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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Tuesday, April 21

A poem written on a piece of paper in a ziplock bag.
Peter Engisch
An entry in the picket fence poetry event along East Street in Essex Junction.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Tuesday, April 21.


Two more residents at Birchwood Terrace have died from COVID-19

A Burlington nursing home that has been the site of one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the state said two more residents have died, bringing the total to nine. 

But Birchwood Terrace said many of the sickened residents are showing signs of improvement.

The nursing home said nearly half of the 49 residents infected by the coronavirus have "graduated" off of transmission-based precautions. Ten residents currently being treated are still deemed potential vectors of the virus. 

Seven residents have also been discharged to the hospital. 

The nursing home said all of its 26 staff that tested positive for COVID-19 are now back at work or eligible to return. 

More from VPR: 'Losing Sleep, Worrying': COVID-19 Sweeps Through Two Vermont Nursing Homes

Liam Elder-Connors

Vermont small businesses may receive additional aid this week

Congress is set to give its approval later this week to legislation that will provide millions of dollars to many Vermont small businesses. 

Congressman Peter Welch said over 6,000 businesses in the state qualified for the original Payroll Protection Program, but the fund quickly ran out.

The new stimulus bill replenishes the program with an additional $300 billion. 

Welch said the money will help bolster the state economy.

"The goal here is to get through this, get back to work and maintain the viability of our businesses that are so essential for our economic wellbeing and for jobs," Welch said. "It's keeping a billion dollars in the Vermont economy — that's enormously helpful." 

The bill also includes new funds to expand Vermont's COVID-19 testing programs.

Bob Kinzel

Court hearing testimony offers a glimpse at life in a Vermont prison quarantine unit

Testimony during a court hearing on Tuesday about inmate safety during the COVID-19 pandemic provided a glimpse into life in a prison quarantine unit in St. Johnsbury. 

Two COVID-positive inmates quarantined at the facility described having next-to nothing in their cells. One inmate described hearing fellow inmates with severe symptoms. 

The inmates said they are seen by medical staff four times a day and can make phone calls from their cells.

Judge John Treadwell heard testimony from experts and two inmates who had been incarcerated at the Franklin County prison that experienced an outbreak. 

The court will hear witnesses brought by the state tomorrow. 

More from VPR and Brave Little State: How Are Vermont Prisons Handling COVID-19?

- Emily Corwin

Vermont State Colleges could face $10 million deficit, 20% drop in enrollment

The head of the Vermont State Colleges said years of low funding left schools vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Chancellor Jeb Spaulding said he expects the system's budget shortfall to double to $10 million, and that enrollment could drop by nearly 20% for the next academic year. 

On Friday, he recommended a controversial plan to close campuses in Lyndon, Johnson and Randolph.

Spaulding told Vermont Edition Tuesday that lawmakers have long rejected calls to increase financial support for the schools. 

"We have gone in, last year, and said, 'We need to get the $25 million more, and by the way, that's the average for the other two- and four-year institutions in New England,'" Spaulding said. "We know we can't get there in one year, but we can get started. We asked for five, we got two and a half. This year, it was level. So we're not making progress." 

The Board of Trustees held an emergency meeting on Tuesday evening, and has said it will vote on the proposal within ten days. 

Find the full story from Vermont Edition, here.

Matthew Smith

New stimulus bill could include $25 billion for COVID-19 testing

Congressman Peter Welch said a critical part of the new federal stimulus bill is a plan to allocate $25 billion to states to expand COVID-19 testing programs. 

Congress is expected to give its approval to the $500 billion package by the end of the week. 

Welch said the future health of the country is dependent on aggressive testing programs in every state.

"One of our big challenges here is that we don't have adequate testing," Welch said. "We've got to be doing way more than what it is that we are now doing, and this legislation provides the funds to make certain that the money aspect of this is not a problem in doing the testing we need for us to be safe." 

Welch said he's disappointed the new bill doesn't include additional unrestricted funds to help state or local governments cope with the coronavirus pandemic. 

