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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Friday, May 22

A laptop with a Zoom screen pulled up.
Peter Crabtree
/
For VPR
The Village of North Bennington's Annual Meeting, which was originally scheduled for March, took place this month via Zoom.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Friday, May 22.

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State reports one-day record for new tests in past day

The Health Department reported 1,113 new tests between Thursday and Friday, a record number in a one-day span. Two more people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont, bringing the state's total to 952 cases.

No new deaths attributed to COVID-19 have been announced in six days. So far, 54 people have died after contracting the disease, and another 834 people have recovered.

Two people are currently hospitalized.

- Elodie Reed and Amy Kolb Noyes

Gov. eases more restrictions

At his press briefing Friday, Gov. Phil Scott and administration officials made the following announcements:

  • All fairs and festivals are canceled for the remainder of the year.
  • Licensed alcohol and drug counselors, allied mental health, dieticians, psychologists, social workers, optometrists, chiropractors, acupuncturists and others can resume work.
  • Dentists can resume routine procedures.
  • Hospitals can now begin performing inpatient procedures.
  • Houses of worship can resume services at 25% capacity.
  • Hair salons and barbers can begin operations again on May 29, though they cannot provide massages or nail services yet.

 - Peter Hirschfeld

More from VPR: Scott Cancels Summer Fairs, But You Can Finally Get A Haircut Next Week

Vermont unemployment rises to 15.6% in April

Vermont’s unemployment rate skyrocketed to 15.6% in April. That’s up 12.5% from March, and twice as high as any point during the Great Recession.

The numbers are one measure of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Private industries in Vermont shed nearly 66,000 jobs compared to a year ago, and jobs in government fell by over 2,000.

Over 30% of the labor force in Vermont has filed for unemployment since the crisis hit, and for weeks the state Department of Labor was overwhelmed by the demand for government assistance.

That crisis has subsided somewhat, though the labor department reports they’re still receiving thousands of calls per day.

- Henry Epp 

University of Vermont working out coronavirus mitigation strategies

The University of Vermont says it's considering changes to its academic calendar next year as one way to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus on campus.

UVM's Vice President for Operations and Public Safety, Gary Derr, said that could mean ending in-person classes early.

“What we’re exploring is whether we could end in-person instruction the Friday before Thanksgiving, which would be Nov. 20 and finish the balance of the fall semester remotely, including exams,” Derr said.

Other plans under consideration include increased testing of students and staff, required cloth face masks, smaller in-person classes and reducing density in residential halls.

“We’re currently exploring options in the Burlington area to house students off-campus, which would make for the possibility of quarantine spaces on campus,” Derr said.

UVM also faces a severe budget shortfall due to the pandemic and is considering staff and salary cuts.

- Liam Elder-Connors

No Champlain Valley Fair this year

The 99th annual Champlain Valley Fair will have to wait till next summer.

Organizers made the announcement Friday. This is the first time in the history of the Champlain Valley Exposition that the fair has been canceled.

Pre-sold tickets, including concert tickets, will be refunded.

The 10-day agricultural fair draws around 120,000 visitors each year.

  - Amy Kolb Noyes

About 1,200 cars show for Hyde Park food giveaway

An estimated 1,200 cars lined up at Lamoille Union High School in Hyde Park Friday morning for the latest “Farmers to Families Food Box Distribution.”

It's a collaborative effort between the Vermont Foodbank, the Vermont National Guard and other organizations to help people in need during the coronavirus pandemic. A recent give-away in Berlin drew so many people it tied up traffic for miles and eventually ran out of food.

Morrisville resident Mary Wescom was among those waiting in line Friday.

“I got hurt at my job at the end of February and I am out of work right now,” she said. “And I'm getting workman's comp. And I make too much money to get food stamps, so I'm in the bracket where I make too much for one program and not enough for another program. So, I said, ‘Well, I'll come here and see about getting a food package.’"

The boxes include vegetables, chicken, dairy products and non-perishable items. National Guard members loaded them into backseats and trunks, among them Sgt. Richard Orr.

“At this point in time we're doing a two-family max,” Orr said. “So, we're trying to fill up their trunks. Make a lot of people happy.”

Next week there will be distribution sites in Burlington, Brattleboro, Swanton and Lyndonville. The events run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

More from VPR: As Traffic At Food Shelves Spikes, Vermont Launches 'Mass Feeding Plan'

Burlington facing $10 million budget shortfall

Vermont’s largest city is anticipating a $10 million revenue gap due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and Burlington officials are preparing to make significant budget cuts.

In a memo, the city’s administration said the projected losses were a “bad-case scenario.”

The budget proposal includes a freeze of all pay increases, reducing the number of seasonal employees and cutting overtime by 20%.

