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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Friday, April 24

A barn with a cloth banner thanking first responders.
Abagael Giles
/
VPR
A barn-style thank you in St. Albans on Thursday, April 23.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Friday, April 24.

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Processing underway for unemployment claims for the self-employed

The Vermont Department of Labor began processing unemployment claims for self-employed Vermonters Thursday.

Self-employed workers aren’t usually eligible for unemployment insurance, but federal legislation passed last month created a new program for self-employed workers affected by the pandemic.

It took the Department of Labor several weeks to get the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program up and running. Commissioner of Labor Michael Harrington said more than 5,000 self-employed residents have already filed claims.

“Certainly as we bring in more eligible groups, but also as more and more people become aware of the application, we’ll see that number grow,” he said.

- Pete Hirschfeld

Burlington Police to patrol city parks over weekend, postpone search for chief

Burlington Police will be out at the city’s parks this weekend making sure residents comply with social distancing rules.

Interim Chief Jennifer Morrison said people can still go outside, but they need to maintain distance from others.

Officers can issue municipal tickets to people disobeying the governor’s stay-at-home order — but Morrison said so far, the department hasn’t had to take that step.

“And we hope that doesn’t happen, and we’re looking forward to a really great weekend and seeing people get out and exercise,” she said. “But still you can still do that and follow the rules of the executive order.”

On Friday, Mayor Miro Weinberger also announced the city would postpone its search or a permanent police chief due to the pandemic.

Weinberger said Morrison will remain in the position, though she’ll take a leave of absence from June to October to care for her husband, who undergoing surgery.

“She has committed that she will come back and stay in that roll until this new timeline is met,” Weinberger said.

Deputy Chief Jon Murad will serve as chief while Morrison is on leave. Morrison said she doesn't want the permanent job.

The city’s former police chief, Brandon del Pozo, resigned in December after he admitted to taunting a critic with an anonymous Twitter account.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Self-employed Vermonters can now file for unemployment assistance

The Vermont Department of Labor has begun to process unemployment claims for self-employed Vermonters.

The “pandemic unemployment assistance” program went live on Thursday. Commissioner of Labor Michael Harrington said Friday more than 5,000 self-employed residents have already filed claims.

“Certainly as we bring in more eligible groups, but also as more and more people become aware of the application, we’ll see that number grow,” Harrington said.

Self-employed workers aren’t usually eligible for unemployment insurance. But federal legislation passed last month created a new program for self-employed workers affected by the pandemic.

It took the Department of Labor several weeks to get the new program up and running.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Two Vermont utilities withdraw applications for small business relief funds

Green Mountain Power and Vermont Gas Systems have withdrawn their requests for a combined $12.5 million under the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

The two utilities are owned by a large Canadian gas and pipeline company. They've followed new federal guidance that says large companies with easy access to capital should not get the money.

Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Kristin Kelly said the utility saw the PPP program as a way to keep costs down for customers.

“And we have taken multiple steps in order to try to reduce cost pressures for customers,” she said. “And that’s why we had applied for this along with many other utilities in Vermont.”

The federal government forgives the loans if companies keep a certain number of workers on the payroll. The Small Business Administration released the new guidelines this week, after hearing criticism that large companies obtained the federal help while many small businesses got nothing. Read the full story.

- John Dillon

Hundreds turn out to receive meal handouts in Rutland

The Vermont National Guard was at the Rutland Southern Vermont Airport Friday handing out food, two days after holding a similar event in Swanton to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By 9 a.m., more than 200 cars were lined up. Sgt. Caleb Lewis was part of a team of National Guard members putting boxes of Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs) in people’s cars. He said it was hard not to get emotional watching that many vehicles come through.

"It’s been a much bigger turnout than any of us even imagined it would be,” Lewis said. “Swanton was swamped, and here we actually tripled what we were supposed to bring to hopefully meet the demand.”

He added: “If we get rid of everything, it would be 107,520 meals."

Lewis also said the National Guard was handing out information on where to get mental health counseling and other services.

Gabe Corbin of Rutland was grateful.

"It’s a crazy time we’re living in right now, and any help, we’ll take it,” Corbin said. “I have a family, two kids and my wife and anything we can do right now is beneficial.”

Similar events are planned for Newport and North Springfield next week.

