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Latest local updates on COVID-19

Last updated at 4:45 p.m., Monday, April 12, 2021

Monday, April 12, 2021

Vaccine appointments now open to Vermonters 30 and older

BURLINGTON — More than 14,000 Vermonters age 30 and older made appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine through the state registration system Monday, the first day that age group became eligible.

Going online to healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine is the fastest way to make an appointment, and there are enough slots at sites throughout Vermont for everyone who is eligible. Click on the “Make an appointment” button to use the Health Department registration system.

Vaccination sites are available around the state, and people can choose a nearby location when making their appointment. If you prefer to make your COVID-19 vaccine appointment through a participating pharmacy, you can find links on the same page to Kinney Drugs, CVS and Walgreens.

Anyone who is unable to make their appointment online, or who needs to speak with someone in a language other than English can call 855-722-7878. The call center is open Monday to Friday, 8:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.. and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. t0 3 p.m.

According to the Health Department, nearly 46 percent of Vermonters 16 and older have now received at least one dose of vaccine. Vermonters age 16 and older will be eligible to sign up for the vaccine starting on April 19.

As when receiving other immunizations, most people will be asked to wait for 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine to watch for reactions. They will also be given information about side effects and how to report any adverse reactions. After getting their first dose, clinic staff will help people make an appointment to receive their second dose.

91 new COVID-19 cases in Vt., two new deaths reported

BURLINGTON — The Vermont Department of Health reported Monday that there are now 22,291 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont since March 2020, including 1,198 people in Windham County.

According to the Health Department, there were 91 new COVID-19 cases reported in the state on Monday. The death toll in Vermont rose to 233, with two new deaths reported on Monday.

Chittenden County leads the state with 6,850 cumulative cases and 98 deaths. It has seen 798 new cases for the 14-day period between March 29 and April 11.

Franklin County reports 1,841 cases and 37 deaths, with 170 cases in the last 14 days, while Rutland County reports 1,928 cases and 16 deaths, with 261 new cases coming in the last 14 days, and Washington County reports 1,690 cases and 15 deaths, with 105 new cases coming in the last 14 days.

Windham County reports 1,198 cases and a total of 14 deaths. It has had 108 new cases in the last 14 days, while Bennington County reports 1,789 cases and 11 deaths, with 122 new cases over the last 14 days.

According to the Health Department, as of Monday morning, there are 29 patients in Vermont hospitalized with COVID-19, with four patients in intensive care and one patient hospitalized under investigation for the virus. A total of 17,441 people have recovered from the virus for a 81.9 percent recovery rate. The seven-day test positivity rate declined to 1.8 percent, as 366,631 people have been tested for the virus.

The weekly by-town count, as of April 7, of cumulative cases of Vermonters who have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 2020 showed a total of 285 identified lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Brattleboro as of that date.

Rockingham had 112 cases, while Dover reported 81 cases. Londonderry reported 74 cases, Wilmington had 80 cases, and Putney reported 75 cases. Whitingham reported 46 cases, and Vernon had 46 cases. Guilford reported 32 cases, Newfane reported 27 cases, and Westminster had 24 cases.

Townshend reported 23 cases, while Grafton had 17 cases and Jamaica reported 16 cases. Halifax reported 15 cases and Wardsboro had 13 cases. Dummerston had 11 cases, Marlboro reported 10 cases, Windham had seven cases, and Stratton reported six cases.

See all the Health Department’s data and guidance on COVID-19 at healthvermont.gov/covid-19.

Higher 3SquaresVT food benefits coming in April, May

WATERBURY — The Department for Children and Families (DCF) announced today that many 3SquaresVT households will continue to receive a higher benefit in April and May. This extra help is thanks to the federal Coronavirus Relief Bill and Consolidated Appropriations Act. It does not permanently change a household’s monthly benefit. It is a temporary increase to help during the health crisis.

Households at a zero benefit will not receive a benefit. Everyone else will receive the maximum benefit for their household size.

Starting with the May benefit, households already at the maximum allotment will receive an additional $95. All other households — except for those receiving a zero benefit — will receive at least $95 as their maximum allotment benefit.

3SquaresVT households don’t need to do anything to receive this increased benefit. If eligible, they’ll automatically receive it the same way they receive their benefits now: on an EBT card, through direct deposit, or by check. Learn more about 3SquaresVT at dcf.vermont.gov/benefits/3SquaresVT.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Vermont’s new travel guidance requires testing, but no quarantine

MONTPELIER — Discussing the state’s new travel guidance, now in effect, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine noted at Friday’s news briefing that the CDC recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated — especially now, when there are still high levels of virus spreading. But he urged anyone who does travel to or from Vermont to understand Vermont’s new policy.

“If you’re a visitor to Vermont, you’ll need to get tested three days before you come here. If the test is negative, you may come visit the state, armed with documentation of your negative result,” Levine said. Vermonters coming back to the state need to get tested in Vermont within three days of their return, with travelers’ return date counting as day zero.

While a quarantine period is no longer required for travel, Levine emphasized that “you should still be following the basic public health guidance. That means if you have any symptoms, stay home and away from other people until you receive a negative test result.”

The new travel guidance is now available at healthvermont.gov/covid-19/travel-quarantine. Levine also reminded students and families who may have school vacation coming up to review the new travel guidance and avoid large gatherings.

Everyone Eats! continues in Brattleboro, Rockingham

Everyone Eats! is a program which distribute meals from Brattleboro and Rockingham-area restaurants to anyone in need, free of charge, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pick up for individuals in the Brattleboro area is at the C.F. Church Building at 80 Flat St., and group/institution orders can be picked up at Mama Sezz on Route 9 in West Brattleboro. All meals are available Monday through Thursday, between 4 and 6 p.m., until supplies run out.

Community members in the Rockingham area can collect meals for their household and up to three other households at Parks Place Community Resource Center, 44 School St., on Wednesdays from 5 to 6 p.m., and Fridays from 10 to 11 a.m.

Meals are also distributed through Our Place, the Bellows Falls Senior Center, Westminster Cares, and the Grafton Community Church. Meals will be available on a first-come, first served basis.

The meals at both locations are free, but if you would like to make a monetary contribution to help make more meals possible for others, organizers say it will be gratefully received.

Everyone Eats! also supports the local economy by providing a source of income for restaurants who have been hurt by COVID-19 and provides Vermont farmers and food producers an opportunity to increase sales, since 10 percent of the ingredients are purchased from Vermont producers.

Each participating restaurant will contribute meals two or more days a week. You will receive one individually packaged cold ready-to-eat or heat & serve dinner for each person you request a meal for.

If there are questions, visit www.brattleboro.com/everyoneeats or contact Frances Huntley frances@brattleboro.com for information about the Brattleboro distributions. In Rockingham, contact Sam at the Rockingham Free Public Library at 802-463-4270, sam@rockinghamlibrary.org, or go online to rockinghamlibrary.org.

Many food resources available for those in need

BRATTLEBORO — Anyone struggling to access healthy and nutritious food during the COVID-19 outbreak is encouraged to look into these resources in Windham County:

• Brigid’s Kitchen, St. Michael’s Church, 47 Walnut St., Brattleboro, 802-254-6800 or 802-558-6072. They offer grab-and-go lunches and fruit/nuts on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.

• Loaves and Fishes, Centre Congregational Church 193 Main St., Brattleboro, 802-254-4730. Grab-and-go lunches on Tuesdays and Fridays at noon.

• Vermont Foodbank’s Veggie Van Go will be at Brattleboro Union High School on Fairground Rd., in the parking lot, on the first and third Monday of the month, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Drive-up, touchless pick-up, but walkers welcome, too. Call Vermont 2-1-1 for more information.

• Foodworks, the food shelf program of the Groundworks Collaborative, groundworksvt.org, 802-490-2412, or ccolascione@GroundworksVT.org. Curbside pickup Mondays and Fridays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesdays. 1 to 6 p.m., and the last Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon.

• Guilford Food Pantry, Every Thursday from 5-6 p.m. at the Guilford Fairgrounds, 163 Fairground Rd. All are welcome to come and take home fresh produce, staples, meat, and products.

• Putney Food Shelf, Putney Community Center, 10 Christian Square, 802-387-8551. www.putneyfoodshelf.org. Curbside pickup on Saturdays, 9 to 11 a.m.

• Townshend Community Food Shelf, Townshend Congregational Church on the Common, 802-365-4348. Open Mondays, 6 to 7:30 p.m.

• Deerfield Valley Food Pantry has its food distribution on the third week of the month, Thursdays, from 1 to 3 p.m., and Saturdays, from 9 to 11 a.m. Delivery will be made directly to vehicles. For more information, call the Food Pantry and leave a message at 802-464-0148.

