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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Wednesday, April 29

A sign thanking health care workers.
Abagael Giles
/
VPR
A thank you for health care workers in St. Albans.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Wednesday, April 29.

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House extends emergency measures through May

The Vermont House has voted to extend its emergency procedures until the end of May.

The Statehouse closed its doors to the public in mid-March, and lawmakers have mainly met by video conference ever since.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson opened the session on Wednesday by noting that Vermont seems to be turning the corner on COVID-19 cases.

“I would just like everybody to breathe and find a little bit of gratitude for what in at least my corner of the state is a pretty beautiful day, and some hopefully good news rolling out about where Vermont is going in terms of bending the curve on the COVID crisis and beginning to open up our economy and communities a little bit more,” she said.

The Health Department reported no new cases of COVID-19. But Governor Phil Scott cautions that the state's proximity to places with major outbreaks is still cause for concern.

- John Dillon

Gov. announces plan to ramp up COVID-19 testing

The Vermont Department of Health plans to expand COVID-19 testing and contact tracing as Gov. Phil Scott slowly reopens the state’s economy.

The state expects to ramp up its testing so it can conduct up to 1,000 tests a day. The health department also plans to double the size of its contact tracing staff.

Scott says the expansion will allow the state to more quickly identify and halt the spread of COVID-19.

“If you think of this whole pandemic as a forest fire, testing will allow us to spot those embers early and contact tracing allows us to surround it in order to contain it,” Scott said.

On Wednesday, for the first time in weeks, the state announced no new cases of COVID-19. So far, 862 people in Vermont have tested positive for the coronavirus and 47 have died.

Read the full story, here.

- Liam Elder-Connors

350 Vermont inmates may lack access to programming necessary for their release

The Department of Corrections says it is trying to find a way to offer required prison programming despite the coronavirus.

Right now, 350 Vermont inmates have served their minimum sentences. But many of them won't be considered for release until they take programs designed to reduce their risk of re-offending. And these programs have been suspended because of the coronavirus. 

Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker said, “There are circumstances right now where people are over their minimum, and some of that revolves around a lack of programming, and we are in the process right now of evaluating that.”

Baker said the department may be able to find a way to offer programming on inmates' tablets, which they can use in their cells.

Read the full story, here.

- Emily Corwin

Leahy advocates for more flexibility with federal funds

Sen. Patrick Leahy said he's working with a bipartisan group of senators on a plan to give individual states much more flexibility in using federal COVID-19 funds.

Earlier this month, the state of Vermont received just over a billion dollars in federal money, but the funds can only be spent on coronavirus-related expenses and not to backfill lost tax revenues.

Leahy, who is Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said this approach makes no sense at all.

"Let's use it. After all, our government has to go on,” he said. “We still have to maintain our roads, our schools, everything else that doesn't stop just because tax revenues stop." 

Leahy said it's also critical that any new funding package approved by Congress gives states the authority to determine the best way to use the money.

- Bob Kinzel

Vermont officials to expand COVID-19 testing

Health officials plan to triple the number of COVID-19 tests done in Vermont in the coming weeks.

The state expects to conduct about a thousand tests a day. It will also expand its contact tracing teams.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the expansion of testing will focus on long-term care facilities and health care workers, and the new approach includes re-testing facilities where positive cases are found.

“We will add day-three, seven-day and 10-day and 14-day re-testing of all residents and staff to prevent community-wide outbreaks,” he said.

The announcement of expanded testing comes on the first day in more than a month when no new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the state.

- Liam Elder-Connors 

Vermont prisons looking for ways to continue required programming

The Department of Corrections says it is trying to find a way to offer required prison programming despite the coronavirus.

Right now, 350 Vermont inmates have served their minimum sentences. But many of them won't be considered for release until they take programs designed to reduce their risk of re-offending. And these programs have been suspended because of the coronavirus.

“There are circumstances right now where people are over their minimum, and some of that revolves around a lack of programming,” said Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker. “We are in the process right now of evaluating that.”

Baker said DOC may be able to find a way to offer programming on inmates' tablets, which they can use in their cells.

- Emily Corwin

More from VPR: Mental Health Services Suspended At Some Vermont Prisons

UVM plans for in-person classes in fall

The University of Vermont plans to open for in-person classes this fall, even as the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

UVM President Suresh Garimella made that announcement in a video message to the university community today:

“We’re being both clear-eyed and pragmatic, and are informed by experts in public health, government and education, in addition to our own medical personnel,” he said.

Students have been learning remotely since mid-March, and Garimella said that will continue through the summer.

He added Vermont’s flattening of the curve puts the university and the state in a good position to handle future challenges from the disease. Garimella also said cultural and behavioral changes will be needed when students return to campus. Read the full story, here.

- Henry Epp 

Out of 214 COVID-19 tests, no new positive results

Vermont hit a milestone in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday. There were no new cases of COVID-19 reported in the state the past 24 hours, and no new deaths.

All of yesterday's 214 tests came back negative, according to the Vermont Department of Health.

This is the first time since the state started releasing daily numbers that the number of cases has not increased.

There have been 862 cases confirmed in Vermont to date and 47 people have died. Eleven people are hospitalized with the disease.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

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