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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Thursday, May 21

A sign reading "fields open with no or low contact between participants."
Peter Crabtree
/
For VPR
A sign at the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park in Manchester prohibits close contact among athletes.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Thursday, May 21.

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Five more people diagnosed with COVID-19

Thursday’s numbers from the Vermont Department of Health show five new cases of COVID-19 and another 643 tests, bringing the state's tally to 950 cases.

So far, a reported 827 of those people have recovered, and 54 people in Vermont have died of the disease. Three people are currently hospitalized.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

All recipients of 3Squares Vermont to get maximum allowed benefit for June

The Department for Children and Families announced Thursday that many households receiving food stamps will get a higher benefit in June.

Now, all recipients of 3Squares Vermont will get the maximum benefit allowed for their household size.

The department said the temporary change is funded through the federal coronavirus relief fund.

Deputy Commissioner Sean Brown said the pandemic has increased the amount of food insecurity in Vermont. And he said if people need assistance they should contact DCF.

"We can do everything over the phone and online, so we would call them or they can call us to verify some information and then we can quickly get their benefit out the door to them if they are eligible," Brown said.

Brown said in the early weeks of the crisis, DCF saw applications for food stamps jump from just 200 a week to over 1,200.

He said the application process has been streamlined to get people into the program quickly.

"I would encourage anyone who is struggling financially and struggling to put food on their family's table that this is exactly why this program is here and they should reach out to us," Brown said.

Tens of thousands of Vermonters have been laid off due to the pandemic, and DCF has seen a surge in households applying for food assistance in Vermont.

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

- Liam Elder-Connors

New Montpelier Economic Need and Distress Fund raises funds for downtown businesses

The Montpelier Development Corporation has created a private fund to help businesses in the Capital City recover from COVID-19.

Catherine Coteus, a spokesperson for the organization, said the Montpelier Economic Need and Distress Fund has already raised $200,000 for downtown businesses.

Catherine Coteus is with the organization. She said the Montpelier Economic Need and Distress Funds has already raised $200,000 for downtown businesses.

"And this program will provide funding for rent relief and funding for physical improvements for adaptation to COVID, and to signal to the community that the business is back open and better than ever," Hirschfeld said.

The money will go to bars, restaurants and retail businesses with storefronts in downtown Montpelier.

Businesses will need to pledge to remain open for the foreseeable future, in order to be eligible for funding.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Restaurants allowed to offer limited, outside dining starting Friday

Restaurants will be allowed to open for in-person dining Friday for the first time since March. 

Only outdoor dining will be permitted, and restaurants will have to follow a series of precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those measures include spacing tables 10 feet apart, only allowing a maximum of 50 people at a time, requiring reservations and keeping a log of all customers in case the Health Department needs to conduct contact tracing.

David Melincoff owns Sweetwaters, a restaurant on Burlington’s Church Street. Melincoff said they’ll be open Friday, but added if all the currently restrictions remain in place, it might be hard to remain open.

“My focus has really been not about making money over the next few weeks as we do this, my focus has been on making it safe, making the guests feel like they’re safe,” he said.

Mellincoff added he already has seven or eight reservations for this weekend.

Other restaurants aren’t quite ready to re-open Friday. Jed Davis owns the Farmhouse Group, which operates several restaurants in Chittenden County, including three in downtown Burlington. He said Thursday that he’s still deciding whether or not they’ll offer outdoor dining. 

“We hope to reopen soon,” Davis said. “We hope our customers and guest are really patient with us as we learn this new reality together.”

In Rutland, Roots owner Donald Billings plans to serve diners under a large tent outside his restaurant on Friday.

He said ordering and paying will now be done with smart phones and he'll keep detailed records of every customer for possible tracing.

Billings is glad to open, but admits getting ready has been exhausting.

"There are so many different rules," he said. "There are so many different guidelines. There are so many different variables. You know, now... so much is electronic. What happens if the internet goes out?" Billings said.

"I'm super nervous and I don't get nervous that often, but this is different."

He expects a busy Friday and Saturday, but said he'll close Sunday and Monday to let his staff regroup and work out any kinks.

"It'll be an interesting experience. Restaurants are... an extremely social environment," Billings said. "And it's going to be up to us to help mandate what people are doing while they're in our environment."

- Liam Elder-Connors and Nina Keck

More from VPR: Financial Picture Turns Bleak For Vermont Restaurants Idled By COVID-19

Secretary of State, governor continue battle over vote-by-mail

Lawmakers may soon be asked to settle an election dispute between Secretary of State Jim Condos and Gov. Phil Scott.

The issue is who should determine whether the state should mandate a vote-by-mail plan for the November election.

Several weeks ago, lawmakers passed a bill that directs the Secretary of State and the governor to agree on a plan before it goes into place. While Condos supports adopting the system now, Scott wants a special committee to review the proposal after the August 11th primary.

Condos finds this approach unacceptable, and said it is “essentially defying legislative intent.” He added that lawmakers might need to step in to support his position..

“The Legislature has been responsible up to this point in being prepared,” Condos said.
“They approved this language in the first place to make sure we were protected, and I would assume that they would continue to take an action if they needed to.”

Condos said a final decision needs to be made by the end of the month.

- Bob Kinzel

Hospitals officials ask regulators to postpone budget approval process

Hospital officials want state regulators to suspend this year’s budget approval process.

Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems president Jeff Tieman told the Green Mountain Care Board that the COVID-19 pandemic has created too much uncertainty.

Many hospitals had been losing money before the pandemic further hit their bottom lines.

“Carrying out the routine budget process right now is kind of like driving in a rainstorm. You sort of know where you’re going, but it’s really blurry and really easy to get off course,” Tieman said. “And it’s much safer to pull over and just wait out the downpour.”

The GMCB already agreed to reduce this year’s hospital reporting requirements, but seemed unwilling to completely cancel the budget hearings.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

F-35s to salute Vermont essential workers Friday

Vermonters on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic will get a salute from the air Friday.

The Vermont Air National Guard will fly a formation of four F-35s over 16 medical facilities around the state, starting at noon. The statewide flyover will take about an hour and a half.

It's part of “Operation America Strong,” an Air Force tribute to health care workers across the country.

In Vermont, officials are sending the salute out to health care professionals, emergency responders and other essential workers.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

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