• Jamaica-Wardsboro Community Food Shelf, 802-896-6178. Distribution takes place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Wardsboro Vestry. The next scheduled distribution dates are April 28, May 26, and June 30.

• Vernon Advent Christian Church Bread of Life Food Pantry, 802-257-2341. Open on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Masks are required, along with social distancing. The food pantry is housed at the church, 4554 Fort Bridgman Rd., Vernon.

• Our Place Drop-In Center, 4 Island St., Bellows Falls, 802-463-2217. Our Place’s food shelf is open from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Lunch is served as a to-go meal at noon. Call ahead so staff can put together the food pantry boxes, and stay in your car until there is no one else at their “take out” windows.

If you are looking for additional food resources:

• 3SquaresVT: Shop at a grocery store or online when you want, for the food you want. Visit www.hungerfreevt.org/how-do-i-apply to find out more and for application assistance, or call 2-1-1, or text VFBSNAP to 855-11.

• WIC: Healthy food and support for you if you are pregnant or a parent or caregiver for a child under the age of 5. Call 2-1-1 or text VTWIC to 855-11.

• If you are age 60 or older, call 800-642-5119 to get personal assistance with 3SquaresVT, getting meals delivered free to you at home, and more. Call 2-1-1 or visit the USDA Meal Finder at www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids to find their nearest location for meals for children 18 and under.

• The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) is a federal nutrition program which offers free monthly nutrition information and nutritious foods to income-eligible older adults. Learn more at vtfoodbank.org/csfp.

Pop-up testing for COVID-19 continues in Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO — The Vermont Department of Health recommends testing for people who have symptoms of COVID-19, have had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, or have recently attended an event with people who are not in their usual social circle.

COVID-19 symptoms can include fever (100.4 F or higher), coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, fatigue, muscle pain or aches, headache, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea

The Health Department lists Brattleboro Memorial Hospital as a local site doing daily COVID-19 tests. Testing is also being done at the Carlos Otis Stratton Mountain Clinic in Winhall.

Here are the steps to set up a testing appointment at a pop-up testing site: Register to get an account at vermont.force.com/events/s/selfregistration, receive an email with your patient ID and use that to confirm your account (check your spam folder if you don’t see the email), log in with your patient ID, and then set up an appointment.

For help or technical assistance, call the Vermont Department of Health COVID-19 Call Center at 802-863-7240.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Scott, Sanders announce plan to expand summer learning for Vt. students

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Vermont Afterschool, and the Agency of Education today outlined a plan to enhance and expand summertime enrichment opportunities for Vermont students in grades K-12.

At a news briefing, state officials said they are working to ensure that every child has access “to engaging, enriching activities this summer” and to make sure, after the distruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, that “kids can re-connect with themselves, their friends, and their communities in safe and rewarding ways.”

“The lack of in-person learning, the loss of connection with friends and classmates and the limits on activities and access to everything from nutritious meals, physical education, sports, drama, music, clubs, and other social events, have taken a tremendous toll,” said Scott. “We want to do whatever we can to give our kids a great summer that supports their recovery.”

Sanders said he was proud to have secured funding for summer programming for Vermont youth through the recently-enacted American Rescue Plan Act.

“It is no secret that this has been one of the most disruptive years for all of us, but especially for our young people,” Sanders said. “This funding gives us a real opportunity to create the programs that our students want and need. Together, we can ensure young people throughout our state, from our youngest Kindergarteners to our incoming seniors in high school, have a great summer.”

“This summer should be about fun times with friends, program staff, and mentors; opportunities for creative enrichment and expression; healthy meals; daily physical activity; outdoor adventures; career exploration and job opportunities for older youth; and projects that allow young people to explore and learn,” said Holly Morehouse, executive director of Vermont Afterschool.

The federal funding will allow providers to build summer programs focused on meeting the needs of Vermont students. In partnership with Vermont Afterschool, the Agency of Education will also make $1.5 million of federal funds available in grants from the state to camps and programs so they can expand access to all young people, breaking down barriers of geography, socioeconomics, and demographics.

Expansions should include additional slots in programs, extended hours or weeks, and programs will be supported to address and accommodate the unique needs of students of all ages. Through this initiative, school districts can also expand both academic and social opportunities for students by partnering with local programs.

For youth interested in apprenticeships and summer jobs, the Vermont Afterschool website also identifies those programs and camps still looking for summertime staff. A parallel effort with the Vermont Department of Labor and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation offers opportunities to explore careers and find summer jobs.

More information is available at www.vermontafterschool.org.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

AOT announces July 19 restart of Amtrak service in Vermont

BARRE — The Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) today announced that Amtrak passenger rail service in Vermont will resume, effective July 19.

“We are very pleased to announce the restart of these vital transportation services for Vermonters and those who wish to travel to and from Vermont by train or bus,” said Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn in a news release. “With the Governor’s announcement this week of the Vermont Forward Plan to re-open Vermont fully during the next few months, we now have a target date for when we will be able to safely resume Amtrak and transit services in July.”

Amtrak service in Vermont was suspended on March 26, 2020, due to the COVID State of Emergency. Gov. Phil Scott’s phased reopening plan is based on the state’s projected vaccination rate. Current projections indicate that 60 to 70 percent of all Vermonters will be vaccinated by early June, making a full re-opening possible by July 4 if the vaccination rate continues as expected.

Amtrak requires at least 90-day notice from the state to resume its passenger rail service, since Amtrak personnel must complete route certification to prepare for the resumption of service.

Two Amtrak lines serve Vermont. The Vermonter originates in Washington, D.C., travels through Connecticut and Massachusetts, and makes stops in Brattleboro and Bellows Falls. The Ethan Allen Express runs between New York City and Rutland. AOT hopes to extend service to Burlington by 2022.

P.1 variant detected in Vermont COVID-19 specimen

MONTPELIER — Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Tuesday that in addition to variants already identified in Vermont — B.1.1.7 and B.1.429 — that the P.1 variant was found in one specimen.

The Broad Institute, a laboratory in Massachusetts that analyzes COVID-19 specimens from Vermont, sent 46 sequences from randomly selected samples. Of these, 23 were identified as variants of concern.

“The P.1 variant may be twice as transmissible, like the others, and may have implications for reduced susceptibility to monoclonal antibody therapy,” Levine said.

Information was not yet available about the county from which the specimen was taken, but Levine said Vermonters should presume the amount of COVID-19 variants are on the rise in all areas here as they are nationally.

“One thing we do know now, from this and the other ongoing genomic sequencing results we are receiving, is that the variants are spreading throughout Vermont. As I have said before, this is not unexpected, but it is a concern,” Levine said. “The variants we have found in Vermont spread more quickly from person to person. Faster than we can vaccinate people.”

Levine added that “this is why everyone needs to strictly follow guidance to prevent spread of the virus. To each take the important personal responsibility to keep illness from spreading and to limit the odds of more variants of concern from developing here.”

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Scott outlines phased-in reopening plan for Vermont

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott Tuesday presented a three-month phased reopening plan that he said should result in nearly aspects of life in Vermont getting back to normal by July 4.

The Vermont Forward plan, which can be found at www.vermont.gov/vermont-forward, is predicated on increasing numbers of Vermonters getting vaccinated for COVID-19. As of today, 42 percent of Vermonters have received at least one dose of vaccine.

The first big change comes on Friday, April 9, when the state’s travel policy will change. Instead of a mandatory quarantine, un-vaccinated visitors and residents will be required to get tested within three days of their entry.

Also starting April 9, businesses that have little or no close contact with patrons will go to what the plan calls “universal guidance.” This means staying home if you’re sick, wearing a mask, ensuring six-foot spaces and uncrowded places, practicing good hygiene, and knowing the travel restrictions.

By May, all business sectors will move to universal guidance. Indoor and outdoor gatherings will expand, but will continue to follow required state guidelines.

By June, when it is expected that 70 percent of Vermonters will be vaccinated, there will be no required quarantine or testing for travelers and most outdoor limits on gatherings will be eased.

By July, the state expects to end formal mandates or orders, and transition universal guidance mandates into recommendations. At that point, the hope is that things begin to feel much closer to how they were pre-pandemic.

State officials say the timeline is subject to change, but given current vaccination uptake and supply projections, they feel confident the milestones can be met.

“As we make progress in vaccination, we can now look forward to a time when Vermonters are largely protected from COVID-19,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. “But we cannot simply wait for this to happen. We have to make it happen. Our actions — to prevent further spread and get vaccinated — will allow us to gradually, and safely, go about our lives once again, as laid out in this plan.”

Vermont has substantially completed vaccination of its most at-risk residents, including those over the age of 65 and those with certain high-risk health conditions, as well as school employees, and workers in child care, health care, long term care and public safety sectors.

Friday, April 2, 2021

State officials concerned about sharp rise in COVID cases

MONTPELIER — While Vermont is seeing great success with its vaccination efforts, state officials said Friday they were concerned about the sharp increase in COVID cases over the past two weeks.

