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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 Saturday, April 18

A person rollerblading between cones.
Sarah Priestap
Parker Biele keeps in shape for her final season of competitive skiing at Boston College by rollerblading outside of her home Woodstock on April 14. Biele, a junior, said her season was cut short this year due to colleges closing because of COVID-19.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Saturday, April 18.


Alumni write letter asking trustees to reconsider NVU closure

Alumni of Lyndon State College – now Northern Vermont University-Lyndon – are organizing to urge state college trustees not to close the school.

Vermont State College System Chancellor Job Spaulding announced Friday proposed plans to close NVU’s Lyndon and Johnson campuses, along with Vermont Technical College’s campus in Randolph. He cited costs associated with the coronavirus as a major factor, although the schools have struggled financially for years.

In an open letter, four former student presidents beg the schools’ trustees “not to be short sighted,” in their decision. They note the Lyndon campus is one of the largest employers in the Northeast Kingdom.

Alumni have also started an online petition.

The board of trustees will consider the plan for closures on Monday.

- Emily Corwin 

Landscapers prepare to return to work Monday

Starting Monday, one or two-person crews can resume work outdoors or in unoccupied buildings, doing, for example, landscape and construction work.

This is the first of Gov. Phil Scott's so-called phased restart of business in Vermont.

Bob Wahl's Hinesburg-based landscaping business employs 8-10 people every spring, and he said he started calling customers as soon as Scott announced the change.

“My customers all want us to come and are OK with us coming, and let's move forward and get going, you know,” he said.

Wahl added he is making sure his staff drive to jobs separately, and he's staggering start times to keep things safer at the shop.

- Emily Corwin

Leahy pushes for federal aid for dairy farmers

Sen. Patrick Leahy is urging the Trump administration to immediately help dairy farmers.

The closing of schools and restaurants across the country has led to an enormous oversupply of milk products and plummeting milk prices.

Leahy wants the federal government to buy large amounts of dairy products.

He said he thinks these items should then be distributed to food banks where demand has skyrocketed.

“But I also said that it's not something we can sit and talk about and debate for two or three months,” he said. “A number of these farms could go under if they don't get help now."   

Leahy is also working on a plan to allow farmers to be eligible for federal small business grants.

- Bob Kinzel

Health Department begins tracking COVID-19 cases by race

There are now a total of 803 positive test results for COVID-19 in Vermont, and 38 deaths, according to the Department of Health.

The Scott administration announced Friday the state has likely hit its peak for new confirmed cases of COVID-19. The same day, the Health Department also began breaking down the state's case numbers by race, and 95% of people with positive test results in Vermont are white. The new data does not include mortality rates by race.

- Emily Corwin

Brattleboro Retreat to receive $7.3 million emergency grant

The Brattleboro Retreat will receive a $7.3 million emergency state grant to stabilize its finances during COVID-19 pandemic.

Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrell said the Retreat faced financial challenges even before the pandemic, and the current public health crisis put even more pressure on the hospital.

The Retreat will receive an initial $3.5 million payment, and weekly advances through early June.

Squirrell said the Agency of Human Services will put together a task force to look at the long-term stability of the state’s largest mental health facility.

The Retreat lost almost $5 million dollars between 2015 and 2018, according to a state audit. Read the full story here.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

UVMMC doctor arrested for allegedly hiding camera in staff bathroom

A University of Vermont Medical center physician has been arrested and charged with voyeurism after a camera was found hidden in a staff bathroom.

Dr. Eike Blohm is an emergency medicine physician and also an assistant professor. According to the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations, the UVM Medical Center security first found a KNOWYOURNANNY camera hidden in another item in a staff bathroom and contacted police.

CUSI said it later found a large quantity of videos, and detectives arrested Blohm Friday.

He has been released and is scheduled to be arraigned May 28 on multiple charges of voyeurism. Police say so far their investigation shows improper conduct only in a secured staff bathroom that was not open to the public.

- Sarah Ashworth

Rutland Regional Medical Center to keep surge sites until at least May

A slow down in new COVID-19 cases in Rutland county is good news according to Claudio Fort, CEO of Rutland Regional Medical Center.

But he said two off-site care centers, one for COVID-positive patients and one for COVID-negative patients - will remain ready, at least through May.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, and if we had a nursing home or correctional institute get compromised, we could have a spike very quickly, so we need to keep those up and running and staged available.”

Fort answered community questions during a televised Q&A Thursday, and he said that while emergency surgeries continue, they have not yet determined when the hospital can safely resume elective procedures.

- Nina Keck

Vermont businesses to receive $850M from federal payroll program

Vermont businesses are due to receive $850 million through the federal government’s paycheck protection program. (Disclosure: VPR is among those employers).

Legislation passed by Congress last month allocated $350 billion for businesses affected by COVID-19.

Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak said Vermont ranked third in the country for the amount of money the state received through the program.

“So that is excellent work by our financial institutions,” he said.

Banks stopped accepting applications for the federal loan program last week, after money allocated by the legislation ran out.

Federal lawmakers say they hope to include another round of appropriations in the next COVID-19 stimulus bill.

- Peter Hirschfeld

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