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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Wednesday, May 13

A board with sticky notes reading "community joy."
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Some gratitude at the Putney Food Coop on Friday, May 8.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Wednesday, May 13.


Eighth day of no new deaths associated with confirmed cases of COVID-19

Of 414 new tests for COVID-19 reported by the Vermont Department of Health Wednesday, two came back positive. There are now 929 confirmed cases in the state.

Five people are still hospitalized with the disease, a number that hasn’t changed for the past week. Another 12 people are “hospitalized under investigation,” one fewer than Tuesday.

Vermont is on its eighth day of having no new deaths associated with confirmed cases of the coronavirus. That number remains at 53.

So far, 789 people are reported to have recovered from the disease.

- Elodie Reed

In a food shortage, could Vermont farms feed the whole state?

If food shortages become a reality, would Vermont farms be able to feed the population?" That's what Jamie McKenzie of Waterbury asked Brave Little State, VPR's people-powered journalism show. Jamie had originally asked the question in the context of the climate crisis — but in this COVID-19 health crisis, it's taken on new urgency.

First, COVID-19 caused a bunch of panic-buying. Now it’s starting to mess with our food supply chain, and it's causing a spike in demand for local food that some producers are struggling to keep up with.

"It’s hard to be going through this experience and not having more anxiety and more worry about that, especially as you’re seeing images floating around social media of empty shelves in the grocery stores," Jamie says.

Normally, of all the money Vermonters spend on food and drink, about 14% is on local products, according to Ellen Kahler, the executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, which administers the Vermont Farm to Plate program.

So in this pseudo-hypothetical, could we bring that number to 100%? Could Vermont farms truly feed the whole state?

As with so many questions, it depends whom you ask. Listen to or read the full story from Brave Little State here.

- Angela Evancie

Department of Health issues reopening guidance for childcare centers

The Department of Health has issued new guidance for childcare centers that will be allowed to reopen starting June 1.

Childcare providers will be permitted to return to full capacity, but they can only do so if they're able to meet distancing regulations for the new coronavirus protocols.

Those rules include a limit of no more than 25 staff members and children in one room at any time.

The regulations also require staff to wear face masks at all times. And providers will be expected to do daily temperature checks and health screenings on all staff and children.

- Peter Hirschfeld.

New University of Vermont study suggests many Vermonters like telecommuting

Respondents to a new UVM survey say they feel more productive working at home.

More than half of the 600 Vermonters who took hte survey also expect to work remotely more often in the future, after the pandemic ends.

UVM's Center for Research on Vermont Director Richard Watts told Vermont Edition that questions about productivity are key as more people work remotely.

"In many places, there is not a telecommuting workplace policy. That is, it's frowned upon, or not even allowed," Watts said. "Also, there's kind of a culture that doesn't suggest that people who are working at home are productive, although, again, people are telling us they are."

Watts said nearly 70% of those who filled out the survey want their employers to do more to support working from home.

The confidential surveyis open through the end of May.

Listen to the full conversation on Vermont Edition, here.

Green Mountain Care Board aims to drop some financial reporting requirements for hospitals

The Green Mountain Care Board wants to give hospitals extra breathing room as they prepare their budgets for the next fiscal year.

The board met Wednesday to talk about a series of recommendations that recognize the challenges and intense pressures the hospitals face while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board wants to drop a number of financial reporting requirements and push the budget deadline back another month.

It also acknowledged the uncertain financial impacts of federal and state bailout packages.

The board will collect public comments on the recommendations, and possibly vote on them on May 20.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Health officials: testing is now available for anyone who wants it

State officials say that anyone in Vermont who wants to be tested for COVID-19 can now do so, even if they don't have symptoms of the disease.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said increased testing capacity has allowed the state to open pop-up test sites.

"We have been seeing success in our pop up facilities throughout the state," Smith said. "We've only done two of them, but we're going to have a bunch of them coming up in multiple locations."

The Department of Health said Wednesday that it will hold 11 pop-up clinics over the next 10 days.

Health officials say expanded testing will help them monitor the prevalence of the coronavirus in Vermont.

Anyone who wants a COVID-19 test will need to register before going to a pop-up clinic.

- Peter Hirschfeld

More from VPR: Preventing Disease Spread, Investigating Plasma Therapy: A Check-In With Health Experts

Vermont Department of Health advises colleges, universities about reopening come fall

The Vermont Department of Health is advising the state's colleges and universities as they consider reopening their schools for the fall semester.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said he has weekly phone calls with college administrators.

"We've talked about what needs to happen in dormitories: Can you have more than one person living in a room? What about bathrooms? What about all the sanitation, and things of that sort," Levine said.

Levine said he thinks there's a scenaruo in which colleges can safely welcome students back to campus, but he said schools will need to follow new public health guidelines.

The University of Vermont announced in April that it's preparing to bring students back to its Burlington campus in the fall.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Gov. Scott resists calls for mandatory face coverings at retail stores

Gov. Phil Scott is resisting calls for a mandatory face covering policy at retail stores in Vermont. An executive orderfrom Scott requires all employees at retail businesses to wear cloth face masks.

However, masks for customers are still voluntary.

"I know some would like to mandate masks for everyone, but I continue to believe we'll have better outcomes if we focus on why wearing a mask when you're around others in public is so important," Scott said.

Scott said a blanker face mask mandate would likely create controversy and resistance.