Daily case counts are the highest they have been since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, The Health Department’s revised daily case counts for Wednesday showed more than 260 new cases, a new record. Chittenden County is seeing the biggest surge, with 852 new cases in the last 14 days. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that many of the cases are among young people, especially those in their 20s.

Nearly 40 percent of Vermonters have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and more than 90 percent of Vermonters over age 70 have received shots. That has led to a big drop in new cases and hospitalizations among older Vermonters, but Vermonters under the age of 30 are now the age group that is seeing big increases in new infections.

With three new groups able to sign up for vaccines — those age 50-and-over, families with immunocompromised kids, and all those 16-and-over in the BIPOC community — Levine said he was hopeful that the state’s COVID picture would be much improved by the end of the month.

In the short term, however, Levine said the current number were disturbing, and underscores the need to not let up on following public health guidance to stop the current surge.

Vaccine policy for college students is clarified

MONTPELIER — The Governor’s Office had clarified the state’s vaccination policy for college students. College students who meet the residency requirements — which includes out-of-state college students who intend to stay in Vermont this summer — can get vaccinated once their age group is eligible.

In addition, on April 30, Vermont is planning to open vaccine registration to college students who are residents of another state and do not intend to stay in Vermont for the summer. Note that this policy is tentative and based on factors that include the amount of vaccine allocated to the state by the federal government.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

PUC extends ban on utility disconnections until May 31

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) has again extended the moratorium that prevents the state’s regulated utilities from disconnecting utility service due to the nonpayment of electricity, natural gas, and landline phone bills.

This ban on involuntary utility disconnections will now continue through May 31.

The PUC says it hopes that additional relief funds will be made available to help Vermonters with past-due utility balances resulting from the pandemic, but stressed there is no guarantee that the assistance will be repeated.

They say it is important for customers to work with their utilities to make reasonable payment plans that will help them avoid building up unmanageable balances or being disconnected when the moratorium does finally end.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

State expands vaccine access for BIPOC families, caregivers

MONTPELIER — Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine announced changes to vaccine eligibility for two groups at Tuesday’s press conference.

The first change is that parents or primary caregivers who are caring for children with certain high-risk conditions will be eligible for vaccination starting Wednesday.

The second change is for Vermonters who are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). Beginning Thursday, April 1, All members of the Vermont BIPOC community 16 years of age and older — as well as their family members — will now be eligible for vaccination.

Levine said there is an almost two-fold increase in risk for hospitalization among the BIPOC population. He also spoke to how the pace of vaccination for BIPOC continues to lag significantly behind, with a rate of 20.2 percent of the population having received at least one dose of vaccine, as compared with a rate of 33.4 percent among non-Hispanic whites.

As of Tuesday, health officials say nearly 37 percent of Vermonters have received at least one vaccination. The next group scheduled to be vaccinated are those 40-and-over, starting April 5.

Health officials also announced Tuesday that vaccinated individuals are now allowed to visit Vermont hospitals, although hospitals are allowed to set their own guidelines. Visitors will have to present their vaccination cards as proof they have gotten their shots.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

State says 1 in 3 Vermonters vaccinated, but pandemic far from over

MONTPELIER —While one in three Vermonters is now partially vaccinated and progress continues in the fight against COVID-19, state health officials caution that an increase in new cases and the spread of variants show that the pandemic is far from being over.

Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said at a news briefing on Tuesday that one-third of Vermonters — nearly 180,000 — have gotten at least one dose of vaccine and that 86 percent of Vermonters over age 70 have been vaccinated.

Smith said Vermont is averaging about 5,500 vaccination doses a day. Vermonters age 60 and above will be the next age group in line to register for vaccinations, started March 25.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says those figures have translated into to sharply lower rates of illness and death in that age group. At the same time, infections are up among Vermont under 40, and Levine urged that age group to not let up on following health protocols.

Gov. Phil Scott said that he learned during his weekly conference call with White House officials that Vermont will receive an additional 5,000 doses this week, more than what was expected.

Scott said Dr. Anthony Fauci told governors the AstraZeneca vaccine will likely get approval from the FDA and that he thought it was safe and effective. Fauci also told the governors that it is likely high schoolers will be able to get the vaccine this fall and younger children by the first part of 2022.

LGBTQIA+ resources available via Out in the Open

BRATTLEBORO — Out in the Open is offering resources and virtual spaces for rural LGBTQIA+ folks during the COVID-19 crisis. The full list and calendar is on their website, weareoutintheopen.org.

They have a Community Care Offers & Asks list, and a list of Rural New England Mutual Aid opportunities, with specific resource links for LGBTQIA+ and QTPOC folks. Out in the Open also has a Slack channel for rural LGBTQIA+ folks to share resources and connect outside of social media. Email info@weareoutintheopen.org for more information.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Sign-ups expanded as Scott sets goal for all Vermonters to be vaccinated by July

MONTPELIER — On the one-year anniversary of Vermont reporting its first two deaths from COVID-19, Gov. Phil Scott and state officials Friday presented a vaccination schedule that sets the goal of having all Vermonters 16-and-over to be fully vaccinated by July.

At a news briefing, Scott said the state will continue with its “age band” strategy for vaccinations. Starting March 25, people in the 60-plus age group can make appointments for vaccines. Those age 50-and-over can start signing up on March 29, while those 40-and-over can sign up starting on April 5. People age 30-and-over can sign up on April 12, and those 16-and-over can sign up on April 19.

Scott said that steady increases in the allocation of vaccines to Vermont have made it possible to expand the eligibility of more age groups sooner than planned. While it takes an average of about two to three weeks to get an appointment for the initial vaccine dose after signing up, Scott said he is confident that all Vermonters over age 16 can be fully vaccinated by July, if not sooner.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine cautioned Vermonters that with variant strains of the highly transmissible virus being identified in Vermont, prevention and testing must still be a priority.

Scott also announced that starting March 24, Vermont bars and social clubs, which had been closed since November will be allowed to serve patrons again. These establishments are now being moved under the state’s restaurant guidance, which will allow them to reopen within that sector’s current restrictions.

Restrictions include operating at 50 percent capacity, requiring patrons be seated at tables with a maximum of six per table, six feet of distance between parties, masking and, more. Scott said municipalities will be allowed to place additional restrictions as needed on these establishments in their jurisdictions.

IRS, Vermont extend April 15 income tax deadline to May 17

MONTPELIER — The deadline for Vermont personal income tax filings for tax year 2020 has been extended from April 15 to May 17 in alignment with the federal due date change announced by the IRS earlier this week.

This extension means taxpayers can file their 2020 Vermont personal income tax, and pay any tax owed, by May 17 without penalties and interest. This extended due date also applies to Vermont Homestead Declarations and Property Tax Credit Claims.

Although the filing deadline has moved, Vermonters who wish to file their returns and claims before May 17 can still do so. The Department encourages all taxpayers to file electronically and request a direct deposit if they are owed a refund.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Additional COVID-19 variant detected in Vermont

BURLINGTON — The Vermont Department of Health confirmed Thursday that genomic sequencing of COVID-19 specimens has now identified two of the variants of concern circulating in the U.S.

In addition to results earlier this month of the B.1.1.7 variant that originated in the U.K., recent lab results now show the B.1.429 strain, first identified in California, is also in Vermont. The B.1.1.7 variant has now been found in eight specimens, and the B.1.429 variant was detected in three specimens. The detections were found in samples from Chittenden and Franklin counties, with one sample’s county of origin pending.

Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants and strains are to be expected. Many emerge and disappear, but others can persist and even become the predominant strain.

The Health Department has sent 98 select samples to the Massachusetts Public Health Laboratory, Molecular Diagnostics and Virology program for genetic sequencing. The department also sent 60 samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The specimens are taken from people who had already tested positive for COVID-19.

Medical studies are ongoing but show the current vaccines are effective against these variants, and the state’s plan for vaccination is moving quickly and well. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine cautioned, however, that with parts of the state showing a plateau or even an uptick in COVID-19 activity in Vermont, it is still important that people double-down on efforts to prevent spreading the virus.

For more information about new COVID-19 variants, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

State says nearly 30 percent of Vermonters now partially vaccinated

MONTPELIER — Vermont health officials said Tuesday that nearly 30 percent of Vermont residents, or about 153,000 people, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The pace and scope of vaccination continues to expand, with about 7,000 teachers, school staff, and child care workers expected to be vaccinated in the next week.

About 185 inmates in Vermont’s prisons with high-risk health conditions will get vaccinated in the next two or three weeks, and Vermonters in the 60-plus age bracket will soon be able to make appointments for their first shots.

At Tuesday’s news briefing, Gov. Phil Scott said he received encouraging information from his weekly call with White House officials and fellow governors. President Joe Biden has directed states to make all adults eligible for COVID-19 vaccines by May 1, Scott said he is optimistic that Vermont will be able to exceed that eligibility goal.

