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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Wednesday, April 22

A sign reading save your pipes! don't flush wipes
Abagael Giles
Some helpful advice outside the Richmond Free Library.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Wednesday, April 22.


Fewer humans out and about means more bear sightings in Bellows Falls

Bellows Falls residents are following Governor Scott’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order. But bears? Not so much.

According to a press release from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, there have been numerous bear sightings in Bellows Falls.

With fewer humans out and about, bears find towns and villages more welcoming. And the department is concerned they could get too comfortable in populated spaces.

Local game warden David Taddei is asking residents to take down bird feeders and secure trash. He also suggests trying to scare off backyard bears if it can be done safely.

- Anna Van Dine

Bennington hospital uses retrofitted scuba masks from local manufacturer

Southwestern Vermont Health Care is using re-purposed scuba masks during the COVID-19 crisis to make up for a shortage of disposable masks and face shields.

The hospital’s vice president of administration Kevin Dailey said the idea came about when he called a former colleague at Synectic, a design and engineering subsidiary of Mack Molding in nearby Arlington.

Within three weeks, Dailey said Synectic provided the hospital with scuba masks it had acquired and retrofitted with filters.

“Here we are in little Bennington, Vermont and just 10 miles up the road was a manufacturer that happened to be in our backyard, and we were able to collaborate and you know, we’re fortunate, I guess,” he said.

Synectic provided the hospital with 500 retrofitted masks.

- Betty Smith 

Underlying health conditions prevalent in those who have died from COVID-19

The Department of Health said Wednesday the majority of people who tested positive for COVID-19 and died were older Vermonters who had underlying health conditions.

A total of 40 people in the state have died due to the coronavirus, and Health Commissioner Mark Levine said an analysis of the first 29 fatalities found that all but two people were over the age of 65.

Levine added that in all the cases they examined, the person had an underlying medical condition.

“Some heart disease, some lung disease, some kidney disease, some immuno-suppressing conditions, some obesity.”

The department also found that 13 people in the state’s initial 29 deaths were patients at long-term care facilities. The state’s worst outbreaks of COVID-19 have been at two nursing homes in Burlington. Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Bail hearing examines prison pandemic protocol

The ability of Vermont's prison system to protect inmates from COVID-19 continued to be debated during a second day of court hearings in Windham County.

This was ostensibly a bail hearing for multiple detained defendants. But testimony focused almost exclusively on the adequacy of the prisons’ pandemic response.

Joshua Rutherford oversees the Department of Corrections pandemic protocol, and he said these documents are updated frequently.

"At the end of the day the goal, is to provide as safe a system as possible for those in our custody, and our staff,” he said. “So critique, criticism, regardless of where it comes from, if there's validity to it, it's something we want to incorporate and make sure we are continually improving the safety of our system."

Questioning from defense attorneys pointed out that it is up to each individual prison to successfully implement that protocol. Read the full story.

- Emily Corwin

A dozen protestors show to criticize the governor's stay-at-home policy

A protest of Gov. Phil Scott’s response to COVID-19 didn’t draw the numbers that organizers hoped.

About a dozen people stood outside the Statehouse on Wednesday to criticize Scott’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chris Richardson said he lost his job as a server in Williston after Scott ordered bars and restaurants to shut down and is now struggling to cover basic living expenses.

“He needs to seriously think about these policies, and not just be fear-mongered with the doctors and everything, because the economic impact is more dangerous than the virus when you are locking everything down,” Richardson said. “People can’t work. You’re collapsing everything.”

Hinesburg resident Sarah Toscano said Vermont needs to be able to open back up and get back to work “as fast as we can.”

“He seems to be dragging — he as in Phil Scott — seems to be dragging his feet pretty slowly,” Toscano said.

Scott said he shares protestors’ concerns about the economic effect of his stay-at-home order, but added drastic measures are needed to slow the spread of the virus. He said he won’t lift the order until public health officials say it’s safe for businesses to resume operations.

- Peter Hirschfeld 

State officials: Vermonters should expect car insurance savings

Most Vermonters with car insurance should see reduced rates or even get some premium money back.

The Department of Financial Regulation said all Vermont-based auto insurance companies and most major out-of-state insurers are making those moves, because claims have gone down as Vermonters comply with the governor’s stay-at-home order.

The department said about 90% of car insurance customers can expect a 15-20 % savings for at least a couple of months. State officials say all together, the statewide savings totals more than $14.5 million so far.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Vermonters stuck in backlog receive unemployment payments

Thousands of Vermonters who've gone weeks without pay are now starting to see their unemployment checks arrive.

The Department of Labor was overwhelmed by a deluge of claims filed after the COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to lay off workers. Officials estimate the state unemployment rate could be at least 20%.

Over the weekend, the department cleared tens of thousands of claims by side-stepping federal regulations.

TJ Maynard of Colchester said until the state cleared his unemployment claims this weekend, it had been about a month since he'd been paid.

“It’s a huge relief, all the bills are current now,” he said. “It’s not like I’m running out to buy a new TV or anything, but there’s a lot less uncertainty in the household now.”

Maynard said he expects eventually he’ll be able to go back to work — but for now, he’ll keep filing for unemployment. And Maynard added that from now on, he hopes he'll be able to rely on consistent payments. Read the full story here.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Brattleboro facility employee tests positive

An employee at Thompson House Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Brattleboro has tested positive for COVID-19.

The Brattleboro Reformer reports the employee will quarantine for two weeks, according to a letter from facility administrator Dane Rank.

The Vermont Department of Health will also go forward with facility-wide testing, which will take place Wednesday. All employees on and off shift will be required to report for testing.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Spirit Airlines flights to resume next week

Flights between Plattsburgh and Florida will resume next week on Spirit Airlines.

The Plattsburgh International Airport says there will be three flights a week to Fort Lauderdale, starting May second.

Spirit Airlines suspended all flights in April, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions.

The airport reminds travelers to practice social distancing at the airport and to be aware of the latest federal travel advisories.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Vermont State Colleges Chancellor withdraws plan to close three campuses

Chancellor Jeb Spaulding is withdrawing his proposal to close three campuses in the Vermont State Colleges System.

In a written statement Wednesday, he said:

“Our Board of Trustees heard loud and clear from thousands of students, employees, communities,and the State’s elected leadership and determined that my recommendations would be damaging on many levels and would not be acceptable. I accept their judgment."

Spaulding said that the system's current configuration is not sustainable, and that he and the VSC board will work to formulate a new proposal with input from lawmakers and community members. Read the full story here.

- Sam Gale Rosen

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