Bob Kinzel

Vermont Foodbank, National Guard deploy MREs to Vermonters in need

Starting Wednesday, the Vermont Foodbank and the Vermont National Guard will begin distributing ready-to-eat meals at sites around the state. 

On Wednesday, the Guard will give out meals at the Frankline County Airport in Swanton. Meals will be available at other small airports around the state in the coming days. 

People in need of food can pick up a seven-day supply of meals for each household member. The sites will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

More from VPR: As Traffic At Food Shelves Spikes, Vermont Launches 'Mass Feeding Plan'

Henry Epp

Darn Tough donates 5,000 pairs of socks to health care workers

Northfield manufacturer Darn Tough is donating 5,000 pairs of socks to Vermont health care workers throughout the University of Vermont Health Network. 

CEO Ric Cabot plans to personally drop off more than 900 pairs of socks on Wednesday morning at Central Vermont Medical Center. 

Amy Kolb Noyes

Rep. Welch says dairy farmers will be disappointed by new stimulus package

Congressman Peter Welch said he's disappointed a new federal stimulus package will not include major benefits for dairy farmers. 

The $500 billion package is expected to pass later this week. 

The legislation includes additional $10,000 grants for many small businesses. 

But Welch said Congress is divided on the issue of whether farmers should be eligible. 

"Our dairy farms are totally on the ropes," Welch said. "They started out on the ropes and there's debate about whether they're small businesses, so we've got a long way to go, and it's an issue that continues to be really urgent for Vermont dairy." 

The legislation does call on the federal government to purchase additional dairy products that will be distributed to food banks across the country.

Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: Farming's COVID Crisis: Specialty Cheese Sales, Milk Prices Plummet

Seventh Generation doubles production amid COVID-19

Burlington-based Seventh Generation said it has doubled production in recent weeks after experiencing a massive surge in demand for its home and personal care products.

Between retail and online purchases, demand for the company's eco-friendly products was three-to-four times higher in March, the company said. 

Seventh Generation CEO Joey Bergstein said he thinks the reason why is unsurprising: Much of the world is staying home and is worried about cleanliness. 

"So they're washing their dishes more often, they're running their dishwashers more often, they're doing more laundry than they might have been doing," Bergstein said. "They're using more of their own toilet paper because they're at home."

Seventh Generation is owned by consumer goods company Unilever.

Betty Smith

State prepares a mass feeding plan to address food insecurity

The state of Vermont is preparing a mass feeding plan for people who can no longer afford to put food on the table. 

More than 70,000 Vermonters have filed for unemployment over the last five weeks. 

Jenney Samuelson, with the Agency of Human Services, said many households are now struggling to afford groceries.

"The plan that we have developed that we are calling the mass feeding plan is exactly that — in this unprecedented time of COVID-19, we need to ensure that individuals and communities areound Vermont have the resources that they need to ensure that everyone is well-fed," Samuelson said. 

Samuelson said the plan will ramp up stocks at food shelves across the state. She said the state is also working on food transportation logistics for senior centers, homeless shelters and other sites. 

For the full story, head here.

Peter Hirschfeld

Local colleges move summer classes online

A number of colleges in the region are moving their summer programs online. Dartmouth College and Castleton University announced the changes this week.

The Governor's Institute, a program for high school students typically held on college campuses, will also move online. 

Last week, Middlebury College announced its full-immersion summer language schools — previously planned to be held on the campuses of Middlebury and Bennington College this summer — will also be replaced with online classes.

The Middlebury Language Schools have been in continuous operation since 1915. 

Amy Kolb Noyes

Health Department reports just two new cases of COVID-19

The State Health Department reported just two new cases of COVID-19 today, but also two more deaths. So far, 818 people have tested positive in Vermont. More than 13,000 people have been tested for the disease. The number of new cases per day appears to be flattening out, according to the Health Department.

Additionally, 40 people have now died in Vermont from COVID-19 and 21 people are currently hospitalized with the virus. 

Amy Kolb Noyes

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