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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 Thursday, May 7

A message of hope for motorists in Starksboro
Abagael Giles
On Wednesday, Gov. Phil Scott allowed gatherings of 10 or fewer in Vermont, provided social distancing is maintained. Over the weekend, a sign hung across from the post office in Starksboro village, offering motorists on Route 116 a message of hope.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Thursday, May 7.


Vermont Department of Health reports eight new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported eight new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases in Vermont to 916. Another death was reported, puting Vermont's death toll at 53.

There are currently five people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Vermont. More than 18,000 tests have been administered and 718 people have recovered from the disease.

More from VPR: How To Read Vermont's COVID-19 Numbers

- Amy Kolb Noyes

100,000 Vermonters applied for unemployment in last seven weeks

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Vermont's economy continues to come into focus.

New statistics show that just over 100,000 Vermonters have applied for unemployment benefits in the last seven weeks.

That represents about 30% of the state's labor force.

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington expects this rate will fall as some businesses gradually begin to reopen.

"We had hoped that this wouldn't become as severe or take as long as it has been," Harrington said. "When we also take some perspective, it's a relatively short period of time when we talk about unemployment numbers."

Harrington expects there will be at least 200 people working at the state's call center next week to help facilitate additional unemployment claims.

More from VPR: 'I Ran Out Of Money At The Grocery Store': A Tough Month For Laid Off Vermonters

- Bob Kinzel

The Vermont Judiciary seeks $10 million in COVID-19 relief

When the pandemic hit in March, the judiciary suspended all non-emergency court hearings and jury trials. Public access to courthouses has also been limited during the crisis to participants and to the media.

The judiciary says that in order to fully resume operations, a numer of changes are needed, including re-configuring buildings to allow social distancing during jury selection and trials.

State Court Administrator Pat Gabel said the money would also fund technology for more remote hearings and live-streaming.

"As soon as we are comfortable that we can proceed, we will be installing video endpoints in all courtrooms, so we can do video from all courtrooms throughout the state," Gabel said.

However, the Vermont Defender General is concerned there won't be  enough public defenders to handle the backlog of cases once trials resume in the state.

The court system is planning to bring back retired judges to help with the caseload.

But Defender General Matt Valerio said, due to unfilled positions and a hiring freeze, there likely won't be enough public defenders to handle the flood of cases.

"If the courts have increased capacity to push cases through the system, we arent going to have increased people to make that happen," Valerio said.

In March, the judiciary ordered that all non-emergency hearings and jury trials be postponed. The emergency orders are set to last through the end of May.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Local dairy farmers provide truckloads of milk, yogurt to the Vermont Foodbank

Local dairy farmers and milk processors have teamed up to provide several truckloads of milk and yogurt for the Vermont Foodbank.

With schools and restaurants closed during the pandemic, some farmers have been forced to dump their milk as demand has plummeted.

Diane Bothfeld at the state Agency of Agriculture said the milk donation won't fully ease the surplus, but the milk won't go to waste, and she said farmers will get paid for it.

"Dairy farmers are taken care of. The processing facilities are taken care of, and the Foodbank gets the product, so it's a triple win across the board," Bothfeld said.

The dairy products were purchased with the help of a $60,000 grant from the Vermont Community Foundation.

Bothfeld said the initial donation includes 11,500 gallons of milk and 42,000 cups of yogurt.

More from VPR: Dumped Milk, Falling Prices, Shrinking Demand: Vermont Dairy And The Coronavirus

- John Dillon

Middlebury College will experiment with test-optional admission

Tests like the SAT and ACT will be optional, rather than required, for admission to Middlebury College for a three-year trial period.

The Middlebury Campus, the college newspaper, reports that the policy was announced last month and is in part a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dean of Admissions Nicole Curvin told the newspaper that test-optional policy can provide some flexibility to high school students facing uncertainty around remote learning and online testing.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Skate parks, ball fields, trail networks, golf courses and tennis courts can reopen

Gov. Phil Scott has relaxed some of the restrictions he imposted to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. Some outdoor recreation is now permitted.

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore spelled out the new guidelines at the governor's media briefing Wednesday.

"Outdoor recreation and fitness activities that require low or no direct contact may return to operation. These include things like skate parks, ball fields, trail networks, golf courses and tennis courts," Moore said.

Organized sports that involve gatherings of more than ten people, like recreational baseball leagues, are still not allowed.

Vulnerable Vermonters continue to be advised to self-isolate.

More from VPR: College Summer Baseball Is Canceled In Vermont, But Players Will Get A Second Chance

- John Dillon

Jonathan Spiro named interim president of Castleton University

Jonathan Spiro will be the interim president of Castleton University, starting May 31.

The Rutland Heraldreports that the Vermont State College System Board of Trustees voted to name Spiro to the position at their meeting Wednesday night. Sprio is currently the interim provost at the school.

The board also voted to accept the resignation of President Karen Scolforo, which will take effect at the end of the month.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Sen. Leahy sponsors a new bill to limit presidential powers

Sen. Patrick Leahy is sponsoring legislation that would prohibit a president from reallocating money that has been appropriated by Congress for a specific purpose.

Leahy, who is vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the legislation is needed because of what he calls unconstitutional actions taken by the Trump Administration.

"The best example was probably when they took the money we had appropriated to fix up the substandard housing for families on a number of our military bases, and they just took it to spend on building a wall along the Mexican border," Leahy said.

The U.S. House has filed a lawsuit to block the Administration from transferring the military housing funds.

- Bob Kinzel

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