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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 Friday, May 29

Signs in White River Junction
Sarah Priestap
Two different kinds of signs of encouragement are seen in White River Junction on May 20.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus for Friday, May 29.



State officials report just one new case of COVID-19

On Friday, the Vermont Department of Health reported just one new case of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases detected to-date to 975.

One person is currently hospitalized with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in Vermont, and 13 people remain hospitalized under investigation.

A total of 859 people are known to have recovered from the new coronavirus.

There have been 55 deaths associated with confirmed cases of the disease, though no new deaths were reported today.

So far, the state has tested 31,885 people for active infections.

- Abagael Giles

Gov. Scott says decision to seek a third term was driven in part by pandemic

In his first public comments after announcing his bid for reelection, Gov. Phil Scott said that his decision to seek a third term was driven in part by the coronavirus pandemic.

"When I first started this journey running for governor, I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to leave the office in better shape than I found it," Scott said. "At this point in time, that's not possible, so I think I have to finish what we started."

Scott faces three challengers in the Republican primary, and three Democrats are vying for the chance to face him in the general election in November.

Scott said he's too busy responding to the COVID-19 crisis to engage in normal campaign activities.

Read the full story, here.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Gyms, fitness centers, massage therapists, nail salons and more can reopen June 1

At a press briefing May 29, Gov. Phil Scott cleared more categories of close-contact businesses to reopen, starting Monday.

“This will include gyms and indoor fitness centers, massage therapists, nail salons, spas, and businesses that require work in the home, like routine maintenance and home cleaning for example,” Scott said.

Scott said businesses will have to limit operations to 25% of total capacity. But he said the lifting of the closure order is another sign that Vermont continues to make progress against coronavirus pandemic.

Scott also lifted the cap on public gatherings Friday, from no more than 10 people in one place, to no more than 25.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Sign up to receive emailed updates about the new coronavirus from NPR and VPR, here.

Department of Health is monitoring a 'cluster' of cases in Winooski

The Department of Health is monitoring a cluster of COVID-19 cases in Winooski.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said testing earlier this week revealed a unusually large number of cases of the disease.

“Our staff and our epidemiology and contact tracing sections are investigating and working with many community-based organizations as well as employees to provide necessary education,” Levine said.

Levine says there are fewer than five cases associated with the cluster right now, but that more cases may emerge as test results come back.

Levine said the cluster is not related to a specific facility.

- Peter Hirschfeld

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

Despite reopening measures, Vermont has not seen a spike in cases

The slow reopening of the Vermont economy doesn’t appear to be causing an increase in COVID-19.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak said more and more Vermonters are beginning to leave their homes for work and recreation.

“We see that despite our reopening, despite the increased mobility and the increased mobility and the increased testing, that we continue to follow our best-case estimate and see a very low-level case count,” Pieciak said.

Vermont reported 24 new cases of COVID-19 over the past week. And Pieciak said at current growth rates, it would take 28 weeks for the number of cases of COVID-19 in Vermont to double.

Pieciak said the growth rate of the disease in Vermont is third-slowest in the nation.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Read the full story, here.

Gov. Scott says it's too soon to ease out-of-state travel restrictions

Governor Phil Scott is resisting mounting pressure from Vermont’s tourism industry to ease restrictions on out-of-state visitors.

Scott said he understands his 14-day quarantine order for people entering the state has hurt the summer tourism season.

“I mean we know this is somewhat the lifeblood of Vermont and we want to do this as quick as we possibly can. But we have to do it safely. We can’t lose ground on all the ground we’ve gained,” Scott said.

The lodging industry say Scott's travel restrictions could decimate summer business this year.

But Scott said more than 40% of all COVID-19 cases in the United States are within a five-hour drive from Vermont. And he said easing travel restrictions too quickly could lead to a resurgence of the virus locally.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Read the full story, here.

Competitive organized sports are still on-hold

The limit on public gatherings jumped from no more than 10 people to no more than 25 on Friday.

But Governor Phil Scott said competitive sports are still off the table for the time being.