If all goes well, Scott said he believes the state will get back to nearly normal by July 4. The latest state data backs up that optimism, with the number of new cases projected to keep falling in Vermont as more people get vaccinated.

Also at Tuesday’s briefing, Secretary of Administration Suzanne Young outlined some key provisions of the recently-enacted American Rescue Plan that will benefit working Vermonters, such as expanded tax credits, more money for food assistance, and money to help families struggling to pay for rent and heat.

Single Vermonters earning $75,000 or less, and married couples earning $150,000 or less, will get a $1,400 payment. The IRS will use the most recent tax return information to determine eligibility.

For those who received unemployment compensation, the first $10,000 will be now exempt from federal taxes. Federal supplemental unemployment benefits of $300 will be extended through Sept. 6.

Municipalities will also be receiving federal aid, but Young said it is not yet clear how much will be going to each town. This funding can be used to replace lost revenue, or for investing in infrastructure upgrades, such as water, sewer, or broadband.

White River Junction VA offers COVID-19 vaccinations for veterans of all ages

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — White River Junction VA Healthcare System has begun offering COVID-19 vaccinations to veterans of all ages who are enrolled in VA healthcare.

With the greater and more consistent availability of vaccine, the White River Junction VA is now able to schedule enrolled veterans of all ages to be vaccinated.

If you are a veteran who would like to schedule an appointment to receive your COVID-19 vaccine through the White River Junction VA, call 802-296-5151. If you are a veteran not enrolled in VA Healthcare, contact the enrollment office beforehand to begin your application by calling 802-295-9363, ext. 5118.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Scott announces new gathering guidance for un-vaccinated households

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday new gathering guidance for people who are not vaccinated: Two unvaccinated people or households can now gather at a time.

Scott also announced restaurants now will be able to seat six people at a table and they can be from different families.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine reiterated that anyone who gathers with others who is not vaccinated still needs to follow guidance to prevent the spread of the virus — wearing masks and keeping at least a 6-foot distance.

He urged Vermonters to continue to keep any gathering as safe as possible by staying outside when you can, choosing activities where you can keep masks on and maintain your distance, thinking about where you’ve been recently and whether it could put others at risk, especially if someone is at higher risk, having the “COVID talk” and negotiating boundaries with others and establishing expectations before you get together, and always avoiding any gathering if you have symptoms of illness.

Scott extends COVID-19 emergency order through April 15

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday that he was extending the state’s COVID-19 emergency order until April 15. The emergency order, which first went into effect on March 13, 2020, had already been extended several times over the past year.

The order was extended with no additional changes and can be viewed at governor.vermont.gov/content/addendum-6-amended-and-restated-executive-order-01-20.

Friday, March 5, 2021

After one year of pandemic, state officials optimistic that the worst is over

MONTPELIER — As Vermont marks the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed case of COVID-19. Gov. Phil Scott took note at Friday’s news briefing of what he called “an incredibly painful year” for Vermonters.

As Scott acknowledged everyone’s sacrifice, he and other state officials expressed optimism about the road ahead.

The rapid pace of vaccination is the chief source of optimism. Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said that, as of Friday, about 114,000 Vermonters have received at least one vaccine dose, or about 20 percent of the state’s population.

The state continues to vaccinate the 65-plus age group and, on Monday, more new groups will be able to sign up for vaccines, including teachers and school staff, some state workers, and those 55-plus with underlying health conditions.

Also at Friday’s briefing, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., reported via Zoom, on the COVID-19 relief board making its way through Congress. He said he is pushing to add more than $400 million more for Vermont in the Senate’s version of the $1.9 trillion relief bill, and that the Vermont delegation has secured critical fixes that will deliver additional resources to the state government, similar to the CARES Act last year, including more funding for rural hospitals and broadband expansion.

Despite all the optimism, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine offered a note of caution. He criticized Texas and Mississippi’s decision this week to drop mask mandates, and said that while the country is very close to beating the virus, there is still a very real chance we could “fumble the ball on the 1-yard line” in the coming weeks by not remaining vigilant about mask wearing, hand sanitizing, and social distancing.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Vermont expands COVID-19 vaccinations to chronically ill, teachers, child care workers

MONTPELIER — State officials offered plenty of good news on the vaccine front at Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing, as Vermont plans to open the next phase of vaccinations on Monday, March 8 for those with underlying health conditions.

The state also expects to offer teachers, child care providers, and some first providers who had not previously been eligible for vaccines the opportunity to get a shot sooner than expected.

With nearly half of the 65-plus age group registering for the COVID-19 vaccine on the first day of eligibility on Monday, Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said Vermont will now begin the next phase, for those age 16-65 with underlying health conditions.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine explained the state developed the list of conditions based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was refined using Vermont-specific data.

More vaccine is coming to Vermont each week. Smith said the state’s allocation from the federal government is rising to 25,000 first doses by March 15, and 35,000 by the end of March. These figures do not include vaccine shipments to pharmacies, which is being supplied through another federal program.

Smith said the arrival of the new single-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson will allow teachers and child care providers to be vaccinated. They will be offered the Johnson & Johnson shot at vaccination clinics or at smaller schools.

Levine said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is rated as highly effective at preventing serious illness, as data for this vaccine showed 100 percent protection against hospitalization, ICU admission, and death. “This is the protection that matters most,” he said.

Monday, March 1, 2021

More than 18,600 Vermonters age 65 and older make appointments for vaccine

BURLINGTON — On the day eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine expanded broadly to Vermonters age 65 and older Monday, more than 18,600 people made appointments to get vaccinated through the Health Department’s online registration system.

According to the Health Department’s data dashboard at www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine/covid-19-vaccine-dashboard, more than 100,000 Vermonters have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine as Feb. 27, with 53,500 people getting both doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

Vermont’s weekly allocation of vaccines increased by 1,000 doses, bringing the weekly total to 14,500, at minimum, for the next three weeks.

Friday, Feb. 26, 2021

State officials say more must be done to help students deal with pandemic stresses

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said Friday that reopening schools and addressing students’ mental health issues exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic must be a top priority in the coming months.

“Our kids are not okay,” Scott said at a news briefing, “and I know that’s not acceptable to any of us.”

Many kids are struggling seriously enough to end up in emergency departments, he said. In addition, kids are reporting more anxiety, stress, sleeplessness and substance misuse.

“This is not a reflection of the hard work and commitment by our educators,” Scott said. “But it is evidence that even the very best remote learning experience doesn’t compare to the value and benefits of in-person education.”

Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrell pointed to a study that shows anxiety and stress on the rise for students. “The cost of not getting them back in school are truly devastating,” she said.

Right now, only 30 percent of Vermont schools are offering a full-week of in-person education. About 50 percent of schools are still doing a mix of remote and in-person classes, while around 20 percent are doing all their classes remotely.

Squirrell said remote learning has disrupted students’ structure and routine and left many without social interaction, personal connection, and a sense of safety. As a result, she said there has been an increase in student absenteeism and truancy and pediatricians around the state report increased demand for mental health services.

She also noted the toll taken on Vermont’s most vulnerable children — including those with disabilities, special health needs, those without internet access, English language learners and more.

One study cited by Squirrell shows that 70 percent of Vermont students between the ages of 12 and 17 say the pandemic made their feelings worse, 59 percent say they are lacking communication, and about half say they lack optimism.

Education Secretary Dan French said that with low COVID-19 infection rates in schools, getting kids back in class full-time can be done safely. With that in mind, French said the state is launching an education recovery plan.

French is asking school districts to create recovery teams by mid-March that will them come up with a plan by June on how to help students recover from the pandemic.

In many cases, French said that could include summer enrichment programs. He says a state support team will help with district-level planning, and that state and federal money will be available.

Travel rules for vaccinated people change today

MONTPELIER — Starting today, fully vaccinated people who travel to and from Vermont will no longer need to quarantine, effective today.

Travelers must be able to prove they have been fully vaccinated, meaning it’s been at least two weeks since your final dose.

Fully-vaccinated people can also gather with another “trusted” household, even if that household is not vaccinated.

New guidance for long-term care facility residents also takes effect on Feb. 26. Facilities that have no COVID-19 outbreaks will be encouraged to use full vaccination status as a factor in planning for things such as eating together and participating in other group activities within guidelines. The guidance will also include considerations for safe physical contact and indoor visits.

Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021

18,000 Vermonters 70 and over sign up for COVID-19 shots on first day

BURLINGTON — At 8:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Vermonters age 70 to 74 were able to sign up and make appointments to receive their COVID-19 vaccine.

In just the first 15 minutes, the Health Department received more than 7,000 calls from people making appointments to be vaccinated — flooding the Department of Health’s call center and racking up the clicks at the department’s website. By 4:45 p.m., around 18,800 people had signed up — nearly 57 percent of the 33,200 people eligible that age group.

