Coronavirus in Vermont: Week of March 9, 2020

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Previous Updates

Welch says coronavirus crisis is unprecedented  (March 16, 2020 2:27 pm)

Welch says coronavirus crisis is unprecedented

 

Trudeau closes Canadian border to most foreigners, U.S. citizens exempt  (March 16, 2020 1:56 pm)

Justin Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a news conference Monday. CBC screenshot

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today that the country is barring entry to all travelers who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents — but U.S. citizens will still be allowed entry “at this time.”

There are about 375 presumptive and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada, according to the CBC. The CBC also reports:

Beginning today, all incoming travellers, no matter where their country of origin is, will be asked if they are experiencing symptoms such as coughing, difficulty breathing or fever. They also will need to acknowledge that they are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days if they’re arriving from any international location.

Read VTDigger’s full story.

 

Some utilities are halting disconnections during the crisis  (March 16, 2020 1:28 pm)

Utilities halt disconnections during coronavirus crisis

 

Woodstock is postponing village elections  (March 16, 2020 1:27 pm)

The village of Woodstock was scheduled to hold elections March 17, but it’s holding off on its vote and its village meeting for at least 40 days to minimize the risk to voters and officials. Woodstock has a large population of elderly residents who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, said Keri Cole, a village trustee.

“I have gotten calls from constituents who were afraid of getting out and going to the polls, and to me if people are afraid to go to the polling place, that’s not a legitimate vote,” said Cole.

Cole is set to leave her trustee’s position because she recently joined the town selectboard. Two trustee positions and the village budget are up for a vote. She said the postponement will also protect poll workers, many of whom are over 70.

“I don’t care how much Purell we have, and what sanitization precautions we have in place, it just seems such a needless risk” to hold the election, said Cole.

 

Bennington College goes remote  (March 16, 2020 10:19 am)

Students at Bennington College in southern Vermont have been asked to leave campus no later than Saturday March 21 as the liberal arts school makes the transition to remote learning.

“Given the risks inherent to our residential campus, the realities of a dedicated but limited local healthcare infrastructure, and the distinct possibility that it will become harder for students to return home in the coming weeks, we must act now,” said Interim President Isabel Roche in a letter on the school’s website.

Students who can’t leave campus for various reasons will be able to petition to stay until the end of term, Roche said.

 

Burlington prepares for school closings, social distancing  (March 16, 2020 7:00 am)

Burlington preparing for school closure, social distancing

 

Bolton Valley ski area suspends operations   (March 16, 2020 6:43 am)

The owners of Bolton Valley announced Sunday that the ski area is suspending operations “for an undefined period of time.”

Those operations includes “lift operations, the Sports Center, hotel and all retail and food & beverage outlets.”

Scott Pellegrini, spokesperson for the resort, posted the notice on the Bolton website.

“We will continuously re-evaluate when we can re-open and will do so as soon as we determine we can operate without putting our employees or the public at risk,” Pellegrini said. “This is obviously a very difficult decision with respect to our beloved guests and staff alike, but after much deliberation and discussion, we have concluded that it is the right decision in this uncertain time.”

Bolton Valley is independently owned and operated by the DesLauriers family and a group of local investors.

 

Administration encourages state worker telework; VSEA urges COVID-19 protections  (March 15, 2020 9:26 pm)

The Scott administration is “strongly encouraging” state employees to make plans to work remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a memo to state workers Sunday evening, Secretary of Administration Susanne Young wrote that “state offices are open for business tomorrow.” Unless employees are already teleworking or are on leave, they should plan to come into work.

However, the administration is also encouraging employees whose job functions allow it to make plans to telework if it is possible.

In a letter Saturday, Vermont State Employees’ Association President Dave Bellini called on Gov. Phil Scott to have most employees work remotely and to limit public access to state buildings amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Bellini asked Scott to take steps including supplying employees who cannot work remotely with safety equipment, eliminating non-essential home visits, and conducting probation checks remotely.

The union also asked the administration to set up plans to support employees who use up their leave, like an additional two weeks of paid leave or a sick leave bank. If the outbreak grows, Bellini wrote, Scott should “declare an emergency closing of state government.”

