friday, April 10

An image of Rosie the Riveter wearing a Superman face mask and gloves along a sidewalk.
Aliya Schneider
/
For VPR
Kathryn Wieger's mural honoring local healthcare workers is displayed in front of Rutland's Chaffee Art Center on Thursday, April 9.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Friday, April 10.

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Inmates relocated to correctional facility surge site

An outbreak of COVID-19 at a Swanton prison has infected 32 inmates and 14 staff members so far. Additional test results are expected Saturday.

The Department of Corrections tested the facility's combined 328 inmates and staff earlier this week after its third staff member and first inmate tested positive for COVID-19.  On Friday, Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker said the scale of the outbreak caught officials by surprise.

“We didn’t expect this number, coming out of Northwest,” he said. “It was a big number, and we had to move very quickly last night. Move population out of St. Johnsbury and get this population over there.”

Four inmates are now isolated in negative pressure chambers in Swanton. At least another 28 have been transported to the correctional complex in St. Johnsbury. Baker said the Department is prepared to quarantine up to 56 inmates in its surge site there.

- Emily Corwin

For more about the outbreak of COVID-19 at one of Vermont's prisons, head here.

Gov. says some businesses could reopen before mid-May

An executive order that closed down bars, restaurants and non-essential retail outlets has been extended until May 15, but Gov. Phil Scott said Friday it’s possible he’ll allow some businesses to resume operations before the order expires.

“It won’t be all at once. It won’t be one sector all at once. It’ll be a phased-in approach, with safety measures in place,” he said.

Scott said new modeling suggests that COVID-19 isn’t spreading as aggressively in Vermont as his administration once feared.

He added if the infection rate continues to slow, then some businesses may be allowed to reopen before mid-May.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Senate passes bill halting evictions

Courts have already halted most evictions. But Chittenden Senator Michael Sirotkin said legislation was needed because it applies to evictions that were in the hands of a sheriff for enforcement.

Sirotkin added the bill earned support from tenants groups and landlords.

“We can't potentially be fostering homelessness as we fight this serious pandemic,” he said. “We also need to protect certain rights and needs of landlords. And we did that in this bill, as demonstrated by the Landlord Association’s support for the bill. We specifically say that the bill does not alter the tenant’s duty to pay rent, or to pay rent into court, if there is an order to that effect.”

The bill now moves to the House, which is expected to meet remotely next week.

- John Dillon

60-day extension for vehicle inspection

Vermont drivers whose inspection stickers are about to expire don’t need to rush to the mechanic just yet.

The Department of Motor Vehicles has granted a 60-day extension to anyone whose vehicle inspection expires in April.

Gov. Phil Scott said the move will help Vermonters self-isolate by avoiding unnecessary trips to the mechanic.

“Many have called with concerns about their inspections running out while they’re trying to stay in,” Scott said.

The DMV has also launched a new online system for driver’s license renewals.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Vermont's Unemployment Trust Fund in good shape, for now

State officials say Vermont's Unemployment Trust Fund is in good shape, but could be tested by a sustained period of high unemployment.

Currently, the trust fund has almost $500 million.

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington expects Vermont's unemployment rate to reach at least 30% in the coming weeks, and he said the key is how long the downturn lasts.

It really depends on, does this truly only last four weeks, or are we looking at eight weeks or 12 weeks, and if it's even sustained thereafter, what does that mean on the Trust Fund?” he said. “So it will be dependent, based on time." 

In the meantime, Harrington said his department is adding staff to deal with the dramatic increase in unemployment claims. It’s also trying a new alphabetical protocol to reduce the bottleneck.

“Our system is easily overloaded,” Harrington said. “Our call center is easily overloaded, so we are asking that you voluntarily adhere to this call structure so it doesn’t overload our system.”

On Mondays for example, the online claims portal will be reserved for people whose last names begin with the letters A through E.

Tuesdays are for F through L. Wednesdays are M through R. And Thursdays are S through Z.

Harrington said anyone is welcome to file claims on Sunday and Friday.

More than 73,000 Vermonters have filed for unemployment since the middle of March.

- Bob Kinzel and Peter Hirschfeld

Burlington businesses receive small grants

Some 67 Burlington businesses will receive modest grants to help keep them afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.

The city’s downtown has been hit hard by the pandemic, as customers stay home and non-essential businesses have been forced to halt in-person operations.

Mayor Miro Weinberger said most of the grant recipients will get $1,500 grants, and some will receive $2,000.

“These are small checks in comparison to the need this companies face in the wake of this economic storm, but we’re happy this is some of the first money from the government that is going to get into people’s hands.”