Vermont started its COVID-19 vaccination program with people in the 1A group, including health care providers and emergency responders. The state then moved to age-group phases, beginning with people age 75 and older. Vaccinations began on Jan. 27 for the nearly 50,000 people in that first age group.

More than 33,500 people age 75 and older have made appointments, and another 7,000 were already vaccinated as residents of long-term care facilities. Approximately 19,000 have received at least their first dose.

Agency of Human Resources Secretary Mike Smith said Tuesday that said more than 78,000 Vermonters have gotten at least one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, and that 51 percent of Vermonters over age 75 have gotten at least one dose.

Friday, Feb. 5, 2021

State says more than 10 percent of Vermonters have received at least one COVID-19 shot

MONTPELIER — At a news briefing Friday, Gov. Phil Scott said that more than 10 percent of Vermonters age 16 and over had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and he expects to the state to quickly get to 20 percent as more vaccines receive federal approval.

Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said that 10 percent figure includes 58,219 people who have received vaccines so far, with 21 percent from the latest phase of the vaccine rollout, people age 75 and older. More than 33,000 people in this age group have registered for the shot so far.

For those who are homebound, Smith said the state is working to use home health and EMS workers to deliver vaccines, and Windham County will be among the first to see this service.

Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021

Vermont to get more vaccine doses from Feds over next three weeks

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday that Vermont can expected to see more doses of COVID-19 vaccine coming over the next three weeks.

Scott said he got the news during a conference call with governors and federal officials on Tuesday morning.

Vermont will get an additional 5 percent of vaccine, bringing the total number of weekly doses to nearly 11,000. That is a 21 percent increase over January’s allotment. Scott said the state also expects to get up to 1,000 doses shipped to pharmacies over the few weeks as part of a pilot project.

According to the Health Department, 55,500 doses of vaccine have been given as of Feb. 2, with 19,500 who have gotten two doses and 35,500 who have received the first dose.

As of Feb. 2, about 34,000 of the nearly 49,000 Vermonters in the 75-and-older group have signed up to get their first dose.

Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said all skilled nursing residents are now fully vaccinated, Smith said, and 87 percent of people in residential facilities and 94 percent of residents in assisted living settings have gotten at least a first dose.

Friday, Jan. 29, 2021

More than 48,000 people now vaccinated in Vermont

MONTPELIER — There are now 48,220 people who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Vermont, including nearly 5,000 who are age 75 and older, according to the Vermont Health Department’s vaccine dashboard.

At Friday’s press briefing, state officials said more than 32,500 Vermonters age 75 and older have made appointments at community clinics, which began vaccinations this week.

Despite the state’s early success with vaccinations, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that “we have many more people to reach” and cautioned that “it takes time for the vaccine to train your body to fight COVID-19, so you may not be protected by the vaccine until a few weeks after your second dose.”

This lag, he said, is similar to the flu vaccine, which can take up to two weeks to be fully effective.

Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021

First COVID-19 vaccinations for Vermonters 75 and older have begun

BURLINGTON — As of this morning, the Health Department says more than 29,000 Vermonters age 75 and older have made appointments for their COVID-19 vaccine.

The vast majority of the appointments were made on the first day registration opened, which state leaders called a great win for public health.

The first vaccinations for this age group began today at Health Department clinics and other locations around the state, with 54 sites in 39 towns. Registrants will choose a location when making their appointment. There are no walk-ins. Appointments are required to receive a vaccine.

The COVID-19 vaccine supply from the federal government is still limited, which is why vaccinations are being rolled out in phases, beginning with those who are most likely to experience severe illness and death from COVID-19.

Monday, Jan. 25, 2021

More than 21,000 Vermonters 75 and over sign up for vaccine on first day

MONTPELIER — Vermonters age 75 and older began booking appointments for their COVID-19 vaccine today. According to the Health Department, more than 21,100 appointments were scheduled for the coming weeks during the first day of sign-ups– a rate state health officials called greatly encouraging.

According to the Health Department, states are receiving roughly the same number of doses from the federal government, on a percentage of population basis. Vermont is a national leader in the rate of vaccinations distributed and administered, and is the first state in the country to have a higher percentage of its population vaccinated (6 percent) than the percentage of residents who have been infected with the virus (4 percent).

The Health Department says it is important for Vermonters to know that other states that have broader eligibility strategies do not have a larger supply of vaccine. This has caused frustration, confusion, shortages, and delays in these states. Vermont’s age-banding approach is intended to avoid these complications, while protecting those most at risk of severe illness or death.

As of Jan. 23, 51,700 doses of vaccine have been administered in Vermont, with 31,800 getting at least one dose and 9,942 people receiving both doses.

Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021

State officials cautiously optimistic that surge of new cases has eased

MONTPELIER — Exactly 10 months after Vermont recorded its first confirmed death from COVID-19, state officials offered some reasons for optimism at a Tuesday news briefing.

Department of Financial Regulation Commission Mike Pieciak said Tuesday that the national daily new COVID-19 case counts have been declining over the past seven days, as have the number of hospitalizations.

But Pieciak pointed out that deaths are usually the last figure to decline and that it took just 16 days for the national death toll to rise from 350,000 to 400,000 — the fastest growth rate since the pandemic began. Pieciak said we can expect to see deaths increasing nationwide for the next 2 to 3 weeks, even as the number of new cases decline.

Case numbers in Vermont and the Northeast are trending down, according to Pieciak, a sign that the region got through the worst of an expected holiday season surge of new cases.

He also pointed out that it took 315 days from the first case for Vermont to reach 10,000 COVID-19 cases, the last state to reach that mark. However, the number of active cases in Vermont is now 4.5 times higher than it was during the initial surge last March and April.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the new COVID variant from the U.K. may become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March. That could mean case numbers remain high through spring, and Levine said he expects the variant to reach Vermont, if it’s not here already. However, Levine said experts say the current vaccines will protect against it.

Friday, Jan. 15, 2021

Foodworks back to pre-COVID hours of operation

BRATTLEBORO — Foodworks, the food shelf program of Groundworks Collaborative located at 141 Canal St., has shifted operations back to pre-COVID hours of operation. The program is open to anyone with any level of need in the greater Brattleboro area.

People wishing to pick up a free two-week supply of groceries can drive or walk up to Foodworks’ location and choose from items on a grocery list; at which point a volunteer will pack the order and bring it out to the vehicle.

Foodworks’ hours of operation for curbside pickup are Mondays and Fridays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesdays. 1 to 6 p.m., and the last Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon. Tuesdays are reserved for deliveries for anyone who cannot make it to the program during open hours.

Since the start of the pandemic, Foodworks says it has delivered — or prepared for curbside pick-up — nearly 4,000 two-week supplies of food to over 3,000 people with help from a crew of dedicated volunteers. Foodworks continues to supply supplemental food and supplies to community members sheltering in Brattleboro motels.

Foodworks continues to have a need for volunteers working together with program staff to get food into the hands of local households who need it. Anyone with questions about volunteering or food access, including anyone who needs to schedule a delivery, can contact Foodworks at Foodworks@GroundworksVT.org or 802-490-2412.

Friday, Jan. 8, 2021

State officials say Vermont is making progress with COVID-19 vaccinations

MONTPELIER — Vermont officials are hopeful that more of the state’s population will be getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in the coming weeks.

In a news briefing on Friday, Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said that about 21,000 Vermonters had received the COVID-19 vaccine as of Jan. 7.

Smith said Vermont is the second-best state in the nation for the speed of vaccinating its residents, and fourth-best in the number of doses administered per 100 residents. “But we need to accelerate the pace,” he said.

Smith said that the state is closing in on finishing immunizations in the first group to get the vaccine — health workers, first responders, and residents of long-term care facilities. He said vaccinating the elderly, particularly those in long-term care, remains a priority. Of the 156 deaths due to COVID-19 in Vermont as of Jan. 8, Smith said 146 of them were people over the age of 65.

Holton Home resident dies of COVID-19, 12 cases reported at facility

BRATTLEBORO — A 93-year-old resident of Holton Home died on Jan. 3 from complications related to COVID-19.

According to an obituary submitted Tuesday to The Commons by Atamaniuk Funeral Home of Brattleboro, Ethel Mae Brosnahan died at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

She was a longtime Brattleboro resident who worked in a variety of roles in the Windham County courts, include 12 years as an Assistant Judge.

Brosnahan was a resident of Holton Home for nine years. Her death was the first fatality linked to an outbreak at the 35-unit senior living facility on Western Avenue.

In its weekly tally of active COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities released on Jan. 7, the Vermont Health Department said there were a total of 12 cases at Holton Home since mid-December, with three new cases reported in the past seven days.

There was one isolated case of COVID-19 last week at another long-term care facility in Brattleboro.

