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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, May 19

Skateboarder wears a medical mask at Burlington's waterfront
Abagael Giles
Burlington City Council passed an emergency order on May 18, requiring people to wear masks in shops and public buildings. A skateboarder at the city's Waterfront Park wore a mask on a busy, sunny afternoon on May 2.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Tuesday, May 19.



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

The Vermont Department of Health reported four new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, and five more people have recovered from the disease.

In all, 944 people have tested positive, 820 people have recovered, and 54 have died in the state.

Three people are currently hospitalized with the disease.

Last week state officials reported Vermont has the lowest coronavirus growth rate in the country.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Business owners reflect on reopening during a pandemic

Many "non-essential" retail stores are re-opening this week, more than two months after COVID-19 forced them to close.

Governor Phil Scott says they can re-open as long as they don't exceed 25% of their capacity.

Bear Pond Books has been a mainstay in Montpelier's downtown for decades.

Co-owner Claire Benedict told Vermont Edition that the store is looking forward to re-opening on Saturday, May 23.

“There are a lot of things to take under consideration - we're allowed to have 12 people in the store at a time,” Benedict said. “We're going to proceed cautiously little baby steps and see how it goes and make sure everybody's safe and comfortable, both the staff and the customers." 

Governor Phil Scott is expected to unveil a major economic package on Wednesday morning to strengthen the state's tourism economy.

In the last two months, 35% of the state's labor force has filed for unemployment benefits and many of the lost jobs have been in the service industry.

Sean Lawson is the president of Lawson's Finest Liquids in Waitsfield. He told Vermont Edition that many local businesses were adversely affected when the ski areas were forced to close in March.

“Of course that cascades down the road to all the businesses in town,” Lawson said. “All of those small businesses are dependent on the tourism economy so we're of course wondering and a little anxious about what that means for this summer." 

Scott's package could also address new rules for out of state hotel reservations, which could also have major ramifications for Vermont’s small communities.

Listen to the full conversation from today's Vermont Edition, here.

- Bob Kinzel

Vermont dairy farms face a devastating drop in milk prices

Gov. Phil Scott will unveil an economic assistance package for Vermont businesses later Wednesday and officials say some of the aid will be directed at the state's beleaguered dairy industry.

Demand for milk plummeted this spring when schools and restaurants closed because of the pandemic. Diane Bothfeld at the state Agency of Agriculture said the resulting price drop was massive.

She said a farm milking 50 cows could see a $35,000 monthly loss.

"Just gone," Bothfeld said. "You don't have it anymore. So that's difficult. How would you budget if your salary went down $35,000 in a month?"

The Scott administration plans to use part of the $1.25 billion federal aid package to help businesses. Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts said some of that money will be used to support farms.

He said details will be revealed at the governor's press briefing on Wednesday.

Read the full story, here.

- John Dillon

Retail businesses adapt to new regulations to reopen for in-person business

Gov. Phil Scott allowed nonessential stores to open Monday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started ramping up in Vermont.

But Vermont Retail and Grocers Asspociation president Erin Sigrist said some stores aren't comfortable opening and are still learning the new health and safety regulations.

"Reopening is almost like opening your store from the beginning. You know, there are a lot of things that need to be thought about," Sigrist said. "And there are a lot of practices that need to be put in place."

Store owners need to have enough masks for their workers, and staff have to be trained in the proper cleaning protocals.

Read the full story, here.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman


Senate President Pro Tem says customers should be required to wear masks

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said as Vermont opens back up for business, shoppers should be required to wear facial coverings in stores.

That's in contrast to Gov. Phil Scott, who so far has not mandated mask-wearing.

Ashe notes that store personnel are required to wear masks, so it makes sense that their customers should be too.

"By requiring the employee to wear a mask, it means we're protecting the customer from something the employee might have," Ashe said. "But by not requiring the customer to wear it, it means we're saying the employee's health is left to the whims of customer choice."

The Burlington City Council just ruled that shoppers there should wear masks. But Gov. Scott said Vermonters have successfully followed guidelines to stem the spread of coronavirus without new state mandates.

- John Dillon


Stalled CityPlace development may face further delays due to COVID-19

The stalled redevelopment of Burlington's downtown mall may face more delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a city consultant.

After nearly two years, construction on the CityPlace project was slated to begin on this summer. The project would feature a mix of retail, office and residential space. Brookfield Properties, the developers, are still planning to start work on the project this year, according to VTDigger.

But Jeff Glassberg, a consultant working with the city, said he thinks the project will likely encounter new challenges due to the pandemic.

"Certainly recovery of downtown retail business, as well as a picture of what the retail environment in general looks like going forward may be some cause for concern," Glassberg said.

He said he's also concerned that Brookfield could have trouble getting financing due to the crisis.

- Liam Elder-Connors


United States-Canada border to remain closed for another month

The United States-Canada border will remain closed to non-essential travel for another month.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made that announcement Tuesday, in his daily press briefing. Trudeau said the closure will keep people in both countries safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

More from VPR: Reporter Debrief: Checking In On COVID-19 In Quebec

The two countries originally agreed to close the border in March, and they extended the closure in April. It had been set to expire on Wednesday, but will now remain in place through mid-June.

Under the agreement, commercial traffic is still flowing between the two countries, and essential employees, such as healthcare workers, can still cross the international line.

- Henry Epp

More from VPR: Love In The Time Of COVID-19: Two Couples Tell Their Stories

Bennington College plans to reopen its campus in the fall

Bennington College will reopen its campus for in-person attendance in the fall. 

The College's interim president, Isabel Roche, made the announcement in a letter to the college community on Monday, May 18.

The Bennington Bannerreports that Roche is presenting what she calls a "blended model" that allows for in-person attendance as well as remote learning for some students and staff.

Roche said the plan has been developed in coordination with experts from around the state, as well as the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

Sam Gale Rosen

Burlington requires masks in shops, public buildings

Customers at retail stores in Vermont's largest city will be required to wear cloth masks.

Statewide, retail businesses were allowed to resume in-person operations on Monday, if they follow certain guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including requiring workers to wear masks.

However, under the governor's order, customers are not required to have facial coverings.

The Burlington City Council last night passed an emergency order requiring people to wear masks in shops and public buildings. 

City Councilor Joan Shannon introduced the Burlington resolution. She said it was a "workers' rights issue."

"The workers themselves would not be protected unless members of the public coming into the store were also wearing masks, nor would the customers be protected, unless other customers were wearing masks," Shannon said.

VTDigger reports the resolution passed in an 11-1 vote, with Councilor Ali Dieng casting the lone "no" vote.

The order went into effect immediately and does not apply to offices, hotels, restaurants or bars.

The council also voted to remove the controversial "Everybody Loves A Parade" mural from the Church Street Marketplace this year, as opposed to 2022, as previously planned. The mural has been criticized for presenting a whitewashed version of the city's history.

Meanwhile the South Burlington City Council passed a resolution requiring masks in city buildings, and encouraging them to be worn in other public spaces.

Sam Gale Rosen and Liam Elder-Connors

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