He said he'll consider a more prescriptive face mask policy if retail outlets report seeing high numbers of people without facial coverings.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Gov. Scott decries racism, harassment of Hartford resident

Gov. Phil Scott said he's apologized to a Hartford resident who was accosted last week while driving a vehicle with New York license plates.

Vermont State Police are investigating the harassment incident.

Gov. Phil Scott used his press briefing Wednesday to warn against hostility toward out-of-state visitors.

"I want to be very clear: I have no tolerance for this kind of thing. It's unacceptable. It does not represent my views, or who I believe we are as a state," Scott said.

Scott said the person was told the governor "did not want them here."

"Making this situation in Hartford even more disturbing was the racial undertone used during this exchange with the individual, who is a person of color," Scott said.

Scott has asked out-of-state residents to refrain from non-essential travel to Vermont.

But he said his comments should not be used as a basis to harass visitors who do come to the state.

Scott said second homeowners, or people with family in Vermont, are welcome. But he's ordered people who enter the state for any reason to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Read the full story, here.

- Peter Hirschfeld

State prosecutors consider bringing in outside attorneys to combat case backlog

State prosecutors might bring in outside help to deal with a backlog of cases that's built up during the COVID-19 crisis.

When the pandemic hit in March, the judiciary suspended all non-emergency court hearings. But courthouses are expected to reopen in June - and the judiciary is anticipating a flood of new cases.

John Campbell, executive director of the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs, said the department is considering bringing in outside attorneys to help prosecutors with the backlog.

"Either remotely or if there was a case where you had to be present then they could possibly travel to a different county, but they would be at the disposal to go, or I should say, the direction, to go where the demand is," Campbell said.

Last week Defender General Matt Valerio said he was also concerned he wouldn't have enough public defenders to handle the influx of cases.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Vermont courts to prioritize cases involving children, incarcerated people on reopening

Vermont courts will prioritize cases involving children and incarcerated people once courts reopen.

When the pandemic hit in March, all non-emergency court hearings were suspended. Now, the judiciary is expecting a flood of new cases once courts reopen, which is likely to happen in June.

Chief Superior Judge Brian Grearson said judges will be re-assigned to address high priority cases, like those involving children.

"Meaning judges that are sometimes doing civil matters will end up assisting in the backlog in those dockets," Grearson said.

He said the state supreme court will issue a memo detailing priorities by the end of the week.  The judiciary has also said some retired judges will return to help with the backlog.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Legislature works to adjust state budget to account for shortfalls

The Legislature is working to adjuts the state budget for this fiscal year to account for the increased costs and decreased revenues from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new adjustment bill taps federal COVID relief money to help fund the state court system, assist state colleges and cover increased costs for the Legislature.

Vermont got $1.25 billion in federal funds to cover COVID-19 related costs. The proposed budget adjustment act would use about $21 million for expenses incurred this fiscal year.

Danville Representative Kitty Toll chairs the House Appropriations Committee. She told her colleagues on Wednesday the state will see a $52 million decline in tax revenues as the pandemic impacts the economy.

"Along with that $52 million, there's also approximately $143 million in deferred tax collections that has been pushed out into July," Toll said.

The proposed budget allocates $5 million in federal COVID relief to the court system so it can work remotely. Another $10 million in federal money would be split between the University of Vermont and the state college system to cover the cost of room and board refunds for students who are not on campus.

"It's important that we use these federal dollars wherever we can because if they're legitimately for that use, it's better to use the federal dollars than to use our state dollars," Toll said.

- John Dillion

South Burlington prison staffer tests positive for COVID-19

A staff member at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility has tested positive for COVID-19. Now, all untested staff and all inmates at the South Burlington prison will be tested for the virus.

The staff member who tested positive was one of 84 workers at the prison to voluntarily undergo testing on Monday.

"And this staff member who tested positive did have contact with inmates, so we're conducting a facility-wide test on Thursday, May 14," Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said.

The South Burlington prison, which holds Vermont's female inmates, will be the state's second prison facility to undergo comprehensive testing. In early April, after an inmate the Northwest Regional Correctional Facility in Franklin County tested positive, all inmates and staff were tested.

More than 60 inmates and staff tested positive there, making it one of the biggest outbreaks in the state.

- Emily Corwin and Peter Hirschfeld

New York investigating rare syndrome in children thought to be related to the coronavirus

A 9-year-old boy in an upstate New York region with relatively few cases of the coronavirus is recovering from a rare inflammatory syndrome thought to be related to the virus.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that the state is now investigating about 100 cases of the Kawasaki disease-like syndrome. Three children have died.

Cuomo is advising all hospitals to prioritize COVID-19 testing for children presenting with symptoms of the syndrome that affects blood vessels and organs.

- Associated Press

New Hampshire task force makes recommendations for lodging, outdoor attractions

A panel tasked with reopening New Hampshire's economy has agreed on proposals for lodging, outdoor attractions, gyms and some other sectors.

The group unanimously recommended hotels be limited to half their capacity. The limit would not apply to motels with outdoor access to rooms or to inns and bed-and-breakfasts with 10 or fewer rooms. Face masks would be required for staffers and are recommended for guests. A reopening date of May 22 is recommended for lodging.

The recommendations made Tuesday by the pandemic recovery task force won't be final until health officials and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu OK them.

- Associated Press 

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