A staff member at Thompson House rehabilitation and nursing center tested positive on Dec. 29 for COVID-19. After testing all staff and residents last week at the 43-bed facility, no additional cases were found, according to Administrator Dane Rank.

Last week saw the start of vaccination of all residents at Thompson House, and a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine is scheduled to be administered by Jan. 19.

Friday, Jan. 1, 2021

Levine thanks Vermonters for sacrifices during pandemic, offers hope for 2021

MONTPELIER — Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Thursday that “though we’ve faced many challenges during 2020, Vermonters also learned again that we have the strength to persevere.”

Instead of New Year’s resolutions this year, Levine suggested Vermonters might think about how to take care of their own mental health and those around you.

He offered these tips to help guide Vermonters into 2021: Stay socially connected and create daily routines and schedules. Exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep, and reach out for support, whether you are struggling with anxiety, depression or just need to talk. If you have children, talk with them, ask about their concerns, and listen to them. And engage with your community in any ways that are possible and safe, because helping others helps counter stress.

Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020

State officials worried about shortfalls in vaccine allotments

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott and administration officials say they are concerned about a shortfall in expected COVID-19 vaccine allotments from the federal government.

At a news briefing Thursday, Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said the state was expecting 5,850 doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week, but that allotment was cut to 3,900, and the Moderna vaccine allotment was reduced from 4,000 doses to 3,900.

Smith lamented the lack of predictability in the federal government’s distribution of vaccines and said the “wild swings” in allotments will affect the state’s plans. He added that the state is trying to get a clear answer from federal officials.

The Vermont Department of Health said 14,000 Vermonters have been vaccinated as of Thursday, including more than 900 people in Windham County and 21 of the state’s 37 long-term care facilities.

Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020

State: COVID-19 numbers slowly declining, nearly 10,000 Vermonters have been vaccinated

MONTPELIER — While December has been the deadliest month in Vermont since the COVID-19 pandemic began, state officials reported Tuesday that new case growth and positivity rates continue to drop in Vermont and around the Northeast. At the same time, they also cautioned that this could change, depending on what holiday travel and gatherings will affect those numbers.

In his weekly briefing, Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak said that while Vermont recently passed the 7,000 mark for cumulative COVID-19 cases, the state’s test positivity rate, as of Tuesday, has dropped to 2 percent.

The state remains concerned about the health of older Vermonters. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine noted that all but seven of the 130 deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in people over age 60, and 40 percent of people in Vermont with COVID-19 have a pre-existing chronic condition, some having two or more such conditions.

Seventy percent of the deaths from COVID-19 have been in a long-term care setting, and there are currently 513 people in long-term care with the virus. That is one reason that the state has made it a priority to vaccine older Vermonters, and the people who take care of them.

Nearly 10,000 Vermonters have been vaccinated so far, according to state figures, Health care workers make up 8,000 of those vaccinations. Agency of Human Services Commissioner Mike Smith said staff and residents at 19 of the state’s 37 skilled nursing facilities have gotten the first dose of vaccine, and the rest will within a week. All but one facility will get a second dose by the end of January.

Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020

Health Department: Nearly 4,400 Vermonters received COVID-19 vaccine

MONTPELIER — Vaccinations for COVID-19 are off to a good start in Vermont, with 4,374 doses administered as of Thursday morning.

According to the Vermont Department of Health’s new data dashboard at www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine/covid-19-vaccine-dashboard, 321 doses of the vaccine have been administered in Windham County.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Thursday that 30 percent of the 21,000 vaccine doses that have arrived in Vermont so far have been used. That’s about triple the nationwide vaccination rate.

Levine asked Vermonters to “be patient because it’s going to take a lot of time” to get the state’s nearly 630,000 residents vaccinated. “This is a huge, logistically complex undertaking, but we will vaccinate all Vermonters who want it as quickly as possible.”

Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020

State officials optimistic as COVID-19 vaccination begins in Vermont

MONTPELIER — While Vermont saw its 100th death from COVID-19 reported on Tuesday, state officials expressed optimism that the arrival of the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine mark a turning point in the fight against the virus’s spread.

“This marks the beginning of the end, but not the end,” Gov. Phil Scott said of the vaccine’s arrival at a news briefing. He cautioned that Vermonters still need to keep up all the good work they’ve done in following public health guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington began vaccination of some of its front-line personnel Tuesday afternoon, and other hospitals followed on Wednesday.

Thanks to its extensive preparations, Levine said Vermont is one of the first states in the nation to begin mass vaccination.

Levine said the state has pre-ordered 11,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine, to be shipped when it receives emergency use approval by the federal government sometime later this week. Another 5,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to follow by the end of December.

In his weekly modeling of COVID-19 trends, Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak said the state is forecast to see a 70 percent increase in new cases over the next three weeks, but that scenario is entirely avoidable.

Pieciak said that most Vermonters heeded the advice of health officials, and avoided travel and large indoor gatherings during the Thanksgiving holiday period. If Vermonters behave the same during the winter holiday season, he said there is likely to be fewer new cases heading into the new year.

As a result, the Health Department says that while new case numbers are currently the highest they have been since tracking began in early March, they are leveling off and the state is in a much better position comparing to neighboring states.

Levine called the arrival of the vaccine “a truly pivotal moment” in the fight against COVID-19, but it was only the start of a long process of getting the virus contained. Even with the rollout of the vaccine, Levine said masking and social distancing will likely still be needed until the fall of 2021.

Friday, Dec. 11, 2020

State seeks help with COVID-19 response in long term care facilities

MONTPELIER — The state’s long term care facilities are in need of nurses and caregivers for both paid and volunteer positions, and the Department of Disabilities, Aging & Independent Living (DAIL) is taking steps to address the need.

According to a news release, DAIL has contracted with TLC Home Care, a staffing agency based out of Williston, to support emergency long term care facility staffing needs caused by COVID-19. This professional staffing pool will provide for emergency staffing deployment of up to 40 staff (RNs, LPNs, LNAs, and unlicensed caregiver/supports), specific to long term care COVID-19 outbreak response needs.

This contract is managed by DAIL as part of the Healthcare Outbreak Prevention and Response (HOPR) rapid response team to augment critical staffing shortfalls which arise in long term care facilities when an outbreak situation is identified and staffing is affected by the virus. It is meant to be a short-term solution to meet crucial needs during outbreaks.

Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said Friday that the intent is not to shift existing health care workforce into this pool, but rather it is a call out to Vermonters with the ability to help — including part-time workers, retirees, unemployed individuals, college students, and others with capacity and interest in helping. Clinicians or caregivers with time to spare to serve in this temporary emergency staffing pool should visit www.tlcnursing.com/vermontheroes.

Additionally, Vermonters — clinical and non — are needed to fill roles on Vermont’s volunteer Medical Reserve Corps and SerVermont programs to meet various COVID-19 related needs. Visit www.covidstaffing.vermont.gov for more information on how one can serve.

VT-ALERT now has COVID-19 updates and alerts

MONTPELIER — At a press conference today, the Scott administration announced that Vermonters can sign up to receive COVID-19 daily updates and urgent notifications through the state’s VT-ALERT system.

Since 2012, VT-ALERT is used by the state and local responders to notify the public of emergency situations. Those include, but are not limited to, evacuation information; chemical spills; shelter-in-place alerts; severe weather advisories; boil water advisories, roadway interruptions — and now COVID-19, though VT-ALERT will not replace more comprehensive resources like healthvermont.gov or accd.vermont.gov.

Vermonters can register for VT-ALERT by visiting www.vtalert.gov and selecting the alerts they would like to receive (COVID information is listed under “Health Alerts”), while current subscribers may update their notifications by visiting the website.

Notifications are available via email, text, phone and the Everbridge mobile app. Users may specify geographic areas for which they want to receive alerts (i.e. the town or county where they live or work). Vermonters can also follow VT-ALERT on Facebook and Twitter at @VermontAlert.

Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020

State says restrictions on gatherings will stay in place for now

MONTPELIER — As the number of COVID-19 cases in Vermont pass the 5,000-mark, Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday that restrictions will remain in place for now.

Vermont recorded 718 new cases over the past seven days, the largest weekly increase so far during the pandemic. As of Tuesday, 85 people have died.

According to the latest modeling from Department of Financial Registration Commissioner Mike Pieciak, the rate of new case growth has picked up. It took just 10 days for Vermont to get from 4,000 to 5,000 cases. Cases are rising even faster in the rest of New England.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that the Health Department is now dealing with 38 outbreaks around the state. There are no new outbreaks in long-term care facilities, but he said the new cases continue to rise in the facilities that are seeing outbreaks.

Levine said that avoiding social gatherings, limiting non-essential travel, quarantining when necessary, and taking other prevention steps will slow down the rapid rise in new COVID-19 cases.

Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020

State officials ask Vermonters to pay attention to mental health, stigma

MONTPELIER — As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on, state officials Friday asked Vermonters to tune into their mental health and wellness right now, and to look out for one another.

Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrell talked about the strain COVID-19 has placed on our daily lives. She said people are struggling with isolation, unemployment, financial pressure, housing and food challenges.

Squirrell said one of those sources of help is COVID Support VT, which offers self-help tips, resources, and a way to connect to existing mental health and community services, all of which promote resilience, empowerment and recovery.

It can be found on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, or on their website, covidsupportvt.org. For more information, call 802-828-7368 or email info@covidsupportvt.org.

Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020

Scott expresses optimism that COVID-19 growth rate is slowing

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday that he’s “cautiously optimistic” about how things stand in Vermont as the state enters its 10th month of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite an increase in new cases and deaths in Vermont during the month of November, Scott said that most Vermonters have been following the state’s guidance about travel and attending indoor social gatherings.

He said if people continue to follow the rules, restrictions may be eased a bit in the coming weeks, but that will depend on the data trends from the Thanksgiving holiday period.

Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak says new data shows Vermonters have decreased movement since the new mandates began on Nov. 13.

He said that Vermont was the second least mobile state in the country. Travel to Vermont was down more than 50 percent during this year’s Thanksgiving holiday period, and out-of-state travel was down 58 percent compared to 2019.

That is helping to slow down new case growth, Pieciak said. There were 475 new cases over the past seven days, down 200 from the week before, when the state saw the highest COVID-19 numbers since case tracking began in early March.

The state has expanded testing sites around Vermont, and Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says the goal is to be able to test about 30,000 people each week.

Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020

State officials ask Vermonters to follow guidelines to slow growth of virus

MONTPELIER — Thanksgiving week is generally the busiest week of the year for travel, and state officials fear that this could lead to a spike in new COVID-19 cases.

In his weekly travel advisory on Tuesday, Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak said that it is estimated that 38 percent of Americans intend to travel and gather for Thanksgiving as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pieciak said if Vermonters behaved similarly, the state would see between 3,200 and 3,800 new cases in addition to the normal case growth, and an additional 40 to 50 new hospitalizations.

Last year, Pieciak said 100,000 people came to Vermont and a similar number of Vermonters went elsewhere. Since travel and indoor gatherings have been the two biggest drivers of the sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. over the past few weeks, health officials are worried.

The U.S. passed the 12 million mark for COVID-19 cases this week, and Pieciak said 26 percent of the national total and 46 percent of Vermont’s total have been tallied in just the month of November.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said it is clear that if Vermonters want to keep schools and businesses open and keep the hospitals from being filled with COVID-19 patients, people need to follow the guidelines.

Friday, Nov. 20, 2020

Municipal Center settles into mostly remote operations

BRATTLEBORO — Town Manager Peter Elwell said Friday that the town’s administrative offices have transitioned back to the almost entirely remote operations that were put in place during the “Stay Home Stay Safe” period in March and April.

“Town office operations have transitioned this week back to the way in which we operated during the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” period in March and April,” Elwell said in the town’s weekly COVID-19 update.

As for town field services, such as police, fire, public works, utilities, parks maintenance, facilities maintenance, and parking enforcement, Elwell said they also are transitioning back to the way in which they operated during the spring.

Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020

Scott defends new restrictions on social gatherings

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott offered a strong response to critics of new guidelines he imposed last week to slow the recent increase in new COVID-19 cases in Vermont.

On Friday, he issued an executive order that set strict new guidelines for social gatherings, bars and restaurants, and non-school recreational sports.

At a news briefing Tuesday, Scott said he has heard from people who complained about putting limits on social gatherings, while allowing schools and restaurants to stay open.

He said data shows that the record growth of the virus over the past two weeks in Vermont has been mostly fueled by adults getting together with friends consuming alcohol and food, with 71 percent of the state’s outbreaks linked to social events.

By comparison, transmission is happening at much lower rate in schools, salons, gyms, and restaurants.

Scott said the state’s priority is to keep children in schools, keep hospitals from being overwhelmed with new cases, and to keep businesses in operation. He also said people need to realize the difference between wants and needs.

“In-person education, protecting our health care system, and keeping people working, as long as we can do it safely, are things we need. Parties and cookouts, hanging out with people you don’t know, just to socialize, may be fun. But they’re wants, not needs,” he said.

Scott saved his sharpest criticism for those who refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the pandemic.

“For those skeptics who want to ignore the science, there’s nothing the state can do to stop you,” Scott said. “But please don’t call it patriotic or pretend it’s about freedom. Because real patriots serve and sacrifice for all. Patriots also stand up and fight when our nation’s health and security is threatened, and right now, our country and way of life is being attacked by this virus, not the protections we put in place.

He also said that if anyone has a complaint with the new policies, they can direct their criticism to him. “I can take it,” he said. “What I can’t take is to see [the spread of this virus] continue to grow, because it’s putting our healthcare system, our economy and many lives at risk. So, you can question our methods but I’m asking you to please do your part to help.

In his weekly forecast, Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak said Vermont is forecast to see a 50 percent increase in new COVID-19 cases over the next six weeks, but that adherence to the new restrictions could greatly lower that figure.

Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith also announced that hospitals and long-term care facilities were told on Monday to return to the no-visitor policies they had in the spring at the start of the pandemic.

Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020

Scott announces new restrictions for bars and restaurants, social gatherings, sports leagues

MONTPELIER — After 265 new coronavirus cases were reported in Vermont over the past three days, Gov. Phil Scott on Friday announced an executive order that calls for strict new guidelines for social gatherings, bars and restaurants, and sports leagues.

The following measures took effect at of Saturday:

• Public and private multi-household social gatherings prohibited: Attendance at all public and private social gatherings, indoor and outdoor, including social gatherings incidental to ceremonies, holiday gatherings, parties and celebrations, shall be limited to participation with only members of a single household. Individuals who live alone may gather with members of their immediate family residing in a different household.

• Restaurant hours and seating limits: Restaurants must close in-person dining at 10 p.m., but may provide curbside and delivery service after 10 p.m. For in-person dining, restaurants must seat only one household per table, in accordance with existing capacity limits and the new restriction on multi-household gatherings.

• Closure of bars and social clubs: Bars and social clubs will be closed for in-person service until further notice. Curbside and delivery service is allowed.

• Recreational sports on hold: Youth and adult recreational sports activities, not related to Vermont Principals’ Association-sanctioned school sports, are suspended until further notice.

• Telework requirements: All businesses, nonprofits, and government entities shall reinstitute telework policies for all employees to the maximum extent possible. In-person meetings are strongly discouraged and should be held by telephone or video conference whenever possible.

• Contact tracing and testing requirements: All restaurants and other businesses hosting non-essential activities shall maintain a 30-day log of employee and guest names and contact information in case contact tracing is required by the Health Department. These individuals are consenting to be contacted by the Health Department Contact Tracing Team.

Further, all Vermonters are directed to comply with requests made by the Contact Tracing Team. Finally, college students returning home to Vermont (from in-state and out-of-state schools) shall quarantine for 14 days or seven days with a negative COVID-19 test and testing is strongly encouraged.

The Agency of Commerce and Community Development will provide additional guidance as needed.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that, since Oct. 1, 71 percent of all new cases in Vermont can be traced back to social gatherings like baby showers, Halloween parties, deer camps, and other small gatherings where masking and physical distancing are not maintained.

Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020

State reimposes 14-day quarantine policy for all travelers to Vermont

MONTPELIER — Citing the large increase in COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks, Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday that Vermont will temporarily require a 14-day quarantine for all non-essential travel, increase compliance checks, and expand testing to find the virus earlier and contain it faster.

The latest modeling, presented Tuesday by Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak, showed a 34 percent increase in cases in the Northeast since last week and cases are averaging 112,500 per day nationally.

While Vermont continues to have the lowest positivity rate in the country, cases rose 46 percent over the past week. Hospitalizations are also rising in Vermont.

The United States reported its 10 millionth case of COVID-19 on Monday, and deaths are now averaging about 1,000 per day nationally.

Any non-essential travel into Vermont now requires a seven-day quarantine and a negative COVID test, or a 14-day quarantine. Essential travel includes travel to attend PreK-12 school and college if commuting daily, or for work, personal safety, medical care, care of others, parental shared custody, or for food or medicine.

Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling said the state will be conducting random checks to assess compliance at hotels and restaurants, as was done in the spring during the first peak of the pandemic.

Schirling said that if substantial non-compliance is found and those businesses don’t fix the problems, those cases may be referred to the attorney general’s office. Also, law enforcement will begin handing out cards with COVID-19 safety information during traffic stops.

