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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Friday, May 1

People stand on a covered porch, where a couple lean their heads on each other's shoulders.
Sarah Priestap
/
For VPR
Community members take shelter from the rain under the covered porch at Listen Community Service's Bourne Center while waiting to take home bagged dinners as a part of Listen's community dinner services in White River Junction on April 30, 2020.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Friday, May 1.

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One more death, 13 new cases

The state reported 581 additional tests for COVID-19 and 13 new cases Friday, plus one new death.

In all, 879 people have tested positive, and 50 people have died from the disease in Vermont. Eleven people are currently hospitalized with the illness.

- Karen Anderson and Elodie Reed

Hospital surge sites to be disassembled

Vermont hospitals will soon begin to disassemble the surge sites they constructed last month to deal with an anticipated influx in patients suffering from COVID-19.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said it doesn’t appear hospitals will need the additional bed capacity.

“We’ll start with the sites that are not staffed at the moment” he said, referring to sites in Rutland, Barre and St. Albans. “Then we’ll continue to shrink as we see appropriate.”

Computer modeling conducted by the Scott administration indicates that Vermont has already passed peak demand for hospital resources related to COVID-19.

Smith said the hospitals will be able to rapidly reconstruct the facilities if they’re needed.

- Pete Hirschfeld

Green Up Day cancelled

Although Green Up Day in Vermont has been cancelled, Gov. Phil Scott said he hopes Vermonters will find ways to honor the spirit of the 50-year-old tradition.

“While Green Up Day won’t officially happen this year,” he said, “I’m asking Vermonters who may be out on a walk or hike this weekend to take a bag or two with them and help keep the state green in honor of this tradition.”

Green Up Day falls annually on the first Saturday of May.

Last year, 22,000 volunteers collected 43 tons of litter from Vermont roadways.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Department of Health expands testing eligibility

The Vermont Department of Health has expanded the list of symptoms that will make people eligible for COVID-19 testing.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said previous guidance permitted testing for people experiencing fever, cough and shortness of breath.

“Additional symptoms now include loss of smell or taste, headache, muscle pain, sore throat, chills or shaking,” he said.

Levine announced plans last week to triple the number of COVID-19 tests being performed in Vermont. He said the state will soon have the capacity to test 1,000 people a day.

The state is also ramping up contact tracing capacity as it seeks to avoid resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Masks now required on public transit

People taking public transit in Vermont are now required to don a cloth face mask before boarding the bus.

Governor Phil Scott announced the new requirement at a press briefing on Friday.

While the order is limited to public transit, Scott said  he hopes Vermonters will voluntarily wear face masks in grocery stores and other public areas.

Although Vermont has seen a dramatic decline in the number of new cases of COVID-19, Scott said those numbers may spike again as Vermont institutes plans to triple its testing capacity.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Construction and manufacturing can return to full operations a week from Monday

On Friday Governor Phil Scott took the biggest step toward reopening the Vermont economy since he issued a state of emergency in March.

Scott said starting Monday, crews of up to 10 employees can work on construction sites and in manufacturing facilities. A week from Monday, he said, they can resume full operations.

“Beginning May 11, these same businesses can restart full operations, he said, “if they comply with additional stringent requirements.”

Scott said he plans to announce more exemptions to his "stay home" order next week.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Super PAC runs ad for Scott before any campaign announcement

A super PAC operated by the Republican Governor’s Association began running a 30-second reelection ad for Gov. Phil Scott on Friday, even though Scott said he still isn’t ready to announce whether he’s actually running for a third term.

“It’s probably been the last thing on my mind,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of my plate, as you might imagine these days, so that hasn’t been something that I’ve been considering.”

The online ad was produced and paid for by a super PAC called A Stronger Vermont, which spent more than $3.8 million dollars on Scott’s last two gubernatorial campaigns.

The ad highlights Scott’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Vermont.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Welch advocates for rural broadband funding

Congressman Peter Welch is urging his colleagues to expand rural broadband services in the next federal COVID-19 funding package.

Welch is a member of the House Rural Broadband Task Force, and he says he's encouraged that there appears to be bipartisan support for a plan to allocate tens of billions of dollars to ensure that rural Americans have access to broadband.

"I think there's a lot of support now for that, in broadband,” he said. “There had been before this, but now with telemedicine being absolutely essential, with working at home being absolutely essential, you cannot do that unless you have high speed Internet."    

Welch hopes a new massive federal spending package will be approved by Congress later this month.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: Did Your Zoom Freeze Again? COVID-19 Crisis Highlights Internet Inadequacies

Vermont Community Foundation raises $5 million to give to nonprofits

The Vermont Community Foundation has raised more than $5 million for a special COVID-19 response program that's distributing funds to more than a hundred nonprofits.

The grants range from $500 to $25,000.

VCF president Dan Smith said the initial grants have been targeted at home health agencies, food shelves, homeless shelters and organizations that address domestic and sexual violence.

"Our goal is to really offer a platform for coordinated philanthropy that reinforces and compliments the public, state and federal resources that are being brought to bear to support communities in this moment,” he said.

