Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Monday, March 23
Vermont reporters provide a quick round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Monday, March 23.
Newport prison staffer tests positive
A staffer at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport has tested positive for COVID-19. Interim Commissioner Jim Baker said the staff member did not have access to the part of the facility where inmates live, and last worked at the facility March 17.
According to a press release, the department will clean areas where the staffer worked.
None of Vermont's inmates have been tested for COVID-19, Baker said, although a number have had symptoms over the last few weeks. Currently, he said, just one inmate is being monitored for symptoms in quarantine. That individual is also at the Newport prison.
"We are monitoring that situation and following medical protocol from CDC, and the Vermont Department of Health," Baker said, "at the point where our medical staff determines they need to be tested they will be tested."
Baker could not say if the inmate is quarantined in a location usually used for disciplinary segregation.
- Emily Corwin
UVM Health Network to suspend pursuit of overdue bills
The UVM Health Network won't be pursuing overdue bills for the time being.
CEO John Brumsted said regular billing will continue, but the network won't be calling patients about unpaid bills and they won't use collection agencies. This change in procedure comes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Amy Kolb Noyes
Sen. Leahy says federal stimulus should support workers
Sen. Patrick Leahy is insisting that any massive federal economic stimulus package contains long term protections for employees in companies harmed by the coronavirus.
Leahy has been active in the negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on a nearly $2 trillion recovery package.
He said the bill must do more than bail out large corporations.
"There are certain things we don't want," Leahy said. "I am far more interested in helping the people who work in the airlines — for example, the maintenance people, the ticket-takers and everything else —than I am in giving a multi-billion-dollar bail-out to the airline companies."
Leahy said he also wants to provide funds to state and local government.
- Bob Kinzel
Retailers call for delay of single-use bag ban
The Vermont Retail and Grocers Association is asking Gov. Phil Scott to delay the implementation of a new state law that prohibits retailers from using single-use bags, such as plastic grocery bags.
The law is set to go into effect on July 1, 2020, but the Centers for Disease Control has issued warnings that the new coronavirus can adhere to surface materials like reusable bags.
Erin Sigrist, president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association said delaying the ban for at least six months would help protect store employees and members of the public.
"[It is necessary to] ensure that retailers and grocers around the state have the ability to provide the safest carrying system for their employees and their customers," Sigrist said.
Sigrist encouraged all customers to leave their reusable bags at home, for now.
- Bob Kinzel
COVID-19 case count at Burlington Health and Rehab rises to 15
The Vermont Department of Health announced on Monday, March 23 that three more residents have died at a Burlington nursing home, where there is an outbreak of COVID-19.
Fourteen residents and one staff member at Burlington Health and Rehab have tested positive for the virus in the last week. In addition to the three new fatalities, another resident with COVID-19 died last week.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the state is investigating how the disease spread in the facility.
"We have no reason to believe at Burlington Health and Rehab that neither a visitor nor an employee was the reason for this to have occurred," Levine said. "We're trying to do some of the detective work behind that right now, but there is nothing obvious that has come up."
Levine said the nursing home is practicing appropriate containment measures and is screening staff for symptoms of COVID-19 before they enter.
The state has restricted visiting at elder care facilities statewide.
- Liam Elder-Connors
University of Vermont tells students to move out
The University of Vermont has suspended all on-campus classes through the end of the semester.
On Monday, March 23, the university asked all students remaining on campus to move out this week.
Even students renting off-campus are being asked to move out.
"We're working with students who may have special needs or special circumstances, [such] that they need to remain on campus for a variety of reasons," said Gary Derr, UVM's vice president for operations and public safety.
Vice President for Student Affairs Annie Stevens said it would be hard for students to isolate themselves while living in close quarters with shared bathrooms and kitchens.
UVM said it will issue students housing and meal plan credits. Students who move out by Monday will receive a thousand-dollar housing credit.
- Amy Kolb Noyes
Gov. Scott says Vermonters should expect new restrictive measures
Gov. Phil Scott said Vermonters should prepare for more restrictions to public life this week, as the state tries to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Scott's remarks came amid a sharp increase in the number of identified cases of the disease. The health department announced on March 23 that the number of confirmed cases in Vermont had risen to 75. Additionally, the department reported three more deaths.
