Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Monday, April 27
Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Monday, April 27.
Health Department releases COVID-19 case numbers by town
The state health department on Monday released COVID-19 case numbers by town. The highest concentration of the disease is in the greater Burlington area.
Burlington, the largest city in Vermont, has 157 cases of COVID-19 — the most in the state. The majority of those cases are due to outbreaks at two nursing homes.
Essex has the next-highest count, with 47 cases. The nearby towns in Colchester and South Burlington have nearly 40 cases each.
Swanton, the location of the state correctional facility that's experienced an outbreak, has 44 cases.
There are also several smaller pockets of reported cases around the state, including 19 cases in St. Albans City, 16 cases in Brattleboro and 13 cases in Rutland City.The state did not disclose the specific number of towns with zero-to-five cases, saying that information could reveal patients' identities.
- Liam Elder-Connors
Superintendent at Springfield prison placed on temporary leave
The superintendent of Vermont's prison in Springfield is on a temporary leave after a correctional officer had his mask pulled down during a video-conference court hearing. Officers are required to wear masks while working.
Last week, a defense attorney pointed out the officer was on screen with his mask pulled off his face during a bail hearing. Now DOC Commissioner Jim Baker says the superintendent in charge of the Springfield prison, Michael Lyons, has stepped down temporarily during a month-long audit of that prison's protocols.
Baker recognized such a breach could have happened at any of the state's six prisons.
"When you run a decentralized organization and you're dealing with thousands of different employees in an organization — I'm not saying it could not happen in any other facility, but it came up here," Baker said.
Baker said Lyons will most likely be reinstated as superintendent when the audit concludes.
- Emily Corwin
Department of Labor mandates COVID-19 training for companies that reopen
The Scott administration is requiring all businesses that want to reopen during the COVID-19 crisis to complete a safety training program.
Steve Monahan, with the Department of Labor, saaid all employees will be required to participate in a training program that will cover virus transmission, social distancing and disposing of safety equipment.
"This is a mandatory requirement to reopen. I believe that most businesses are aware of the need to do this, and see that it's probably a good effort to protect themselves from liability or having a sick workforce," Monahan said. "I believe they're looking for guidance on what to do.
Monahan said companies are free to implement more comprehensive policies.
- Bob Kinzel
Vail Resorts offers passholders impacted by COVID-19 credits for 2020
The company that owns several Vermont ski resorts, including Stowe, Okemo and New Hampshire's Mount Sunapee is offering big incentives to season passholders who were affected by COVID-19 closures.
Vail Resorts is offering credits at between 20% and 80% for next year's Epic Pass, to anyone who held a pass this past season, which was cut short by the pandemic.
Vail acknowledged that skiers are nervous about whether the 2020-2021 season will also be disrupted by coronavirus, and is offering free pass insurance that covers a pandemic.
- Amy Kolb Noyes
State legislators will help process unemployment claims
The Vermont Department of Labor is increasing the number of people processing unemployment claims.
Some of those new workers will include Vermont lawmakers, who have been inundated with calls from constituents who have been stuck in the unemployment backlog.
The Scott administration has accepted an offer from House Speaker Mitzi Johnson to help the state deal with its unemployment backlog.
"The goal is to increase the number of cases that get cleared every hour or every day so that Vermonters can meet their basic needs in this crisis," Johnson said. "We're very, very concerned that people have gone six weeks without any kind of income."
Johnson said lawmakers won't have the expertise to process the most complicated unemployment claims.
"But if we can hire call center contractors and train them up quickly, we can certainly train legislators that know their communities, know their constituents and are familiar with Vermont government.," Johnson said.
Lawmakers who volunteer to work in the claims processing unit will undergo several hours of training.
More than 80,000 Vermonters have filed for unemployment in the past six weeks, and the unprecedented volume has led to delays in people receiving benefits.
- Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont ski towns see more cases of COVID-19
The state health department has released town-by-town numbers of people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Burlington, the state's largest city, had the highest number of cases, with 157 positives. But several resort towns such as Stowe and Woodstock, had six to ten cases, each. Health Commissioner Mark Levine said that could be because visitors or second homeowners were infected.
"We're quite well aware that there have been out-of-state people who have come into Vermont and been diagnosed shortly after arriving in Vermont," Levine said. "That's part of the reality of a virus knowing no borders."
Levine said that some Vermonters also brought the virus home with them after traveling overseas.
- John Dillon
Latest federal stimulus offers financial relief to farmers
A new federal program may bring some needed financial relief to Vermont farmers.
Commissioner of Economic Development Joan Godlstein said the latest federal stimulus bill includes something called the Economic Injury Disaster Loan.