Scott says organized sports teams can begin practicing again.

“It does allow for them to get together, throw the ball around, develop skills and so forth, so we’re moving towards trying to do something to open up that sector as well for some of the organized sports,” Scott said

But Scott said close-contact sporting events still pose too great a risk for the spread of COVID-19.

Many summer sports leagues have put their seasons on hold pending updated guidance from the Department of Health.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Read the full story, here.

Overnight summer camps will be allowed to host out-of-state children

Overnight summer camps in Vermont will be allowed to welcome children from outside of the state.

And Gov. Phil Scott said it'll serve as an experiment to see if Vermont can safely relax quarantine requirements for other out-of-state visitors.

"It's a pilot project, if you will," he said. "Because taking this step within this very controlled environment will give us some insight as to how we might manage out-of-state tourists as we move toward easing travel restrictions."

Overnight camps will have to abide by revised quarantine guidelines, but they'll be permitted to operate at 75% capacity.

Scott said he's worried Vermont will see a resurgence of COVID-19 if it eases travel restrictions too quickly.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Gov. Scott declines to commit to a gubernatorial debate

Gov. Phil Scott announced he's running for reelectionthis week, but says he won't participate in political debates until and unless Vermont gets a better handle on COVID-19.

"As far as participating in debates, I'm saying right now I want to focus on my job, which is being governor, and this is 24/7," he said.

Scott's Republican and Democratic challengers alike have called on the two-term incumbent to commit to debates this year.

Scott declined to make that commitment Friday. And he said he won't engage in normal campaign activities until the state of emergency in Vermont has ended.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Read the full story, here.

Health Commissioner says emerging science confirms the importance of face masks

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said emerging science on COVID-19 is confirming the importance of wearing face masks.

Levine said public health officials previously believed the coronavirus was transmitted primarily through large respiratory droplets.

But he said new studies suggest that COVID-19 can also travel in smaller, "aerosols."

"Ther'es now becoming more growing consensus that facial coverings are important in protection from these aerosols, especially in the indoor environment," Levine said.

Gov. Phil Scott has resisted calls to order the use of facial coverings in grocery stores and other retail businesses.

Several Vermont municipalities have created local ordinances that require customers to wear face masks in stores.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Read the full story, here.

Burlington anticipates the return of hundreds of out-of-state college students Monday

Hundreds of out-of-state college students are expected to move back to Burlington Monday to live in off-campus housing - and that's raising concerns about a possible spike in COVID-19 cases.

State guidelines require out-of-state visitors to quarantine for up to two weeks.

Mayor Miro Weinberger said the University of Vermont and Champlain College are both working with the city and state health department to address the situation.

Weinberger said the National Guard will also set up a testing site at the Waterman Parking lot beginning June 3.

"This site will run throughout the month and the Guard will be putting out additional information and details," Weinberger said. "But that will be right there in that central part of UVM's campus, which will make it accessible to Champlain College students who want to walk there and get tested as well."

Weinberger said if students test positive, they will need to isolate at home or at a state-run isolation facility.

Weinberger also said Burlington Police will be conducting additional patrols in neighborhoods with lots of students to make sure public health directives are being followed.

"These patrols happen in the spring and the fall and [we] have been doing [them] for the last eight years," he said. "They've been very successful in bringing down noise complaints in the city. They now have this additional charge, these patrols, of looking for gatherings in violation of the governor's stay-at-home order."

Beginning Monday, the governor's order allows gatherings of up to 25 people.

- Liam Elder-Connors

More from VPR: This Is What Getting Tested For COVID-19 Feels Like

Gov. Scott allows public gatherings of up to 25

As expected, Gov. Phil Scott has increased the limit on public gatherings in Vermont.

But he said new rules that allow 25 people to gather in one place will not apply to customer traffic at retail outlets.

"To be clear, this pertains to social gatherings like cookouts, or outdoor get-togethers. It does not change the 25% capacity limit set for things like retail or lodging," Scott said.

The previous limit on public gatherings was 10 people.

