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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 Tuesday, April 28

"Thank You" Sign Below Neon Lights
Abagael Giles
Yankee Tattoo on Burlington's Pearl Street was one of several closed businesses offering encouragement to healthcare workers.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Tuesday, April 28.


VA workers volunteer to help heavily affected areas

About 40 health care workers from the Veterans Affairs hospital in White River Junction have volunteered to work in nearby states that have been hit hard by COVID-19 over the past month.

The workers, including nurses, doctors, a dietician and carpenters, have headed to New York City, Boston and Bedford, Massachusetts, according to a press release from the VA.

A group of 12 nurses headed to Boston Tuesday.

Massachusetts and New York have both seen significantly higher infection rates than Vermont.

- Henry Epp

Gov. signs bill allowing drive-thru voting

This summer, Vermonters could find themselves voting in a local election without ever leaving their car.

Gov. Phil Scott has signed a bill that gives local officials a variety of options to encourage voting while adhering to social distancing rules.

Secretary of State Jim Condos said town clerks can mail ballots to everyone on their checklist, and they can hand out ballots to voters sitting in their cars just outside the town office.

“Where they could pull over and fill out their ballot, and then come back and their name would be checked off again as having provided their ballot,” Condos said. "A little nuance, but it's been done in other states, and I think you might see it more this year than ever before."   

Condos said the bill also allows towns to set up a tent so that voters can cast a ballot outdoors. He added his office will send postcards to all voters, urging they vote in Vermont’s Aug. 11 primary by mail.

"From our standpoint, we're doing everything we can to one, protect our voters, two, protect our poll workers, and three, to make sure that everybody still have an opportunity to cast a ballot without being disenfranchised,” he said.

Condos hopes to finalize his plan with the governor's office in a week.

- Bob Kinzel

Vermont lawmakers push for pay boost for essential workers

The Vermont Senare wants to boost the income of the people working essential jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Gov. Phil Scott is questioning the cost. 

Caledonia Senator Jane Kitchel chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. She said workers such as those staffing nursing homes are risking their health for very low pay. 

"It's still important to get the word out to these workers that their efforts in this kind of environment where there is serious risk of exposure, are not going unrecognized," Kitchel said. 

Lawmakers want to use federal COVID-19 funds to pay for the program, but Scott questions whether the federal money can be used for this purpose. He has raised concerns about the $90 million price tag of the essential worker program. 

- John Dillon

Most COVID-positive residents at Birchwood Terrace are no longer contagious

A Burlington nursing home hit by an outbreak of COVID-19 said that most if its sick residents are no longer at risk of transmitting the virus. 

On Tuesday, Birchwood Terrace said 28 of the 32 residents infected by the coronavirus no longer needed "transmission-based precautions."

Birchwood has also announced that staff are getting extra pay for working during the pandemic. The nursing home said each employee is getting an average bonus of $40 per shift. Last week, Birchwood said 26 staffers who had been infected by the coronavirus were either back at work or able to return.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Rep. Welch says Congress should vote remotely

Congressman Peter Welch said he supports remote voting by members of the U.S. House on coronavirus bills.

The House was scheduled to return to Washington next week, but the session was called off by Democratic leaders because of health concerns.

Welch said he's confident that a secure remote voting system could be put into place to allow Congress to address critical COVID-19 issues.

"Everything that we are being told about health and safety is that we should socially isolate, so if you get 435 members of Congress back, coming from every part of the country, that sounds like a recipe for a very bad escalation," Welch said. 

Welch is urging his colleagues to back a third stimulus package that would include billions of dollars to expand broadband services for rural areas. 

- Bob Kinzel

St. Michael's College will offer tuition discounts to Vermont students

St. Michael's College is offering discounts to Vermonters for the fall semester, in hopes of attracting students who are wary of leaving the state during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The school said it will guarantee scholarships and grants of up to $35,000 under its "Home State Promise" program." The program caters to students dealing with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. First year and transfer students are eligible to apply. 

Like many small liberal arts schools, St. Mike's has struggled with declining enrollment in recent years. The school saw its bond rating downgraded earlier this year because of revenue concerns. 

- Mark Davis

Despite calls to open from the White House, Vermont schools will remain closed

Gov. Phil Scott is rejecting President Trump's proposal to have governors reopen their schools for the rest of the academic year. 

On Monday, Trump asked the nation's governors to consider this approach as a way to "reopen" the country's economy.

Rebecca Kelley, Scott's Director of Communications, said the governor is following the advice of state health experts and will keep Vermont schools closed. 

"We're going to continue to look at what's going in in Vermont," Kelley said. "We've had a lot of success, thanks to Vermonters really closely abiding by the stay home orders, so we'll just continue to take a state-specific approach and rely on our local experts." 

Kelley said the governor plans to make a decision about whether schools will be allowed to hold graduation ceremonies in about a week.

- Bob Kinzel

Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding will resign

Jeb Spaulding, chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges System, has announced that he will submit his resignation Wednesday. 

Spaulding's resignation comes after his proposal to close three Vermont State Colleges campuses met with intense backlash, after which the plan was withdrawn

In an email sent out Tuesday, Spaulding wrote, "I realize that a fresh perspective and new leadership is necessary to move the VSCS forward in its mission."The Vermont State Colleges board of trustees will meet to consider next steps on Wednesday night.Read the full story, here.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Williston man who hoarded, marked up surgical masks for resale ordered to cease business

A judge has ordered a Williston man to stop selling overpriced surgical masks. 

Seven Days reports that Judge Helen van Toor granted the state's request for an injunction against Shelley Palmer and his company, Big Brother Security Programs.

Palmer is accused of violating the Vermont Consumer Protection Act by selling thousands of 10-cent surgical masks to Central Vermont Medical Center for $2.50 each. He's also accused of claiming the masks are N-95 respirators. 

In interviews, Palmer has denied misrepresenting the masks, and claimed his pricing was fair. But the judge said in a court order that Palmer lacked any credibility, writing, "He changed his own testimony from moment to moment, he lied to his customers and he blatantly lied under oath." 

Palmer has until April 30 to seek permission to sell the masks at a price of up to 10% over verified costs, or file any other written objection to the injunction. 

More from VPR: Vermont Volunteers Are Sewing As Many Face Masks As They Can

- Sam Gale Rosen

Sanders campaign calls cancellation of New York state primary "an outrage"

New York officials have canceled their June 23 Democratic presidential primary due to health concerns associated with the coronavirus.

Bernie Sanders' campaign called the decision "an outrage that is a blow to democracy."

Originally, the primary was scheduled for Wednesday, April 29, but it was delayed until June 23 because of concerns posed by the coronavirus. 

Sanders was hoping to win more delegates to have greater influence at the Democratic National Convention. Middlebury College political science professor Matt Dickinson said the decision hurts Sanders' efforts to play a key role at the Democratic convention.

More from VPR: Let's Talk About Bernie Sanders Suspending His Campaign

"In 2016, Sanders used that position to make some significant changes to the rules allocating delegates in 2020, and ideally, he had also influenced the party platform, which does matter to a certain extent in terms of signaling the direction of the part," Dickinson said. "So I understand his outrage."

The Sanders campaign said it will ask the Democratic National Committee to overturn this decision. Dickinson said that Joe Biden might try to persuade New York officials to change their minds.

"He wants a unified convention, and he doesn't want his nomination to be marred by infighting that's going to detract from using the convention as the opening savo for the general election," Dickinson said. 

- Bob Kinzel

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