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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 Monday, April 6

'Thank you' sign
Nina Keck
Outside of Rutland Regional Medical Center, a sign thanks healthcare workers.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Monday, April 6.


Some state workers get COVID-19 raise

Some government workers in Vermont will be getting a COVID-19 pay bump.

Administration Secretary Susanne Young said corrections officers, and people who work in the state-run psychiatric hospital will receive a temporary raise of $1.50 per hour. The raise, she said, “would be in the best interest of keeping those facilities running and staffed appropriately.”

The raise is part of an agreement between the Scott administration and the state workers’ union. The deal also includes pay increases for state employees who work in a facility where someone has tested positive for COVID-19.

Young said the pay increases will last for five weeks, and will cost the state an additional $750,000 in payroll expenses.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Despite global uptick, domestic violence calls hold steady in Vermont

On Monday, U.N. Chief Antonio Guterres described a “horrifying global surge” in domestic violence linked to lockdowns imposed by governments.

That surge has not yet hit Vermont.

Kate Brayton is Victim Services Director for the Vermont State Police. She said although Vermont State Police have not seen an increase in cases of domestic violence, that does not an uptick won’t occur. “Stay home stay safe becomes a lot more complicated when you’re asked to stay home with someone who is dangerous for you,” she said.

She said law enforcement and advocates are preparing for a possible surge of domestic violence cases in the future, and have shelters and hotel rooms at the ready.

Brayton said survivors should know the Governor's order to stay home does not apply to anyone seeking refuge from violence. “If you are not safe in your home you can leave, and should leave, and there are resources available,” she said.

Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling said overall calls for law enforcement are down 20 to 30 percent statewide.

- Emily Corwin

Lawmakers may delay biennial budget with short-term spending plan

Lawmakers may craft a short-term spending plan instead of an annual budget because of uncertainty caused by the COVID 19 pandemic.

Senate Appropriations Committee chair, Sen. Jane Kitchell D-Caledonia, said lawmakers should delay writing the 2021 budget until they know more about the impacts of the pandemic -- and how Vermont can spend its federal relief funding.

“The assumptions that we made for this fiscal year '20 and '21 have just been eviscerated,” she said, “So we are looking at a significant shortfall.”

Kitchell said expected revenues for the remainder of the 2020 fiscal year are likely to fall by about $202 million dollars.

With so much uncertainty, she said, “the most prudent course to take is to do just a three month budget,” or something similar.

Kitchell said some of the state’s budget shortfall will be made up as businesses that were allowed to defer their taxes end up paying some of what they owe to the state.

- John Dillon

State loans Springfield Hospital $1.3 million for payroll and supplies

Springfield Hospital has received an emergency $1.3 million loan to stabilize its finances during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interim CEO Mike Halstead said the hospital has been forced to postpone all elective surgeries, which put severe strains on cash flow.

“Springfield Hospital filed for bankruptcy in June and the organization has been trying to maintain its operations while working out an exit plan with the bankruptcy court,” said Halstead.

The hospital asked for the emergency funding to make sure it could meet its payroll and continue to buy critical supplies to battle the virus in Windsor County. After the hospital’s bank refused, the Agency of Human Services agreed to provide the funding.

In court papers, the hospital said it will probably need additional funding to continue operations. All Vermont hospitals are waiting to see how much money they will receive from the federal bailout package.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Southwestern Council On Aging launches shopping delivery

Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging launched a new grocery and supply shopping service to residents of Bennington and Rutland counties in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The shopping service is available to anyone age 60 or over, as well younger disabled individuals.

Nutrition Director Courtney Anderson said the new program will be similar to their home-delivered meals program.  

- Karen Anderson

Gov. Scott warns: 'The worst is still ahead'

Gov. Phil Scott warned on Monday that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is still ahead, but added that mitigation efforts appear to be working.

Federal officials are warning that this could be a particularly difficult week. The death toll in the United States from the new coronavirus has surpassed 10,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In Vermont, there are now 543 reported cases of the virus and 23 deaths. 

Scott said that while efforts like the stay-at-home executive order appear to be slowing the virus, he expects cases will continue to rise. 

"Staying home and separating ourselves from others will be more important than ever," Scott said. "If we fail to do so, our health care system could become overwhelmed and we'll have more loss of lives." 

Scott said he'll extend the stay-at-home order in the coming days. 

For more about the governor's Monday press briefing regarding the latest updates about COVID-19 in Vermont, head here.

Liam Elder-Connors

State agencies ramp up support to elder care facilities

The state is stepping up its outreach to facilities that house elderly Vermonters to make sure they're prepared to handle COVID-19. 

