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Vermont Coronavirus Updates For Monday, May 18

Jerry Henrichon of Park Place Florist and Garden Center in Rutland tends his flowers
Nina Keck
Jerry Henrichon has owned Park Place Florist and Garden Center in Rutland for 39 years. He's taken a big hit because of COVID-19. Thirty percent of his annual business comes between March and May, but he says online orders and curbside pickup have helped.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Monday, May 18.


Health Department reports no new cases on Monday

The Health Department reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. In all, 940 people have tested positive in Vermont and 54 have died.

Three people are currently hospitalized with the disease, and 815 people have recovered.

Vermont has the lowest coronavirus growth rate in the country, a success Gov. Phil Scott attributes to Vermonters following health guidelines.

More from VPR: Gov. Scott Says More Reopenings, Economic Recovery Package To Come Soon

- Karen Anderson

Department of Labor has processed 68,000 unemployment claims

The state continues to work through a backlog of claims for unemployment benefits, even as lawmakers say they are still hearing from constituents about problems.

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington told a meeting of the house on Monday that since mid-March, the state received 90,000 claims for unemployment benefits. That compares to 30,000 for all of 2018.

Harrington said the state has processed 68,000 claims and is now working through the backlog of self-employed people applying under thePandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

"As of today, we have another $15 million in PUA benefits that are being processed both by direct deposit and by check," Harrington said. "I think we are at roughly between 90% and 95% of all PUA claimants having received some benefits as of this time."

But many lawmakers tld Harrington that constituents say they still can't get through on the phone to file claims or have given up trying.

Harrington said one common issue that complicates processing the claim is if people had other income besides their job - such as Social Security or retirement pay. He said if that is the case, the claim takes longer to resolve.

- John Dillon

Gov. Scott to announce details about economic recovery package

Monday, retail businesses were allowed to resume in-person operations if they follow certain guidelines. Those include requiring workers to wear masks and limiting capacity at stores.

Scott said his administration this week will also unveil a recovery package.

"On Wednesday we'll announce a major economic package which will provide relief, hope and initiatives to get us moving towards recovery," Scott said.

Cases of COVID-19 have been steadily declining in Vermont for weeks. The state's percent positivity rate remains less than 5%, according to the health department.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Non-essential retail stores reopen for the first time in two-months

Non-essential retail stores across Vermont reopened today for the first time in two months.

Ralph Ellis owns The Shoe Tree in Brattleboro and he said the milestone marks an important shift in how the state is dealing with the pandemic.

"Yeah, I'm pretty positive that people are going to start wanting to come out. You know, it's kind of almost retail therapy in some respects," Ellis said.

Many stores in Brattleboro opened but there were some that remained closed Monday.

Store owners had to complete a health training before opening, and while employees are required to wear masks, customers are only asked to do so at this point.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Vermont State Parks will be open this summer, with social distancing

Vermont State Parks will be open this summer but will change operations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore said steps will be taken to promote social distancing, like reducing capacity at campgrounds.

Moore said visitors will also be expected to follow guidelines, including delaying trips if they're ill or have potentially been exposed to the coronavirus. Secretary Moore outlined a few:

"Maintaining at least six feet of physical distance from anyone you did not travel to the park with, wearing a cloth mask whenever you might encounter other visitors or staff, or generally any time you're not swimming, exercising or at your campsite," Moore said. "Bringing a supply of hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes and making good use o them throughout your visit."

Out-of-state visitors will be required to quarantine for two weeks before using state parks.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Gov. Scott expects to announce the reopening of more sectors this week

Gov. Phil Scott said he expects to announce the reopening of more sectors of Vermont's economy this week.

Monday, retail businesses were allowed to resume in-person operations if they follow certain guidelines. Those include requiring workers to wear masks and limiting capacity at stores.

Scott said as long as cases of COVID-19 remain low, close contact businesses like salons could reopen soon.

"If things go well we'll announce some additional openings, like hair salons and barber shops, limited seating at restaurants and hopefully more services in the healthcare field," Scott said.

Scott also said his administration will unveil an economic recovery package on Wednesday.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

University of Vermont honors graduates with online celebration

The University of Vermont honored its 2020 graduating class on Sunday, not with a traditional commencement ceremony on the university green, but with an online celebration complete with "Pomp and Circumstance." The song played under a video montage of students and the campus.

University of Vermont President Suresh Garimella - standing behind a formal podium, dressed in cap and gown - congratulated the nearly 3,000 graduates and saluted their resolve during the last several months.

More from VPR: UVM Planning In-Person Classes For The Fall Semester

Gov. Phil Scott, a UVM alum, took part and told graduates that he appreciated their grit, determination and sacrifice - highlighting the nearly 100 UVM nursing students who graduated early to join the fight on the front lines of the pandemic.

- Nina Keck

New Hampshire restaurants reopened Monday for outdoor dining

Restaurants in New Hampshire can start offering outdoor dining Monday, as part of the state's phased reopening.

The Valley News reports that under the plan, restaurants must place tables more than six feet apart and offer hand sanitizer to guests and employees.

No more than six guests will be allowed to sit at a single table, and bars and indoor seating will not be allowed.

For more about New Hampshire's response to COVID-19, head here.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Vermont sees a spike in poisonings from a ramp look-alike

There has been a spike in reported poisonings from a plant that resembles edible ramps in Vermont.

Seven Days reportsthat reported cases of serious illness from the poisonous false hellebore have more than doubled in Vermont over the last year's number. There have been 22 cases reported so far this year, according to the Northern New England Poison Center.

Consuming false hellebore can cause severe nausea and vomiting, accompanied by a slowed heartbeat and a drop in blood pressure.

The Northern New England Poison Center provides a visual reference and more information on how to identify the plant on its website.

- Sam Gale Rosen

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