- Nina Keck 

For a full MRE handout schedule, and to read about the Vermont National Guard's meal handout in Swanton Wednesday, head here.

Vermont COVID cases by town available beginning Monday

Vermonters will soon be able to find out how many cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in their own towns.

The Department of Health has only been disclosing county-level data since it began tracking COVID-19 cases last month, but Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said that will change next week.

“So you’ll be able to see the data by town on Monday on a map that will be on the Health Department website,” he said.

As of Friday, Vermont has 827 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with Chittenden County accounting for nearly half that total.

- Peter Hirschfeld 

More federal funds for small businesses, COVID-19 testing

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch said federal legislation approved this week will boost coronavirus testing capacity in Vermont.

Welch said social distancing has helped slow the spread of COVID-19. But, he added, behavioral guidelines alone won’t be enough to combat the disease.

“And this $25 billion in testing is an acknowledgment of the absolute, fundamental importance of testing going forward,” he said.

The federal bill approved by Congress this week also includes an additional about $320 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program.

“So Vermont businesses that had filed applications, there’s now money available through the SBA to hopefully have your application be successfully granted,” Welch said.

Vermont businesses won more than $800 million in loans and grants from the previous federal bill.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Health commissioner encourages Vermonters to seek needed medical care

Fewer people are seeking care at emergency rooms and other health care institutions, and Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said fear of the coronavirus may be keeping people away.

“The prevailing thought is that the diseases have not gone away, but people are reluctant to present to hospitals and other health care institutions, worried that they might contract COVID,” he said.

Levine said ER visits are down across the state. He added Vermonters should not forego necessary medical care in order to avoid contracting COVID-19.

- Peter Hirschfeld

To read more about the drop off in patient traffic at doctor's offices, head here.

Another round of relief funding for Vermont artists

There’s more relief funding available for Vermont’s artists.

Karen Mittelman, Executive Director of the Vermont Arts Council, said the Rapid Response Artist Relief Program has just reopened to help individual artists.

“And we already have 131 new applications or applications in progress,” she said. “Those are grants of up to $500 to give immediate aid to artists who are experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic.”

- Betty Smith

Gov. allows more businesses to reopen, with restrictions

As the spread of COVID-19 continues to slow in Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott cleared more businesses to reopen Friday.

Scott said outdoor construction crews of up to five people can return to work, so long as they wear face masks and practice social distancing.

“We’ll also allow manufacturing and distribution operations to open with a maximum of five employees in a space large enough to keep these workers six feet apart at all times,” he said.

The governor said outdoor retail businesses, such as nurseries and garden centers, can also reopen. He added, however, that no more than 10 people will be allowed at the business at any one time. Read the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld 

Using local hardware and scuba gear, manufacturer makes masks for Bennington hospital

When Southwestern Vermont Health Care in Bennington was running out of personal protective equipment in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, the hospital contacted Mack Molding.

The company, just up the road in Arlington, specializes in plastics design and manufacturing.

Adam Lehman is president of a Mack subsidiary called Synectic, where he assembled an engineering team to help the hospital.

Lehman said the team modified scuba masks, using an innovative filter system.  

“We’ve been buying filter replacements that you use for your HVAC system, you know at the local hardware store here. And then we cut ‘em up into small squares. And then we glue them using a medical grade adhesive into 3D printer cartridges that you can then screw onto our face masks and our adaptor.”

Lehman said 500 new masks were in use at the hospital within two weeks.

- Betty Smith

Rate of new COVID-19 cases continues to slow

As the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Vermont continues to slow, fewer people are being hospitalized with the disease.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak said Vermont will have enough hospital resources to care for anyone who develops complications from the disease.

“Last week, we announced we had reached the peak of new confirmed cases,” he said. “This week, the data indicates that we have likely reached our peak on demand on hospital resources as well.”

There are currently just 12 people hospitalized in Vermont due to COVID-19, according to the Health Department. Two new cases were reported today, bringing the total number of cases to date to 827. Over 14,000 tests have been administered.

Pieciak said even in a worst-case scenario, Vermont will have enough ICU beds and ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients, and he expects the number of active cases in Vermont to begin declining as soon as next week.

So far, 44 people have died from the virus in Vermont.

- Amy Kolb Noyes and Peter Hirschfeld

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