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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 28

A masked woman plants basin on Free Verse Farm
Sarah Priestap
Sheila Brown plants basil in the greenhouse at Free Verse Farm In Chelsea on May 20. Free Verse Farm, which grows herbs to use in tinctures, teas, creams, and other products, uses masks and communication to keep their employees safe during work days.

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


Vermont Department of Health reports three new cases of COVID-19, one new death

The Vermont Department of Health Thursday reported three additional cases of COVID-19 in Vermont, bringing the statewide total number of cases to-date to 974.

The state also reported that one more person who tested positive for COVID-19 has died from the disease. As of Wednesday, 55 people known to have been infected with COVID-19 have died in Vermont.

An additional six people have recovered from the new coronavirus since Wednesday. So far, 855 people have recovered from confirmed cases of the disease.

The state has now conducted 31,152 tests for active cases of COVID-19. Additionally, 17 people remain hospitalized under investigation.

- Abagael Giles

More from VPR: 'My Mother Was My Best Friend': Remembering A Life Lost To COVID-19

Vermont will see a wealth of candidates running for statewide office in 2020

There are a lot of candidates running for Vermont's top three statewide offices this year.

Seven people are challenging Democratic incumbent Congressman Peter Welch, including four Republicans.

There are ten people challenging uncumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott, including three Republicans and five Democrats.

And there are 10 candidates running for the vacancy in the lieutenant governor's office, including four Democrats and five Republicans.

Sec. of State Jim Condos said the large field could be linked to a decision to eliminate the need for candidates to gather 500 petition signatures because of coronavirus concerns.

"I would say that there is a healthy democratic process, but I also think that we made it a little easier this time, because you didn't have to have signatures," Condos said.

The Democratic, Republican and Progressive primaries will all be held on Aug. 11.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: What COVID-19 Means For Campaigns

The U.S. House today approved new relief for small businesses using a proxy voting system

The U.S. House has given its near-unanimous support for legislation co-sponsored by Congressman Peter Welch that provides additional benefits for small businesses dealing with the impact of the coronavirus.

The bill eliminates a lot of red tape in the so-called Payroll Protection Program and it extends the benefit period from eight weeks to 24 weeks.

Under the proxy rules, one House member who is physically present in Washington can vote for as many as ten of their colleagues with their written permission.

Mass. Rep. Jim McGovern cast the vote for Welch, who remained in Vermont.

"By doing it that way, one, I vote on behalf of Vermonters and number two, Vermonters know how I voted, just like they do if I'm physically present when I vote," Welch said. "So the accountability that we must have to Vermonters is maintained in the process."

He said the proxy system is needed because bringing all 435 House members back to Washington would create a health risk.

Welch said it's important that the bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support.

"The good news is we changed it, and the good news is we did it together," Welch said. "Obviously, the more we can do that, be responsive to the way things are working on the ground as told to us by the people who are affected, the better off all of us will be."

The measure now goes to the Senate, where some changes are anticipated. Quick action is expected because the original Payroll Protection law expires next week.

- Bob Kinzel

All staff, inmates at Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility test negative for COVID-19

All staff and inmates at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland have tested negative for COVID-19.

The Rutland prison is the fourth of six in-state facilities to undergo mass testing.

Outside the major outbreak, which began at a Franklin County facility in late March and infected 48 inmates and 18 staff, no additional inmates have tested positive.

According to the Department of Corrections, mass testing will proceed at the facility in Newport next week.

- Emily Corwin

More from VPR: Mississippi Inmate Settles With State Over COVID-19 Protections

A deal has been reached for the sale of Marlboro College's Vermont campus

Marlboro College has a deal in place to sell its 500-acre campus to a group that wants to start a combination online and residential college.

Seth Andrew is the founder of Democracy Builders, a nonprofit that wants to bring low-income and first-generation college students to the Marlboro campus.

"There is a group of students that have not been served well by this system... who would like to go to college but just need to find the right fit, and that's what we're trying to build," Andrew said.

Andrew declined to release terms of the deal, but said he hopes to have students and faculty in Marlboro in September, depending on COVID-19 pandemic guidelines. Late last year, Marlboro College announced plans to close its Vermont campus.