There are outbreaks of the disease at two nursing homes in Burlington. Several other elder care communities in Chittenden County have also experienced high case numbers. 

State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said the health department has been checking on facilities' infection control protocols. 

"We're not really keeping score of where facilities are — we're more guiding them and providing supportive help and answering questions," Kelso said.

Kelso said for the most part, the facilities are in good shape. The state has conducted assessments at 25 long-term care facilities and four assisted living facilities so far. 

Liam Elder-Connors

Swanton DOC facility is now on modified lockdown

Vermont's prison in Swanton has been on a modified lockdown since Sunday. 

According to the Department of Corrections, the lockdown is in response to a staff member who began showing symptoms of COVID-19 over a week ago. Although the employee's initial test came back negative, the department said given their symptoms, a second test has been ordered. 

Staff and inmates will be issued face masks, according to the press release. However, as recently as Monday morning, inmates told VPR that only staff have access to masks. The inmates did confirm officers have begun taking their temperatures every four hours. 

The staff member being monitored was last in the Swanton facility on March 26. 

For more reporting about the experiences of Vermont inmates during COVID-19, head here.

- Emily Corwin

Number of cases of COVID-19 in Vermont rises to 543

The number of cases of COVID-19 in Vermont rose to 543 on Monday. Another patient has died. 

After expanding testing, the state has seen a sharp increase in confirmed cases. 

Twenty-three people who contracted the virus have now died. 

The number of patients now hospitalized with COVID-19 is 28 and 63 hospitalized patients are under investigation for the virus. 

Karen Anderson

For more updates about the state's response to COVID-19 from the governor's Monday press briefing, head here.

Vermont Senate to decide on remote voting in Montpelier Wednesday

The Vermont Senate will return to Montpelier on Wednesday to take up a resolution authorizing remote voting. 

Senate President Tim Ashe told his colleagues on April 6 that he wants to limit the agenda to just the measure on voting.

"What I anticipate Wednesday is [that] the only action we will take is on the proposed rule change, so there will be no other bills taken up on the floor." 

The Legislature has already passed a number of emergency bills to address the COVID-19 crisis, including an expansion of unemployment benefits. Ashe said the Senate may return again late in the week to consider several other items.

John Dillon

22 staff at Birchwood Terrace test positive for COVID-19

An outbreak of COVID-19 at a Burlington nursing home has infected 22 staff members. 

In a press release issued on April 6, Birchwood Terrace, a 144-bed facility, announced that all residents and staff had completed testing.

A total of 26 residents at Birchwood Terrace have previously tested positive for COVID-19. Hospital staff from the University of Vermont Medical Center are on site at the nursing home to help treat patients. 

- Liam Elder-Connors

Inadequate and unequal internet service hampers learning

Inadequate internet service in parts of Vermont has hampered the online learning required during Gov. Phil Scott's COVID-19 stay-at-home order. 

Jay Nichols is the executive director of the Vermont Principals Association. He said the lack of broadband can be a major obstacle for students and teachers. 

"There are lots of homes without internet. And, it's also expensive," Nichols said. "As principals, we think that is a real equity issue for the state. And if we don't tackle that, then it's going to be really hard to support kids if we go through another crisis like this in the future." 

The problem is particularly acute in the state's most rural areas. For example, up to half of the students in Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union don't have reliable broadband, according to a survey by the district superintendent. 

For more about the ways in which COVID-19 has amplified concerns about access to internet across Vermont, head here.

John Dillon

Hartford to move forward with a new pool, despite COVID-19

The Town of Hartford is moving ahead with its $3.3 million pool project after considering whether to postpone the effort due to the oubreak of the new coronavirus.

The Valley News reports that the Selectboard decided this week to continue with design and engineering work. 

Hartford Recreation Director Scott Hausler wrote in a March 4 letter that "No time is more important than now for our local parks, trails, open spaces and public facilities." 

Sam Gale Rosen

Vermont Air National Guard: F-35 flights will continue amid COVID-19

The Vermont Air National Guard said pilots will continue flying F-35 fighter planes while 50 air guard members are helping the state respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Colonel David Schevchik, commander of the 158th Fighter Wing, said they have a responsibility to meet their federal mission. 

The air guard now has 15 F-35s. By mid-year, they will have 20 of the aircraft, which replaced the F-16 fighters the Vermont guard used to fly. 

The planes will continue with their regulat morning and early-afternoon takeoffs. 

Sam Gale Rosen

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