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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Thursday, April 9

A store front with mannequins dressed in red and holding cardboard signs reading "we can do this Rutland."
Nina Keck
Fruition Fineries in Rutland sends an encouraging message Wednesday.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Thursday, April 9.




28 Additional Vermont inmates test positive for COVID-19

Twenty-nine inmates and eight staff members at Vermont's prison in Swanton have now tested positive for COVID-19.

The Department of Corrections finished testing all 324 inmates and staff on April 8, after an inmate tested positive earlier this week. The updated numbers reflect half of those test results. In a statement, the department said it would announce the remaining test results on April 10. 

The initial inmate to test positive has been isolated in a negative pressure cell. The Department of Corrections said the remaining 28 inmates with COVID-19 will move to the Northeast Regional Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury where they will be isolated.

All facilities have now been placed in a full lockdown.

Interim Commissioner Jim Baker previously told lawmakers that the St. Johnsbury Facility was chosen to quarantine inmates because of its single occupancy cells with built-in bathrooms. He also said the National Guard may set up a medical unit on the grounds of that facility. 

Emily Corwin


Vermont's unemployment rate surges over 20%

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said over 71,000 people have applied for unemployment benefits in the last three weeks due to layoffs caused by the coronavirus, driving the state’s unemployment rate to more than 20%.

The new federal stimulus package makes self-employed people eligible for benefits, and Harrington said this could boost Vermont's unemployment rate over 30% in the short term.

“If we take those at face value and say all those people are eligible, then yeah, we would be hovering around the 20% mark again,” he said. “It's a little hard to compare apples to apples, because this is what we're considering to be temporary unemployment, not long-term unemployment."  

Earlier this year, Vermont's unemployment rate was among the lowest in the country at 2.4%.

Vermont's service industry continues to be the hardest-hit sector. Roughly 60% of all claims are from service-related businesses.

- Bob Kinzel 

Transportation secretary explains border monitoring

Some travelers driving into Vermont have been alarmed by the number of state vehicles monitoring the borders.

Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn said the monitoring is being done 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But Flynn added the state has not set up roadblocks and is not gathering personal information on drivers.

“We are not targeting out-of-state vehicles,” he said. “We are looking at every vehicle. We are absolutely not noting any license plate registration numbers. We simply are noting, as best we can, the origin of the license plate, the state, that's it, or the province.”

Flynn says the goal is to keep track of who is entering and leaving Vermont, and how overall traffic has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

- John Dillon 

State to issue farmers market guidance

The state will soon release guidelines for how farmers markets can open safely while protecting consumers and farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abby Willard of the state agriculture agency said the guidelines are likely to change over time as the situation evolves.

“It's really designed to just give guidance information for right now, right immediately,” she said. “And that may change going forward. We suspect that it will change going forward. And it will also evolve based upon the parameters of the Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order over time.”

Farmers markets around the state normally would open soon. And market managers have called on Gov. Phil Scott to exempt the markets from the ban on public gatherings. They argue that markets are just as safe as grocery stores, and also provide essential services.

- John Dillon

For more on farmers markets during the COVID-19 pandemic, head here.

UVM Health Network employees directed to wear face masks

The University of Vermont Health Network is directing all its employees to wear masks on the job.

Network CEO John Brumstead said the revised policy applies to employees across the network, in Vermont and northern New York.

All employees are being directed to wear cloth masks at a minimum. Stricter protocols have also been put in place for staff working with and around COVID-19 patients.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Vermont hospitals, physician networks receive emergency loans

Vermont’s entire healthcare system is being strained by the COVID-19 pandemic. And Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said the state’s been providing emergency loans to some hospitals and physician networks.

However, he said, there’s only so much funding the state can provide.

“We don’t have an endless supply of money, and at some point we’re going to have to talk about appropriations,” Smith said. “But for right now, we’re in an emergency situation where we are advancing money to these various entities, and we will circle back with the Legislature at a time that’s most appropriate.”

Smith says the $2 trillion federal bailout package will include money to help hospitals, though it’s not clear when the federal funding will be available.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

More from NPR: Small-Town Hospitals Are Closing Just As Coronavirus Arrives In Rural America

Nursing students to graduate early, go right to work

The senior class of nursing students at the University of Vermont will graduate a few weeks early. UVM moved up the graduation date so nursing grads can help meet the current need for front line health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kathryn Calisti and the rest of her 95-member class opted to graduate on May 1. Calisti already has a job on UVM Medical Center's general surgery floor.

"May is gonna be a hectic, hectic month,” she said. “I'm moving. I'm trying to study for my boards. I'm gonna have some form of a graduation ceremony – that's still up in the air. So, I'm hoping to work with them and just get in there as soon as I possibly can."

Calisti added, “I feel fortunate enough that I have been given skills and tools that I can at least do something for the community and try my best to help.”

Vermont's State Board of Nursing is offering students temporary permits to work as nurses before taking a licensure exam.

- Amy Kolb Noyes 

DOC staffers can stay in hotels near prisons

Prison staffers who are worried about infecting family members with COVID-19 can now stay in hotel rooms located near their work. That’s what Department of Corrections interim Commissioner Jim Baker told state Senators on Thursday during a Judiciary hearing.

“We’re spending a significant amount of resources to be able to set up those hotels, and our staff is starting to take advantage of that,” he said.

Baker said DOC has secured hotel rooms near all six of its facilities.

So far, one inmate has tested positive for COVID-19 along with four prison staffers. Most of those cases are located at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton.

- Emily Corwin

To read more about what state officials are doing to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Vermont prisons, head here.

State increasing suicide prevention efforts

State officials are closely monitoring suicides in Vermont after detecting a possible uptick due to COVID-19.

The number of suicides from March 1 to April 6 this year was nine, up by one compared to the same time period in 2019. Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said in a written statement after several deaths by suicide this past weekend, the department became concerned about a possible spike.

Schirling said the state will beef up suicide prevention during this time of social distancing.  

Crisis resources:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Vermont Suicide Prevention Center: Text VT to 741741
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE
Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746

- Liam Elder-Connors

Vermont up to 628 positive tests

There are 628 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont as of Thursday. Of those, 33 people are hospitalized with the disease. To date, 23 people have died.

The total number of positive cases in the state is up by 23 from yesterday.

More than 8,000 people have been tested in Vermont so far.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Eight more Birchwood Terrace residents test positive

Another eight residents at a Burlington nursing home have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of infected residents and staff to 59.

Birchwood Terrace said it will “continuously test” residents until further notice.

Birchwood is one of two nursing homes in Burlington that’s experienced an outbreak of COVID-19. As of Wednesday, there were 120 cases between the two facilities.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Wednesday that the department will be issuing new guidance to elder care facilities, including procedures for quarantining new patients, even if they’re asymptomatic.

“So that if they are harboring infections in a pre-symptomatic state, that will be immediately confined in the facility,” Levine said.

The state has also been auditing long-term care facilities to ensure they have proper equipment and procedures to prevent outbreaks.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Social distancing appears to be working in Quebec

The number of COVID-19 cases in Quebec has surpassed 10,000. And 175 people have died from the disease.

Province officials put out projections this week predicting the death toll could be anywhere from 1,200 to 9,000.

CBC Montreal Reporter Kate McKenna said Quebec is on track for the lower total.

"We've been practicing these social distancing measures for a few weeks now,” she said. “And so far our systems here, our health care systems haven't been incredibly overwhelmed."

The projections show the coronavirus peaking in Quebec on April 18.

- Henry Epp

Read Henry Epp's full interview with Kate McKenna about our neighbors north of the border here.

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