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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Wednesday, May 27

A volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol carries a box of MREs to a car
Elodie Reed
/
VPR File
Civil Air Patrol Staff Sgt. Hannah Smith carries a box full of Meals Ready-to-Eat into a car at the "Farmers to Families" food distribution site along Burlington's Beltline Tuesday.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Wednesday, May 27.

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Vermont Department of Health reports four new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health on Wednesday reported four additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the total cases detected to-date in the state to 971. 

There are currently no patients hospitalized with confirmed cases in Vermont, but 21 people are hospitalized under investigation. 

So far, 849 people have recovered from confirmed cases the disease, and the state has conducted 30,999 tests for active cases of the new coronavirus. 

Officials reported no new deaths on Wednesday, and Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont's health commissioner, pointed out that, "We have almost been at two weeks of only 54 deaths without any increase, which is remarkable in itself."

Levine went on to say at the governor's thrice-weekly press conference that despite increased testing, "Our incidence rate — the rate of new cases developing in Vermont — is very, very, very small." 

According to Levine, the state's percent positivity rate has been hovering "for some time now" at a rate that is "below 1%." 

But Gov. Scott said Vermont could still see a resurgence of COVID-19 later this year. And Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Schirling said the state is preparing for a second wave, by making sure there's an adequate supply of materials like personal protective equipment.

"We're working on our PPE stockpiles, assessing what number of days of equipment we believe we'll need if there is a surge, and making sure we have that in the stockpile," Schirling said.

He said the state is also still working to acquire more ventilators.

Most hospitals have now closed down the surge sites that were erected in March and April. But administration officials said those sites could be reopened on short notice, if necessary.

Abagael Giles and Peter Hirschfeld

Cemeteries prepare for social distancing, increased visitation

It's the busy season for Vermont's cemeteries, which typically see an increase in visitors during warmer weather. 

Patrick Healy, president of Vermont's Cemetery Association, expects attendance to be up this year.

"I expect because of COVID-19 to see more visitors than we have in the past few years, because people aren't going away and the weather is just fantastic," Healy said.

But Healy said this year some cemeteries have experienced a labor shortage.

Department of Corrections crews that usually help with the maintenace work haven't been available due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Betty Smith

Pandemic has "substantially" slowed the process of selling Jay Peak

The COVID-19 pandemic has "substantially" slowed the process of selling Jay Peak, according to recently filed court documents. 

The ski resort, which is managed by a court-appointed receiver, has been up for sale after its former owners were accused of defrauding foreign investors.

In court documents, the receiver wrote that prior to the pandemic, 12 potential buyers had expressed interest in Jay Peak, but not submitted bids. 

The receiver wrote he hoped summer operations at the resort, like golf, would be able to resume in June — but added business probably won't pick up until the Canadian border reopens. Tourists from that country make a large part of Jay Peak's business.

The receiver said he expects one of the 12 interested groups will submit a bid, although he's unsure when a sale could happen.

Liam Elder-Connors

Public gatherings of up to 25 allowed June 1

Gov. Phil Scott said he plans to loosen restrictions on public gatherings. 

Scott said starting June 1, up to 25 people will be able to gather for in-person social events. He said he also plans to continue reopening more sectors of the Vermont economy.

"Based on what we've been seeing to date, it appears we continue to move in the right direction, which is good news," Scott said. "And as a result, we'll be able to put more Vermonters back to work, open up social activities and restart most parts of our economy in some capacity."

Public gatherings have been limited to no more than 10 people since March. But Scott said a sustained decline in new COVID-19 cases in Vermont means the state can begin to slowly loosen some restrictions.

Read the full story.

Peter Hirschfeld

Restrictions on travel will likely remain in effect for some time

Gov. Phil Scott said he plans to announce that more businesses and activities can restart later this month.

But he said restrictions on out-of-state travel will remain in effect until coronavirus trends in neighboring states improve.

"New cases in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York and Quebec can have an effect on us here in Vermont," Scott said.

New Hampshire has reported 43 deaths from COVID-19 since Sunday. 

Scott said he understands the 14-day quarantine order for visitors to Vermont has put a damper on the summer tourism season.

But he said the state risks a spike in coronavirus cases if it relaxes quarantine restrictions too quickly. 

Read the full story.

Peter Hirschfeld

Gov. Scott says indoor dining could resume "in the near future"

Last week, restaurants in Vermont were allowed to open up for outdoor dining.

And Gov. Phil Scott said they may be able to resume indoor searing in the near future.

But Scott said he doesn't have a firm timeline for when restaurants can make that transition.

"But I see it in the very near future and hopefully, we'll be able to make some further announcements in the next week or so on in-person dining," Scott said Wednesday.

Restaurants have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. And many owners say the restrictions on dining services are threatening the future of their businesses. 

Scott said a $4 million aid package, now under review in the Legislature, will provide financial relief for struggling restaurants.