 

Vermont public schools to close starting Wednesday  (March 15, 2020 6:15 pm)

Scott orders schools to close

 

Superintendents meet as pressure mounts for state to close schools  (March 15, 2020 1:25 pm)

Superintendents meet over COVID-19 as pressure mounts for state to close schools

 

Weinberger to hold telephone town hall meeting on Burlington COVID-19 response   (March 15, 2020 6:45 am)

Mayor Miro Weinberger will hold a telephone town hall meeting 3 p.m. today to discuss the City’s response to the coronavirus.

Weinberger will be joined by Burlington Emergency Management Director and Fire Chief Steven Locke, UVM Medical Center President and CEO Dr. Stephen Leffler, and State Department of Health Deputy Commissioner Tracy Dolan.

To join the meeting, call (877) 229-8493 and use the PIN 119117

Livestream the audio using this link, or view a video livestream of the meeting through the Mayor’s Facebook page.

 

AirBnb updates extenuating circumstances policy   (March 15, 2020 6:00 am)

Airbnb announced Saturday that the company will allow hosts and guests to cancel eligible reservations with no charge or penalty.

The update to AirBnB’s “extenuating circumstances” policy applies to bookings of places to stay and Airbnb Experiences in every country and region around the world.

In a statement, AirBnb said it will “not collect any fees or benefit in any way from any reservations cancelled under this policy.”

 

Dartmouth-Hitchcock issues new COVID-19 screening protocols   (March 15, 2020 5:50 am)

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH) has implemented new visitor and patient screening protocols for COVID-19 at all of its facilities.

Effective immediately, all visitors will be asked screening questions about respiratory illness and travel history.

Visitors exhibiting symptoms, or who have traveled recently, will be asked to return home and contact their primary care provider for additional assessment.

Patients with symptoms will be given a mask and will be assessed for further testing.

The same screening questions will be asked at each location, but the actions taken at each Dartmouth-Hitchcock facility may vary. Dartmouth facilities include Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC), Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, New London Hospital, Cheshire Medical Center, Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center and Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s (D-H’s) Community Group Practice in Southern New Hampshire.

Patients to DHMC will be limited to one visitor at a time, with the exception of people visiting pediatrics, neonatal ICU, obstetrics, or psychiatric care, and for those visiting patients receiving end-of-life care. All visitors must be above the age of 14.

 

Rutland Regional Medical Center testing protocol   (March 15, 2020 5:44 am)

Rutland Regional officials say they have developed a testing protocol that allows for the collection of specimens from patients in their cars. This method of testing, which has been used by Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, is designed to prevent spread of the virus in hospital facilities.

The hospital has also developed patient surge plans and human resource staffing plans “to ensure we have the capacity to care for patients if or when widespread infection reaches Rutland County.”

Starting Wednesday, Rutland Regional will impose stringent visitor restrictions.

 

Vermont House passes sick leave changes, directs support for childcare and assisted living   (March 15, 2020 5:38 pm)

Vermont House passes COVID-19 emergency response package

 

Alterra closes Sugarbush, Stratton for the season   (March 15, 2020 5:33 am)

Vail and Alterra suspend operations in Vermont

 

State police taking precautions  (March 14, 2020 8:37 pm)

Troopers to offer ‘tiered’ response during COVID-19 crisis

 

Stowe, Okemo and Mount Snow halting operations  (March 14, 2020 8:03 pm)

Vail Resorts — the owner of the Stowe, Okemo and Mount Snow ski areas in Vermont — is closing its resorts for a week starting on Sunday, according to a message from the company’s CEO Rob Katz. “This decision provides a pause for the entire ecosystem of our mountain resort communities,” Katz writes.

 

Vermonters want to help   (March 14, 2020 3:32 pm)

Guide: How you can help —volunteer or donate during the coronavirus outbreak

 

U.S. House passes emergency package  (March 14, 2020 3:05 pm)

The U.S. House passed an emergency package early Saturday morning that provides  assistance to people affected by the coronavirus. The measure passed in an overwhelming  bipartisan vote, 363-40.

Vermont Rep. Peter Welch voted in favor of the bill.

“Slowing the spread of this disease is critical to addressing this outbreak,” said Welch. “This bill ensures coronavirus testing will be free for everyone and allows families and workers to continue to be paid when they need to stay home because of this virus. … I urge the Senate and the president to act now to make these protections law.”