Businesses receiving grants include the coffee shop Muddy Waters, Vermont Comedy Club and the bar What Ales You.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Vermont Senate makes historic (remote) vote

The Vermont Senate voted remotely Friday for the first time in its 184-year history.

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman presided over an empty chamber as the 30 senators called out their votes via video conference.

The Senate unanimously passed four bills in response to the COVID-19 crisis. They're designed to streamline government services, postpone eviction proceedings, and waive requirements that legal documents be witnessed in person.

- John Dillon 

Holiday Inn to provide recovery center for homeless population

A South Burlington hotel will be used as a recovery center for homeless individuals who test positive for COVID-19.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said the state plans to use the Holiday Inn, and the facility will open next week.

Weinberger said the hotel was chosen in part because of its proximity to the University of Vermont Medical Center.

“We do know that a significant number of people who get the virus don’t need the hospital for a while, and then they take a turn for the worse and need to get the hospital quickly,” he said.

Patients at the facility must be homeless or live in a place where they can’t isolate, like a group home, according to Seven Days.

- Liam Elder-Connors

To learn more about how communities are trying to house those experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, head here.

Farmers markets not allowed to open

The Scott administration will not allow farmers markets to open up due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advocates thought the state would allow markets to open with curbside pickup.

But Maddie Kempner, who’s with NOFA-Vermont, said the Agency of Agriculture announced Friday that markets are not considered “essential” businesses.

“We are extremely disappointed and frustrated with this decision,” she said. “And what this guidance really means is that there are essentially no options for farmers markets to operate as, you know, the organizations that we know."

Kempner said the decision was a blow to farmers and Vermont's local food infrastructure.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Current COVID-19 forecast shows hospitals having enough resources

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vermont continues to rise.  But the infection rate isn’t climbing as sharply as analysts once feared. 

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak said COVID-19 infections in Vermont still haven’t peaked yet.

“The current forecast gives us greater confidence, however, that our hospital resources will be available to Vermonters when those worst days arrive,” Pieciak said.

New computer modeling suggests anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000 Vermonters will be infected with COVID-19 over the next six weeks.

Pieciak said if those numbers hold, the state should have enough intensive care beds and ventilators to care for people who need them.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Isolation self-help for astronauts ... and everyone at home

Strategies developed by researchers studying isolation in outer space may help people in the era of social distancing here on earth.

Jay Buckey, a former astronaut and director of Dartmouth's Space Medicine Innovations Lab, said self-help tools for coping with separation are now online as part of a study.

While isolation can put relationships at risk, Buckey said people can learn the skills needed to deal with it, whether stuck in outer space or at home.

“And maybe we’re not in quite as an extreme an environment here on earth, but these relationships are the most important people in their lives,” he said. “And so it’s important to be able to negotiate things, to work through conflicts while keeping those relationships intact.”

Dartmouth’s self-help tool and study is located at path.dartmouth.edu.

- Betty Smith

Another 51 positive cases

State officials reported an additional 51 cases of COVID-19 in Vermont Friday.

Many of the new cases come from an outbreak at the Northwest State Correctional Facility, which announced Thursday that 28 inmates and five staff members had tested positive.

That brings the total number of known cases to 679. One more person has died, for a total of 24 deaths to date.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Middlebury police chief keeps community updated on COVID-19

Keeping up with COVID-19 information can feel like trying to drink from a fire hose.

So Middlebury Police Chief and Emergency Management Director Tom Hanley has been writing a series of daily community email bulletins, and they've attracted a substantial local following.

Hanley sorts through the news of the day for clarity and accuracy. He debunks rumors and sums it all up in an informal style.

“I suppose if I was down in Philadelphia or Washington, D.C., giving a presentation, I would speak in a much different tone, but I’ve lived in Middlebury for 29 years,” Hanley said. “My kids went to school here. My grandkids go to school here. I’ve coached baseball, basketball, so I’m talking to people I know, and that’s the tone I use, kind of folksy I guess, in a way, but that’s essentially what I’m doing.”

The bulletins are available at the town website. 

- Betty Smith

Gov. extends state of emergency until May 15

Gov. Phil Scott has extended Vermont's state of emergency to last through May 15.

The original state of emergency order had been set to last until April 15. This extension covers associated orders issued by the governor, including the stay-at-home order, which will now be in effect until midnight of May 15.

The state of emergency order also includes various changes and clarifications, including extending motor vehicle inspections due in April for up to 60 days.

- Sam Gale Rosen

To read more about the governor's decision to maintain social distancing measures, head here.

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