Scott said a sustained decline in new COVID-19 cases means people can now safely gather in larger numbers.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Read the full story, here.

VA Health Center to host virtual Decoration Day celebration

The VA Health Center in White River Junction will honor veterans with speakers, a wreath and Taps on Saturday.

The event will be traditional, in that May 30 is the date when Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day, was first observed. But it will also break with tradition.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, it will be a virtual event, staged on Facebook.

Brett Rusch, the VA's executive director, said, "We just simply felt that it was too early with too much uncertainty at this time to move forward with what has always been a very large public event."

By moving their observation online, the VA hopes to enable more veterans and their families to participate.

- Betty Smith

New report indicates black and hispanic Vermonters were more likely to contract COVID-19 than white Vermonters

The percentage of black Vermonters who have gotten COVID-19 is two times the percentage of white Vermonters who have contracted the disease.

That's one takeaway from a weekly data summary released Friday by the Department of Health. The report also notes hispanic Vermonters are also more likely to have gotten COVID-19 than their non-hispanic counterparts.

The disparities are not unique to Vermont.

National research has shown black Americans are both more likely to get the disease and more likely to die from it. Studies cite racism and economy disadvantages as common causes of health disparities.

- Emily Corwin

Activists, community groups to gather with masks, social distancing to protest the killing of George Floyd

Activists and community groups will gather in Burlington Saturday to protest the killing of a black man in Minneapolis.

George Floyd died after a white police officer arresting him kneeled on his neck for several minutes. Video footage of the incident has sparked outrage across the country.

Harmony Edosomwan, one of the organizers of the Burlington protest, said the event is meant to honor George Floyd and other black people who have died during interactions with police.

"The objective is just to bring the Burlington community together and acknowledge that white supremacy does exist here in Burlington," Edosomwan said.

Edosomwan said they also want Burlington Police to commit to working with more black and brown organizations in the city.

"Make a commitment to working with the leaders and organizers, the black and brown leaders and organizers right here in Burlington, to ensure our safety," Edosomwan said. "I want them to be committed to that."

Burlington Police Chief Jennifer Morrison said she is horrified by the actions that led to George Floyd's death.

"It's a perversion of everything that American police are meant to do. It is the antithesis of protecting and serving and it goes against every piece of training I've had or overseen during my 30 years on the job."

The protest will take place Saturday at 6 p.m. at Battery Park. Edosomwan said attendees should wear cloth masks and practice social distancing.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Southwestern Vermont Medical Center to set up virtual waiting room

Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington is setting up  a virtual waiting room to free up space inside the hospital.

Gail Balch is director of information technology, and said the recent move to offer some elective procedures has made it a challenge to maintain social distancing in the waiting room.

"We can't have everybody herded in to a single waiting area, and this will help decompress that volume," Balch said.

Patients with a cell phone can wait inside their car in the parking lot and get a text message when their provider is ready.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Vermont RV dealers report a spike in business

National reports show a spike in demand for Recreational Vehicles, thanks to COVID-19. And Vermont dealers say the trend is playing out here too.

Pete's RV Center is a dealership with five locations, including one in South Burlington.

According to Marketing Director Phil LecClair, sales are up at least 50% over this time last year.

Many customers are first-time-buyers with pandemic concerns.

"A lot of frontline people, people with the elderly living with them," LeClair said. "And then, you know, financially, because people are unemployed, not knowing if they're going to be able to continue in the house or apartment they're in now, they've reached out... looking for cost effective temporary housing."

RVs are also benefitting from concerns about air travel, and closures of lodging establishments.

- Betty Smith

More from VPR: What Will Tourism Look Like In Vermont This Summer?

Attorney General's office withdraws action against Rutland gym

The Vermont Attorney General's office has withdrawn it's request for a preliminary injunction against a Rutland gym and it's owner, who opened despite an executive order barring fitness centers from operating due to COVID-19.

In a press release Thursday, the Attorney General's office said they were withdrawing the motion, in anticipation of Gov. Scott's friday announcement of a timeframe for reopening gyms and fitness centers in Vermont.

- Karen Anderson

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