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201):

  • Ensures that all Americans have access to free testing for coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Establishes paid emergency leave, including both 14 days of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave.
  • Enhances Unemployment Insurance, a step that will extend protections to furloughed workers.
  • Suspends Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or 3SquaresVT in Vermont) work requirements.
  • Gives schools flexibility on how free and reduced-price lunches are delivered in case of school closures.  The Vermont Agency of Education received a federal waiver yesterday allowing for greater flexibility to deliver meals.
  • Boosts Medicaid funding for states during the crisis.
  • Provides additional funding for home-delivered and pre-packaged meals to low-income seniors.

— Cate Chant

 

Vermont announces 3 new cases  (March 14, 2020 1:14 pm)

VA patient among 3 new presumptive COVID cases

 

Middlebury College Snow Bowl closing Sunday  (March 14, 2020 12:18 pm)

Middlebury College Snow Bowl will close for the winter season this weekend.

In a statement on the ski area’s website, general manager Michael Hussey said that the college would close both the downhill ski area and the nearby Rikert Nordic Center at 4 p.m. Sunday.

The closures follow the decision by the college last week to send students home from campus a week early for spring break and switch to remote classes.

Two other Vermont ski areas announced that they would shut for the season Saturday amid the COVID-19 outbreak fears: Jay Peak and Burke Mountain.

 

Flynn shuts till May; Jazz Festival decision pending  (March 13, 2020 7:52 pm)

One of Vermont’s main performing arts venues has announced it will go dark — effective immediately.

The Flynn Performing Arts Center in Burlington is shuttering  through the end of May.

On its website, the Flynn announced that all events, performances and education programs for the rest of its season are canceled. It will decide on its annual Discover Jazz Festival, scheduled for June, by April 9.

 

Sanders: COVID-19 will change the presidential campaign  (March 13, 2020 7:34 pm)

Sanders says Trump should be tested for coronavirus

 

Vermont ski areas stay open  (March 13, 2020 7:31 pm)

Hand-sanitizing, but little hand-wringing, at ski areas amid COVID-19 outbreak

 

Prison puts visitors on hold for 2 weeks  (March 13, 2020 6:46 pm)

Vermont suspending in-person visits for inmates

 

Governor declares state of emergency  (March 13, 2020 6:06 pm)

Scott declares state of emergency, prohibiting large public gatherings

 

Vermont Department of Health daily update -- no new cases  (March 13, 2020 6:05 pm)

The Vermont Department of Health’s daily COVID-19 update reports no new positive cases in the state.

The state is still reporting two positive cases of COVID-19, with both patients remaining hospitalized.

It reports 142 people have tested negative for the coronavirus, 208 are being monitored, and 90 have completed monitoring.

The state public health lab is ramping up testing capacity. It can conduct 78 tests a day, seven days a week. The Centers for Disease Control has indicated that commercial labs will be able to conducts tests soon.  

The health department emphasizes that people who are sick should not visit hospitals or long-term care facilities and should contact their primary care provider for medical advice. 

See the full press release.

More information is available at healthvermont.gov/covid19 

Vermonters can also dial 2-1-1 for information.

The CDC is regularly updating its guidance at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/summary.html.

— Cate Chant

 

Trump declares national emergency  (March 13, 2020 3:52 pm)

President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak on Friday afternoon in a press conference at the White House.

The president invoked emergency powers which will allow more federal aid to flow to states and municipalities.

“I am officially declaring a national emergency,” Trump said. “No resources will be spared, nothing whatsoever.”

Trump announced a federal-private partnership meant to increase the number and availability of testing for the virus. Involved are companies such as Walmart, Target, Walgreens that will provide services such as areas for drive-thru testing, as well as myriad pharmaceutical firms, including Roche, Labcorp and Quest Diognostics, involved in ramping up testing and drug production.

Other measures include stocking up the federal reserve of crude oil and waiving interests on student loans. More steps will be released later this afternoon, he said.

The federal government is setting up a screening website through which Americans will be able to enter their risk factors or systems, go through a series of questions, and then be referred to a drive-thru testing location and have results in 24-36 hours.

The next eight weeks are critical for containing the virus, Trump said.