Even with the proposal reductions, the city still faces a $1.8 million gap, and the administration warned if that remains, every city department will face “significant” cuts.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Long Trail reopens, though lean-tos, outhouses still closed

Vermont’s Long Trail is now open after the trail system was shut down earlier this month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We did see kind of unprecedented early spring use on the trails as folks were seeking a respite from the stay-at-home order,” said Keegan Tierney with the Green Mountain Club. “Which is great, but it also created some challenges both for the trail and for the general public in being able to maintain social distancing.”

Tierney said some trails are still muddy, and there’s even snow in the higher elevations. Lean-tos and outhouses continue to be closed for now, though GMC staff are going from shelter to shelter to figure out how the lean-tos might be safely occupied.

“Our shelters are real tight facilities,” Tierney said. “They’re quite small, so once you get more than one or two people in them maintaining social distancing is not possible.”

The club hopes to have some backcountry facilities open sometime in June.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

New Hampshire considering asking lodgers to attest to self-quarantine

New Hampshire is considering a different approach than neighboring states when it comes to allowing out-of-state residents back into hotels and other lodging establishments.

Under a proposal submitted to a reopening task force on Thursday, out-of-staters would have to attest to having quarantined at home for 14 days before coming to New Hampshire. Maine and Vermont also have quarantine rules, but they will require such quarantines to happen within their borders.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Labor Department says more than 8,000 initial unemployment claims were filed in New Hampshire last week, down more than 1,500 from the previous week.

- Associated Press

Vermont trail website sees big bump in traffic

An Upper Valley outdoor organization says it’s seen a huge jump in visits to its directory of trails since the pandemic hit.

Upper Valley Trails Alliance oversees www.trailfinder.info, a website that shows outdoor recreation trails throughout Vermont and New Hampshire.  The groups says it’s seen a 125% increase in traffic to the site since March 15.

Executive Director Russell Hirscheler said the increased interest in outdoor recreation is a good thing  but people should make sure they’re not crowding trails — both to practice social distancing and to preserve trails.

“So the message we say is, go out and have a plan A, B, C so when you get to trailhead if it’s packed, go to your next option and your next option after that,” Hirscheler said. “And that’s one of the things that Trail Finder can help with.”

Hirscheler said people should also make sure they go on trails within their skill and experience level.

- Liam Elder-Connors

New Hampshire's beaches could open June 1

New Hampshire's seacoast beaches could soon be reopened for walking and exercise under a plan delivered to the state's governor Thursday.

A state task force voted in support of the phased-in approach. It could begin on June 1 with Gov. Chris Sununu's approval.

John Nyhan is a task force member and president of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Our recommendation in phase one is that all seacoast beaches be open only to transitory physical activity,” Nyhan said. “That not only includes walking, running, swimming, but also helping our surfing community."

Sunbathing, sand sports and sitting on the beach would not be allowed under that first phase. Parking would still be banned along the coastal highway, and public parking lots would be limited to 50% capacity.

- New England News Collaborative

Vermont's seniors contend with pandemic isolation

In Vermont, 40 of the state’s 54 deaths from COVID-19 were among people who were 70 or older.

Because elderly Vermonters are especially vulnerable to the virus, many are living in strict lockdown, often in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and senior apartment complexes. 

Victoria Crain, 75, lives in The Gables, an independent living complex in Rutland. She calls the isolation “weird.”

“There’s this cognitive dissonance about the catastrophe that you see on the television, about the economy and the illness and the trucks taking the bodies away from the hospital, you know, it's a nightmare,” she said. “And here we are, someone's bringing us meals. We live in a bubble."

Crain's neighbor, 90-year-old Enid Reiman says without the social interaction of dining together, many of the single residents battle loneliness.  Read the full story, here.

- Nina Keck

Hannaford hiring more workers

Vermont is experiencing record high unemployment, but not all businesses are suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hannaford Supermarkets announced it is hiring 2,000 positions in the five states it serves, including Vermont. The chain has already added 2,200 positions since March, in response to growing demand.

Scott LeClair is Hannaford’s director of talent and says the positions will bolster traditional operations and the increasingly popular curb-side pickup option.

“We’re also trying to increase our Hannaford-To-Go operation, which is what customers really want,” LeClair said. “And we’re maxed out right now, so we want to increase slots to be better able to serve the communities.

Some positions are short-term, for workers on furlough from the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors, but LeClair said most of the new hires are expected to be permanent.

- Betty Smith

Correction 5/25/20 2 p.m.: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that optometrists, chiropractors and acupuncturists are not permitted to open for in-person patient services. That information was incorrect, and VPR regrets the error.

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