The new fatalities were all residents of a nursing home in Burlington, where another resident with COVID-19 died last week.
Scott said he expects to order more restrictive measures in the coming days.
"Right now, you have a responsibility if you can stay at home, to stay at home," Scott said. "But we're going to take further measures to make sure that those that can or should are."
On Saturday, March 21, the governor issued an order closing more businesses, like gyms and salons. The order also banned non-essential gatherings of ten or more people.
- Liam Elder-Connors
Vermont sees three more COVID-19-related fatalities
Vermont Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan told Vermont Edition Monday that there are three more COVID-19-related fatalities in the state, all at the Burlington Health & Rehab facility.
Dolan also noted the total number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is now up to 75. That's up from 52 cases on Sunday.
- Elodie Reed
Southern ferry service suspended
The company that operates ferries on Lake Champlain has suspended service between Charlotte and Essex, N.Y.
Heather Stewart, operations manager for the Lake Champlain Transportation Company, said traffic has dropped off sharply as people are staying home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We want to be open at Charlotte-Essex," Stewart said. "And we want to be at the other side of this crisis. People are just not moving. We do not have business at the Charlotte-Essex crossing."
The company had to lay off about 10 workers when it suspended service on the southern portion of the lake.
Some commuters who use the Charlotte ferry were upset that their trip across the lake suddenly got several hours longer.
Stewart said she realizes this is an inconvenience, but said the Grand Isle-Plattsburgh ferries on northern Lake Champlain are still running.
- John Dillon
Legislature to further expand access to unemployment
The Scott Administration and the legislature are working on a relief package aimed at helping those who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The legislation expands eligibility for unemployment benefits and the administration has already waived a requirement that people have to search for other jobs to qualify for unemployment payments.
"All of our constituents who get laid off should be eligible for unemployment. They will not have to be able and available to work [as they normally would]... through a provision called 'work search,'" Chittenden Democrat Michael Sirotkin, who chairs the Senate Economic Development Committee, said. "The Governor has waived [the] work search [requirement] for those people."
The Legislature will return to Montpelier on Tuesday, March 24 to work on a number of COVID-19 measures.
- John Dillon
New Hampshire bans reusable shopping bags
New Hampshire's governor has ordered the state's stores to temporarily transition to the use of single-use paper or plastic bags. In the order issued late Saturday, Gov. Chris Sununu said reusable bags pose a potential risk to baggers, grocers and customers.
The order directs all grocers and retail stores in New Hampshire to transition to only use new paper or plastic grocery bags provided by stores "as soon as feasibly possible."
As of Monday, March 23, 78 people had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in New Hampshire.
- Associated Press
GE Aviation to close plant after an employee tests positive for COVID-19
The GE Aviation plant in Rutland is closing temporarily after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.
The Rutland Heraldreports that a statement issued by GE late Sunday afternoon said the facility would reopen on Wednesday, March 25.
The statement said the employee had not been at work since March 18 and that the company was contacting coworkers who had been in close contact and asking them to self-quarantine.
The factory, which employs 1,400 people, will be cleaned and disinfected while it is closed.
- Sam Gale Rosen
Vermont reopens enrollment for health insurance
Vermonters who decided not to buy health insurance last year will now have a chance to reconsider that decision.
The Scott administration has reopened enrollment for health insurance plans sold on Vermont Health Connect.
Michael Fisher, head of the Office of the Health Care Advocate, said many Vermonters who chose not to purchase health insurance last year used a risk-benefit calculation to make the decision.
"In the face of an epidemic, of an outbreak or a virus like this... [which brings with it] the potential for many people needing care, maybe that calculation is different for many Vermonters," Fisher said.
The new enrollment period will last until April 17, 2020. Many Vermonters would otherwise have to wait until next year to become eligible to purchase health insurance.
Gov. Phil Scott issued an order last week that eliminated co-pays and deductibles for health care needs related to the new coronavirus.
- Peter Hirschfeld