Read the full story.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Vermont Judiciary will bring back retired judges to tackle case backlog

Beginning June 1, state courts will expand operations to allow non-emergency hearings for the first time since March.

The Vermont Judiciary postponed most court proceedings when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and that's led to a backlog of cases.

As a result, the judiciary is bringing back some retired judges and reassigning others to help with the load. But there is concern that even if the courts have more resources, there won't be enough attorneys.

Defender General Matt Valerio said public defenders are short staffed. He said some counties already had backlogs before the pandemic and he'll likely deploy more resources in those areas first.

"But eventually somebody else is going to have to wait, no matter what you do. All we can really do is put one foot in front of the other, and do the best we can," Valerio said.

The Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs said it's considering hiring contract attorneys to help prosecutors with the caseload. John Campbell, the department's executive director, said, "We're looking to see if there are som attorneys out there that have either been former prosecutors, former state's attorneys, former deputy state's attorneys, that would be interested in working on a contract basis."

Public defenders are also short-staffed, according to the defender general.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Construction on the downtown Middlebury Bridge and Rail Project has resumed

Work has finally resumed on an extensive construction project in downtown Middlebury. For weeks, COVID-19 restrictions have kept the project at a standstill.

Most of the crew working for the general constractor, Kubricky Construction, is based in New York State. Vermont's out-of-state quarantine requirement limited their ability to go back to work.

And until just a few days ago, the number of workers that could be on the job at one time was also a problem.

Jim Gish, the project's community liaison said, "The guidelines changed so that Kubricky is allowed, essentially, to move up to full strength."

The project involves replacing two downtown Middlebury railroad bridges with a tunnel.

- Betty Smith

Gov. Scott has filed to run for reelection

Gov. Phil Scott has filed to run for reelection.

Scott's campaign made the announcement in an email and on social media this morning. He had faced a deadline to file by 5 p.m. Thursday.

Scott said responding to the COVID-19 pandemic remains his priority, saying, "Until the state of emergency is over, I won't have a campaign staff or office, be raising money, or participating in normal campaign events."

The Republican Governor's Association began airing online reelection ads for Scott earlier this month.

Read the full story here.

- Sam Gale Rosen

New Hampshire to expand COVID-19 testing for frontline workers

As more businesses reopen, New Hampshire is offering coronavirus testing to workers who have prolonged contact with colleagues or members of the public while on the job.

The new category is in addition to others who have become eligible in recent weeks, including anyone with even mild symptoms of COVID-19, as well as health care workers, child care workers, peaople over age 60 and those with certain health conditions.

While the percentage of positive tests in New Hampshire has declined in recent weeks, officials are closely watching the numbers to gauge the effects of reopening some businesses two weeks ago.

- Associated Press

For a timeline outlining Vermont's response to COVID-19, head here.

Scott Administration proposes $5 million in-state tourism marketing campaign

Tourism brings $2.8 billion annually into Vermont's economy, but COVID-19 has forced the closure of inns, museums and campgrounds. Now, as they begin to reopen for the summer, the question is: Can they recover from the losses of recent months?

Commissioner of Tourism and Marketing Heather Pelham told Vermont Edition that the effects of the pandemic on the travel sector are only just beginning to be seen.

"This summer is not going to look like anything it has in the past," Pelham said. "We have already seen over $300 million in losses in the travel and recreation sector of our economy."

The Scott Administration has proposed a $5 million marketing campaign to encourage in-state tourism and help minimize the loss from fewer out-of-state visitors.

Listen to the full conversation, here.

- Emily Aiken

Child care centers will reopen Monday, with masks and new safety protocols

Child care centers will be able to open back up to all families on Monday, for the first time since March.

Sonja Raymond is director of the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children. She also owns a child care center in Stowe, which has remained open through the pandemic for the children of essential workers.

Raymond said while school-aged children have been wearing masks, that's a tough ask of younger kids.

"It's probably our preschool group that's the most challenging, to be honest with you," Raymond said. "A lot of them have a hard time keeping their hands off of it. A lot of times, we've just had to say 'Nevermind,' and put it in their cubby, because honestly, they're spreading more germs with it."

Raymond said other safety protocols must also be put in place, such as frequent cleaning and more physically distanced activities.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

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