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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For The Weekend Of May 9-10

Two people stretch in front of a laptop.
Aliya Schneider
/
For VPR
Shelby Jones Collett, owner of Cobra Gymnastics & Dance in Rutland, teaches an online gymnastics class with her 13-year-old daughter, Maleah Jones on May 7.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Saturday, May 9 and Sunday, May 10.

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Sunday: Vermont has now conducted more than 20,000 tests for COVID-19

New numbers from the Vermont Department of Health released Sunday morning show that six new cases of COVID-19 were identified Saturday, bringing the total number of cases detected in Vermont to 927. 

However, 777 people have now recovered from the disease in Vermont and the state had, as of Sunday morning, conducted 20,048 tests.

The numbers released Sunday morning reflect figures the Health Department compiled through the end of day on Saturday.

The state reported no additional deaths on Sunday, and five people remain hospitalized with the disease in Vermont. An additional 16 people are "hospitalized under investigation."

- Abagael Giles

Retail stores, restaurants and sporting camps to reopen in 12 Maine counties

Retail stores, restaurants and sporting camps in 12 of Maine's counties that have no community transmission of the coronavirus will be permitted to open over the next couple of weeks, under a Rural Reopening Plan

Maine Governor Janet Mills announced the plan Friday, saying its success hinges on businesses and residents following safety protocols.

Mills said Mainers must continue "to strictly adhere to social distancing. To wear face coverings to protect others, and to continue to practice good hygiene, including washing your hands often with soap and water."

Mills also announced an adjustment to her reopening plan that allows fitness gyms statewide to open on Monday for one-on-one training and outdoor classes with a maximum of 10 people. 

Mark Davis

More from VPR: Reporter Debrief: How New Hampshire is Handling COVID-19

Saturday: Just two out of 500 tests come back positive

New numbers from the Vermont Department of Health show more than 500 tests were administered in 24 hours, identifying just two new cases of COVID-19.

The numbers released Saturday morning reflect figures the Health Department compiled through the end of the day Friday. They show 921 people in the state have tested positive for the disease and 744 have recovered.

Fifty-three people have died in Vermont from COVID-19.

Currently five people are hospitalized in the state with the illness. An additional 16 people are categorized as “hospitalized under investigation.”

The state is on track to have tested over 20,000 people by the end of the weekend.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Unemployment Trust Fund down, requests for self-employed benefits expected to rise

Officials say the state's Unemployment Trust Fund is in good shape but acknowledge Vermont might have to borrow money from the federal government if the economy continues a slow comeback from the coronavirus pandemic.

As of March 1, the trust fund had $506 million in it. But with the state unemployment rate hovering around 25%, Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said the balance is now down to $389 million.

“I feel like we are in a good spot with regards to other states,” Harrington said. “Whether it will sustain us throughout the entire pandemic, I don't think we know that, and we also know how fragile our economy is right now." 

Harrington added the state did borrow money from the federal government to meet its trust fund obligations during the Great Recession of 2008.

In the meantime, state officials expect more self-employed Vermonters will file for unemployment benefits in the coming weeks. A provision in the federal CARES Act allows self-employed workers to be eligible for the first time ever.

Harrington said about a third of all self-employed people have already filed for benefits, and he expects more.

“It certainly makes me think that we're not at the end, and I think more will roll in over time,” he said. “If I try to find the silver lining, or what I hope is happening, is that a lot of these independent contractors are finding ways to continue to work under COVID safety conditions." 

- Bob Kinzel 

Vermont Teddy Bear Company coordinates sewing thousands of face masks

The Vermont Teddy Bear Company has stopped regular production in order to lead an effort to make 125,000 fabric masks.  The company is producing masks at its factory in Shelburne and also creating kits that come with directions and supplies.  Businesses and organizations can then distribute the kits to employees who know how to sew.

Vermont Teddy Bear's Matthew Mole says lots of volunteers have also come forward to help sew.

“We put out the word saying we’re looking for individual home sewers. We’ll give you a kit if you can agree to sew masks,” he said. “And I think we’ve had over 150 individual sewers participating in this.”

The masks are sized for adults, Mole said another idea came from someone with the Department of Children and Families.

“In conversation with our Teddy Bear designer, she was saying she’d love to have a Teddy Bear mask as well, because she feels it would be a great way to explain to kids the importance of wearing a mask and how using a mask on the bear, they probably could relate to that,” he said.

So far, the company has coordinated the production of 40,000 masks. As of this past week, over 14,000 masks have been distributed to the City of Burlington, 85 local organizations and to essential workers.

- Betty Smith

Dairy farmers donate milk to those impacted by COVID-19

Vermont dairy farmers gave away thousands of gallons of milk Friday, a gesture they said was aimed to help those struggling financially during the COVID-19 crisis.

Farmers have also been hit hard by the pandemic's economic fallout. With schools and restaurants closed, and cows to milk everyday, they've sometimes been forced to dump milk.

So Meghan St. Pierre of Pleasant Valley Farms in Berkshire said it felt good to hand out free milk to the hundreds lined up in St. Albans.

“People are struggling right now on every level. And our dairy cooperative, DFA – Dairy Farmers of America – decided to donate 4,000 gallons of milk. And our dairy farm heard about this and we wanted to help.”

A separate effort involving local farmers has resulted in 11,500 gallons of milk donated to the Vermont Foodbank. Read the full story, here.

- John Dillon 

Gov. provides alternative for those stuck in unemployment jam

Gov. Phil Scott gave the Department of Labor until Saturday to resolve the backlog on unemployment claims. About 10,000 Vermonters are still waiting for unemployment benefits.

Scott said anyone who hadn’t been approved for benefits will become eligible for an alternative financial assistance program.

Commissioner of Labor Michael Harrington said the bottleneck involved claims from people his department isn’t accustomed to processing.

“These are people who traditionally are not eligible for general UI, due to wage and earnings, and we are working through that population.”

More than 100,000 Vermonters have filed unemployment claims since mid-March.

- Peter Hirschfeld

More from VPR: 'I Ran Out Of Money At The Grocery Store': A Tough Month For Laid Off Vermonters

Vermont college professors plan for in-person classes in fall, plus plan B

Colleges and universities across the country are trying to figure out what the fall semester will look like.

Here, the Vermont State College System has lined up behind the University of Vermont and said it plans to return to campus-based instruction in the fall.

Phillip Robertson teaches printmaking at the Northern Vermont University Johnson campus. He said moving classes online this semester has made instructors aware they'll need a plan B for the fall as well.

We're all working really hard to have a safe working environment on campus this fall,” Robertson said. “We've been talking about social distancing and how we can reorganize the studio space to make it work for everybody. And we're also planning for the contingency that, what if there's a second wave and we have to close campus again and go online?"

As an art instructor, Robertson said he's thinking about how best to spend fees for materials so students will have the ability to make art in the campus studio as well as at home. Read more, here.

- Amy Kolb Noyes 

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