Smith expects the Fund will distribute more grants in several weeks.

- Bob Kinzel

Burlington City Council president asks for more information about UVM plans for fall return

Burlington’s City Council president says the University of Vermont should release more information about the plan to bring students back in the fall.

The school has held remote classes since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but on Wednesday, UVM President Suresh Garimella said he was “confident” students could return the campus in September.

Garimella added the school will take precautions to mitigate the spread of the virus.

City Council President Max Tracy said UVM needs release more details about those plans.

“Where are these plans from the university? They have not been clarifying them to either the public or the council,” he said. “And I think it’s incumbent upon them to be more clear with us as to what they’re planning on doing when they make announcements like this.”

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said he’s glad UVM is planning to reopen, and he believes the school will take proper steps to handle the virus. 

- Liam Elder-Connors

DCF to keep homeless individuals in motels beyond May 15

The Department of Children and Families will continue to shelter homeless Vermonters at motels beyond May 15 – which is when the governor’s stay-at-home order is set to expire.

The state moved more than 1,800 homeless individuals from crowded shelters to motels in an effort prevent outbreaks of COVID-19.  

Commissioner Ken Schatz said DCF is developing a phased approach as it moves people to more permanent housing.

“There’s a few motels that may be able to be lease that we could move people into those for longer period of time,” he said.

He added some people will be able to go back to shelters, which will house fewer individuals.

Schatz told state legislators DCF would develop proposals and a budget in the near future.

- Liam Elder-Connors

To learn more about how the state is collaborating with nonprofits to help people experiencing homeless during the pandemic, head here.

Seven additional inmates test positive for COVID-19

Seven more inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Franklin County. This brings the total number of inmates to test positive there to 45.

The test results come after the Department of Corrections tested all inmates and staff at that facility.

According to DOC, the seven inmates were quarantined at Northwest State after being identified by a contact-tracing team. They've since been transferred to a medical isolation unit at the prison complex in St. Johnsbury, bringing the number of inmates with COVID-19 there to 26.

DOC said 16 inmates who have recovered from the coronavirus were being moved from St. Johnsbury to Northwest State Friday.

No inmates at the state's other facilities have tested positive.

- Emily Corwin

Burlington School District handing out not just food but toys and toiletries, too

Burlington School District meal sites are increasingly something of a one-stop-shopping experience for city families.

Last week, Fletcher Free Library started handing out free books at meal distribution sites. Now the sites are also giving away toys as well as soap, shampoo, conditioner and razors.

The toys were donated by the Vergennes-based company WowToyz, in partnership with Burlington's King Street Center. Toiletries come courtesy of the Courtyard Burlington Harbor hotel.

The Burlington School Food Project serves about 1,600 meals a day to children at 11 different food pickup sites throughout the city.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

UVM Health Network slashing salaries, pausing capital projects

The University of Vermont Health Network will slash the salaries of its highest-paid employees and freeze most capital projects as it tries to make up for steep losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The medical system said Friday it expects to lose about $152 million this year, and about 300 of its top employees will see a 5-10% pay cut, as well reductions in some benefits.

About 4,000 people work at six hospitals within the UVM Health Network in Vermont and northern New York.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Gov. skeptical of hazard pay bill approved by Vt. Senate

State senators have approved legislation for $60 million in hazard pay to workers in grocery stores, health care facilities and other essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation provides monthly grants to qualifying essential employees making less than $25 per hour. Employees working more than 108 hours per month would receive $1,000, and those working at least 34 hours a month would get $600.

Gov. Phil Scott said he appreciates the concept, but voiced skepticism Friday.

“I understand what they’re trying to do. My question always goes back to, ‘Where does the money come from?’” he said. “We don’t believe that the CARES Act money can be used for this purpose.”

Vermont will receive more than one billion dollars from the federal CARES Act. Some lawmakers say they believe Vermont has the latitude to use that money to provide hazard pay to private-sector employees.

- Karen Anderson and Peter Hirschfeld 

Have questions, comments, concerns or experiences you want to share with VPR about coronavirus? Let us know.

Border monitoring continues in Vermont

Vermont continues to monitor traffic at its borders to see how many out-of-state vehicles are entering amid the coronavirus outbreak, although efforts have been scaled back some.

The Bennington Banner reports that the monitoring started on April 1, with 38 high-priority border crossings staffed.

This week that dropped to 30 border crossings, with Canada, New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts being monitored for less time.

Gov. Phil Scott says the data can be used to help determine the effect of measures to slow the spread of the virus. So far in Vermont, 879 people have tested positive for the virus, and 50 have died.

- Associated Press 

May Day demonstrations across Vermont

May Day demonstrations are happening across the state in support of Vermont’s essential workers.

Three caravan demonstrations were scheduled in different parts of the state Friday: Burlington, Brattleboro and the Upper Valley.

Demonstrators will show up via car and travel as a group to different workplaces, calling for crisis responses to assist workers’ health and welfare.

May 1 is celebrated around the world as International Workers Day.

- Karen Anderson 

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