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

Peter Hirschfeld

Department of Health announces more than two dozen new pop-up testing sites

The Vermont Department of Health is hosting more than two dozen pop-up testing sites over the next two weeks. 

And Health Commissioner Mark Levine said anyone who wants a test for COVID-19 should be able to get one.

"If you got put on a waiting list at one of the previous pop-ups, inevitably, there will be room if you call in to set up an appointment at one of these," Levine said.

Levine said the increased testing will help the state monitor the spread of the coronavirus.

The test sites will be located in 11 towns across Vermont. People can pre-register for a COVID-19 test by visiting the Department of Health website.

Peter Hirschfeld

Childcare centers can resume operations next week

The Scott Administration is defending its treatment of childcare centers during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Childcare providers are allowed to resume operations starting next week. But many business owners say new public health guidelines will limit their capacity.

Some providers have asked the state to offset the anticipated loss in revenues.

But Secretary of Human Resources Mike Smith said his agency has already provided $18 million in subsidies and grants to childcare providers.

"At some point, we need to get back to some semblance of normal, and that's what we're doing now with childcare centers," Smith said.

Smith said the state has allocated $6 million to help childcare providers adapt to the new public health requirements. 

Many providers have said they'll have to close for good if the state doesn't provide additional aid.

Read the full story.

Peter Hirschfeld

Bennington requires masks for customers at retail establishments

Bennington has become the latest Vermont community to require customers as well as workers to wear masks. 

The Bennington Banner reports that the selectboard approved the measure, following similar steps taken in Burlington, Brattleboro and other communities. Gov. Scott last week declined to issue a statewide mask requirement, but said municipalities could make their own rules.

Bennington's resolution does not contain an enforcement mechanism. 

Mark Davis

 
 

Burlington High School students host remote gallery opening today

On Wednesday afternoon, a group of Burlington High School students will host a free, online gallery opening with artwork reflecting their lives during the pandemic.

They call the event "Window Of Hope" and it will also include a short film and a question and answer session.

The original idea was to create art based on "Burlington's City and Lake."

Then COVID-19 happened. 

Mary Lacy, the class artist-in-residence, said "They canceled the project. You know, it wasn't feasible. And about a week later, I reached back out to them and proposed this idea of documenting the experience of remote learning and the lock-down by way of art." 

That art can be viewed by the public today on Zoom.

More information is available on the Burlington School District website

Betty Smith

Have questions, comments, concerns or experiences with COVID-19? Share them with VPR in our brief survey.
 

Vermont Lake Monsters will no longer be paid after May 31

The Oakland Athletics organization has told minor league baseball players they will no longer be paid after May 31. 

The Athletics field eight minor league teams, including the Vermont Lake Monsters.

Sports Illustrated reports that an email from the A's informed players. Minor League players had previously been being paid a $400 stipend per week, even though baseball is suspended.

Forbes estimates the net worth of Oakland Athletics owner John J. Fisher to be at $2.1 billion.

Sam Gale Rosen
 
For a list of frequently asked questions and answers about the new coronavirus, head here.
 
 

Crime and arrest rates are now returning to pre-pandemic levels

Vermont police agencies say crime and arrests dropped in the early weeks of the coronavirus — but are now returning to pre-pandemic levels. 

The Burlington Police Department said crime dropped 29% since March. 

The Vermont State Police said they've also arrested fewer people in recent months. 

Now, officers say they're seeing an uptick in crime.

Middlebury Police Chief Thomas Hanley said that increase to normal levels is intensified by an influx of homeless residents who are being housed by the state in local hotels. 

"A lot of shoplifting and retail theft, a lot of intoxication — those kind of social problems that go with that," Hanley said. "They get cauth doing those kind of things. Assaults inside the hotels, property damage inside the hotels, so we're seeing an increase in that as well." 

Hanley said social distancing and mask wearing means less face-to-face interaction with the public — meaning officers often have to re-think their approach.

Read or listen to the full epsisode, as heard on Vermont Edition, here.

Matthew Smith

 

Vermont inmates held in Mississippi will now receive the same protections as those held in-state

The Department of Corections will now provide Vermont inmates at a private prison in Mississippi with many of the same protections from COVID-19 that inmates receive in-state. 

Vermont inmates and their supervising officers in Mississippi will now receive temperature checks and CDC-approved hand sanitizer, among other things.

That's after a man held in Mississippi sued the department along with the Defender General's Prisoner's Rights Office. The parties have now settled. 

Supervising attorney Emily Tredeau said once her office filed suit, DOC was able to get the prison contractor, CoreCivic, to agree to many measures just by asking.

"It was both encouraging to me that, like, okey, once they asked, it can happen," Tredeau said. "But also, why didn't you ask?"

DOC did not respond for comment before our deadline. 

Emily Corwin

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