— Cate Chant

 

 

Twin Valley school closed as a student is tested for virus  (March 13, 2020 3:27 pm)

Southern Vermont elementary school closed again due to coronavirus threat

 

Cancelations update  (March 13, 2020 2:48 pm)

Coronavirus cancellations

 

Burlington launches emergency operations  (March 13, 2020 2:44 pm)

Burlington braces for COVID-19, parents advised schools may close

 

Higher Ground rescheduling all shows for 30 days  (March 13, 2020 2:40 pm)

Higher Ground is closing up for the next 30 days, according to a press release sent out Friday afternoon, and are rescheduling those shows.

All shows through April 13 are being postponed. The music venue in South Burlington will contact ticketholders when specific events are rescheduled. Refunds or credit is available for those unable to attend rescheduled events or for events that can’t be rescheduled. A reopening decision will be based on guidance from health authorities. 

Higher Ground has had plans to celebrate its 22nd anniversary on April 15.

“It is our sincerest hope to be back in action by then,” the press release said.

ore information can be found on its social media accounts and at ​www.highergroundmusic.com​ 

— Cate Chant

 

House and Senate leaders address temporary adjournment  (March 13, 2020 2:05 pm)

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe spoke to reporters after a meeting of the Joint Rules Committee, a group of legislators from both parties who are deciding how business will be conducted while the Statehouse is closed.

Johnson and Ashe detailed their current plans for convening remote meetings of some committees. No votes will be taken when committees meet remotely, Ashe said, and those meetings will be warned so that members of the public and press can tune in.

 

Southwestern Vermont Medical Center launches hotline, drive-up testing  (March 13, 2020 1:19 pm)

Southwestern Vermont Medical Center

Southwestern Vermont Medical Center clinicians are performing drive-up coronavirus testing with an order from a primary care provider. SVMC photo

The Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington has launched a hotline for COVID-19 issues as well as implemented a “respiratory etiquette check-in” at the main entrance.

“Proactive monitoring and protection efforts have made SVMC safe for those with appointments and procedures scheduled,” said Tom Dee, SVHC’s president and CEO. “We want our patients to feel confident that SVMC is open and ready to provide the care they need.”

The COVID-19 hotline features a recorded message with the most requested information. The hotline number is 802-440-8844. For further answers, a representative is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Nurses are conducting drive-up testing for those who have a referral for COVID-19 testing from their primary care provider. Patients remain in their cars to while staff take a swab and provide information on self-quarantine.

The hospital is also limiting visitors, as well as banning them from its rehab centers. People who come to the hospital are screened at the front desk, given stickers indicating which department they are visiting and given masks if deemed needed.

Telephone numbers and other COVID-19 information, including frequently asked questions and helpful resources, are available at svhealthcare.org.

Read the full press release.

— Cate Chant

 

Podcast: Prepare, don't panic  (March 13, 2020 12:13 pm)

The Deeper Dig: Preparing — not panicking — before the outbreak expands

 

Lawmakers to recess for a week  (March 13, 2020 12:12 pm)

Legislature to temporarily adjourn due to coronavirus concerns

 

Update from the Statehouse -- emergency funding   (March 12, 2020 10:30 pm)

Lawmakers work on emergency coronavirus response package

 

State spelling bee postponed until further notice  (March 12, 2020 7:02 pm)

Flynn Moreno of Ottauquechee School listens to pronunciation of a word she must spell during the 2018 spelling bee. Photo by Bob LoCicero/VT Digger

The 2020 Statewide Scripps Spelling Bee, co-sponsored by VTDigger, has been cancelled.

The event was scheduled for March 17 at St. Michael’s College. St. Michael’s has cancelled all public events on campus until at least April 14th. 

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is still scheduled to take place near Washington, DC, from May 24-29.

VTDigger and other sponsors are looking to either reschedule the event at St. Michael’s or find an alternate location for the 30 school champions to compete for the top prize in Vermont, and a spot in the national competition. 

 

Vermont State Colleges ask students to clear out by Sunday  (March 12, 2020 6:52 pm)

The Vermont State College system on Thursday moved to a remote instruction model to reduce the risk from the COVID-19 virus, joining almost all the other Vermont institutions of higher education. 

Jeb Spaulding, chancellor of the four-institution state college system, told board members Wednesday that VSC instruction would move to remote delivery at the end of the day Friday.

He said students and faculty should expect to use remote instruction through at least April 3. He added that faculty should be prepared to teach remotely through the end of the semester.

In a letter to students and faculty Wednesday, Spaulding told students they were “strongly encouraged” to return to their homes by the end of the day Sunday.

 

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