"The good news is that the agricultural producers will be eligible for that particular program, so that is very encouraging," Goldstein said.
Farmers are not eligible for Congress' largest business relief plan, called the Paycheck Protection Program. But many agriculture businesses are suffering as a result of the coronavirus.
Milk prices have plummeted since the pandemic began.
Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts said he's concerned about the future of all 650 dairy farms in Vermont.
- Peter Hirschfeld
Small businesses should sign up now for the latest round of COVId-19 stimulus
The Scott administration is urging Vermont businesses to get in line now for the latest round of federal coronavirus aid.
The Small Business Administration began processing applications for the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program on Monday morning.
Commissioner of Economic Development Joan Goldstein said businesses should submit applications as soon as possible.
"Because the way that they will be conducting this and administering it is first-come, first-served," Goldstein said.
Congress allocated an additional $320 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program last week.
Loans granted through the program can be forgiven if businesses use the money to cover payroll expenses.
- Peter Hirschfeld
Gov. Scott: More cases of COVID-19 'inevitable' as Vermont reopens
Gov. Phil Scott said it's inevitable that as Vermont opens up its economy more people will come down with COVID-19.
Scott gave that warning during a Monday press briefing. He pointed to Vermont's proximity to areas — like Massachusetts — where the disease is still spreading rapidly.
"I just want everyone to be more realistic about what this means," Scott said. "The more we open up, the more people go back to work, the more we're interacting, the chances are we'll see some more cases."
Scott said he'll work with the Health Department to fully evaluate the risks before more restrictions are relaxed.
- John Dillon
Vermont's health officials encourage 'physical distance,' not 'social distance'
The state's top health officials want people to rethink how they descrive precautions needed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine said people need to maintain social and family ties, even as they keep their distance from one another. He said we can be physically separate, but not socially isolated.
"I'm beginning to like the term 'physical distancing' more, because social distancing implies a lack of social connectivity," Levine said. "And as we discussed, a variety of health related items over the last several years, one the themese that ties them together often is social isolation. The last thing we want social distancing to create is social isolation."
Levine said Vermonters are doing a good job following Health Department guidance, although he said more people should wear face masks when they are in stores and other places.
- John Dillon
Lawmakers tussle over who controls $1.25 billion in COVID-19 funds
Lawmakers are tussling with the Scott Administration over how much control the Legislature will have in allocating $1.25 billion in federal COVID-19 funds.
A plan by the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Committee would allow the administration to spend about $200 million of the federal funds outside the traditional legislative review.
The plan says the administration can spend up to $60 million for health, safety and emergency needs. The committee would then pre-review and authorize spending of an additional $150 million “for time-sensitive critical needs that cannot wait for the appropriations process.”
Lawmakers argue the remaining $1 billion should be appropriated by the Legislature in a budget bill crafted either this spring or during a summer or fall legislative session.
But Finance Commissioner Adam Greshin pushed back at a Joint Fiscal meeting Monday. He said Gov. Phil Scott needs more flexibility to deal with huge COVID-19 related expenses.
“We all know that the legislative process takes a little while and I'm just worried about restricting his ability to navigate,” Greshin said.
That drew a sharp response from Senate President Tim Ashe.“This is the first we're hearing that you think the number should be different,” he told Greshin. “So if you want to propose something that would work and give you flexibility without handing over $1.25 billion to the administration to unilaterally decide how to spend, we're all ears.”
Scott said at a Monday press briefing that, unlike other governors, he’s pledged to work with the Legislature as equal partners on COVID spending plans.
- John Dillon
New taskforce will develop a plan for Vermont Tech's two campuses
The president of Vermont Technical College will form a taskforce to come up with a plan for the college's two campuses, which have been threatened with consolidation.
President Pat Moulton said the group will reach out to students, staff and the communities around VTC's campuses in Randolph and Williston. Last week the chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges System said he wanted to close VTC's Randolph campus.
The plan has been put on hold, but officials have said changes are coming to Vermont's college system.
"Not all of us will like all aspects of the final plan, and there will be some very difficult decisions to make," Moulton said, adding she wants to develop a plan that makes the technical colleges sustainable.
- Howard Weiss-Tisman
VOSHA requires COVID-19 training for businesses that reopen
The Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Agency has developed training materials on safety measures for returning to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
All businesses, non-profits and government entities are required to complete mandatory health and safety training by May 4, 2020.
The training is available on the Department of Labor website and includes information on COVID-19 and how it's spread, social distancing and hygiene practices, and how to use and dispose of personal protective equipment.
- Sam Gale Rosen