In the Northeast, there were 33 percent more cases in the past week, with more than 200 new cases in the past week in Vermont. Cases have increased over the past 11 weeks in the Northeast, Pieciak said, with Maine and New Hampshire showing the biggest increases.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said it was clear that the COVID-19 situation is not going to improve over the next few months, which makes it imperative for Vermonters to limit travel and keep social gatherings small to control the spread of the virus.

Vermont is also expanding its testing program through a contract with CIC Health of Cambridge, Mass., and developing a plan to offer testing every day of the week at locations throughout the state. The Health Department will also increase surveillance testing, which tests asymptomatic populations, to find the virus in the community more quickly.

To establish a baseline, the state will offer testing to K-12 teachers and staff during the week of Nov. 16. This approach will help identify cases — particularly cases that never develop symptoms — thereby helping to reduce the risk of clusters or outbreaks and supporting efforts to sustain and expand in-person learning for students.

Friday, Nov. 5, 2020

Scott, Levine issue advisory on social gatherings; recommend no more than 1o people

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine today announced an advisory on social gatherings, strongly recommending they be limited to 10 or fewer people.

Vermont has seen an increasing number of cases as a result of socializing, and many states are now pointing to private social gatherings as a contributor to spread of COVID-19, so the state is providing firm recommendations to limit these types of events.

This strong recommendation applies to all types of private gatherings, including just getting together with friends socially at home, on campus or around town. Capacity and gathering size limits at commercial facilities, which have rigorous safety requirements in place, have not been changed.

Friday, Oct. 30, 2020

State officials say 1 in 4 new COVID-19 cases are related to Central Vermont outbreak

MONTPELIER — State officials said Friday the Central Vermont coronavirus outbreak has grown to 87 cases and is the source of four other clusters seen this month.

According to data presented by Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak at a news briefing, there are now 87 COVID-19 cases in 18 different towns in four counties associated with the hockey and broomball leagues at the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier.

The first two cases was reported on Oct. 7, Pieciak said, By Oct. 12, 13 cases were identified as being linked to the hockey and broomball leagues.

In turn, Pieciak said, that initial outbreak led to four additional outbreaks, including one at St. Michael’s College in Winooski. That cluster has grown to 41 cases, with six more confirmed cases there Thursday.

Now, Pieciak said, the central Vermont outbreak has spread to 18 other locations, including worksites and schools, with a total of 473 people having been identified as being in close contact with people that carried the virus.

Nearly 26 percent of all new infections in Vermont since Oct. 7 stem from the central Vermont outbreak, Pieciak said. However, there have so far been no deaths, and many of those infected are younger.

State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said contact tracers found some themes that contributed to the spread, including people gathering without wearing masks and people failing to quarantine — after they had been identified as a close contact, returned from travel, or had COVID-like symptoms.

Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020

UVM selected for COVID-19 vaccine trial

BURLINGTON — The University of Vermont Medical Center and the Vaccine Testing Center at UVM’s Larner College of Medicine have been selected for a Phase 3 trial for a COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Dr. Beth Kirkpatrick, an infectious disease specialist at UVM Medical Center and the director of the Vaccine Testing Center, the study will track the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine being developed by Oxford University in England and manufactured by AstraZeneca.

At a news briefing in Montpelier today, she said that about 30,000 people in the United States will take part in the two-year study, including at least 250 people in UVM’s part of the trial.

Kirkpatrick said that the Phase 3 trial is the last and most important step for the Oxford vaccine to receive approval for widespread use from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Friday, Oct. 23, 2020

State outlines plans for distribution of COVID-19 vaccine

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine today detailed the state’s framework for distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, once one is produced and distributed to the state.

Vermont has submitted responses to a series of questions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), laying out the framework for vaccine distribution and Vermont’s preparedness.

The federal government, which is responsible for nationwide distribution of vaccines, still needs to provide details on many logistics surrounding a potential vaccine, and this interim COVID-19 vaccination plan will evolve as new information comes forward.

A COVID-19 Vaccination Planning Team was convened in July to begin this process and is responsible for fully developing the vaccination plan. This team includes experts from the Department of Health, Vermont Emergency Management, the University of Vermont Medical Center, and the Agency of Digital Services.

“Having a safe and effective vaccine is an essential tool to stop the virus from spreading. We see every day what it means to have a highly infectious disease spread without a vaccine available to keep it in check. I encourage everyone to get vaccinated when it’s available to them,” said Levine. “We are all ready for this next step toward ending the pandemic. But let me be clear — safety comes first. Any vaccine must meet all FDA safety standards and be recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, free from politics.”

While the state will be prepared for any amount of vaccine, it is expected the initial supply of COVID-19 vaccine will likely be limited.

Vaccination efforts will prioritize groups that are most critical to the response, such as healthcare workers and first responders, as well as those at highest risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19, such as residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

Statewide coordination and implementation of the plan is managed jointly by the State Emergency Operations Center and the Vermont Department of Health’s Health Operation Center, which includes the newly formed Vaccination Branch and its four sections: immunization program operations, technical response, points of distribution (POD) mass vaccination, and data management.

This effort will also include a range of partners, such as pharmacies, hospitals, primary care providers, community service organizations, privately run clinics, long-term care facilities, and correctional facilities.

“This is an enormous undertaking with a number of crucial considerations,” said Levine. “But one thing is clear, in Vermont, we’ll be ready for the vaccine before the vaccine is ready for us.”

Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020

Vt. investigation contributes to national understanding of COVID-19 transmission

BURLINGTON — An investigation conducted by Vermont Department of Health scientists and released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that transmission of COVID-19 can occur during multiple brief exposures with someone who is infected.

Staff from the Health Department and the Department of Corrections looked into an instance in which a state corrections officer became infected after several brief interactions with incarcerated people who had COVID-19. None of the individual interactions lasted 15 minutes but together added up to more than that amount over time.

CDC officials cited the investigation findings in announcing its updated definition of what is considered to be a close contact. The Vermont report was published in the Oct.21 issue of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly.

The CDC definition now says a close contact is someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. This is a refinement of previous guidance, which defined close contact as being within 6 feet, for 15 minutes or more at a time.

The investigation team reviewed video surveillance footage to determine that the correctional officer did not meet the then-definition of a close contact. The team reviewed additional footage and standard correctional officer shift duty responsibilities to approximate the frequency and duration of interactions between the correctional officer and infectious incarcerated or detained persons at the facility.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Thursday he is pleased the CDC is taking this data into account, to increase understanding about the importance of maintaining physical distance.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have let the science lead the way,” said Dr. Levine. “Amid their non-stop work on the COVID-19 response, our team has also contributed to the worldwide body of knowledge about COVID-19. I’m really proud of their work.”

An author on the study, Natalie Kwit, DVM, state public health veterinarian, noted that the key finding that the correctional officer did not initially meet the definition of a close contact, will help public health officials better identify people who could be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19.

“Vermont is already doing this to a certain degree, but all public health officials can consider this research when doing contact tracing and interviews,” Kwit said. “It may be more relevant in certain group and congregate settings, where there is potential to have these multiple brief interactions.”

Kwit emphasized that identifying a close contact is about more than just the length of time of an exposure. How far away a person is, whether they are symptomatic, and their environment are all factors that need to be considered.

The Vermont study can be found at www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6943e1.htm.

Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020

Free school meals continue in Windham County

BRATTLEBORO — All school districts in Windham County are operating under the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) guidelines this fall, including the Windham Southeast district.

Families in Windham Southeast will be provided free breakfast and lunch on a first come, first serve basis but, this year, they are asking families to sign up for meals by visiting www.wsesu.org/covid-19-student-meals.html and clicking on the Survey Link that applies to your family. You can then select a meal site to receive meals to help ensure they have enough meals for all children.

All sites will be open meal sites only on Mondays and Thursdays and will have meals bagged so families can take the meals with them.

These two pick-up days will provide breakfast and lunch for Monday through Friday until Dec. 31, or while federal funding lasts at the sites and times: Academy School, back parking lot behind fire station, 11 a.m. to noon; Brattleboro Area Middle School and Brattleboro Union High School, bus loop, 11 a.m. to noon; Dummerston Elementary School, main entrance, 11 a.m. to noon;

Guilford Central School, front of school near main entrance, 11 a.m. to noon; Green Street School, in tent by parking lot, 1:30 to 2:20 p.m.; Putney Central School, back kitchen door (near the gym doors); 11 to 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; Oak Grove School, in front of school; 11 a.m. to noon; and Vernon Elementary School, parking lot, 1 to 2 p.m..

Note that only one breakfast and lunch per day is allowed per child. Times are subject to change. Visit our website www.wsesu.org for the most up-to-date times.

The Hunger Council of the Windham Region and Food Connects have created an enrollment hub with application information for every school in the county. Find out more at www.foodconnects.org/school-meals-enrollment.

Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020

As COVID-19 cases surge in U.S., state officials warn against complacency

MONTPELIER — While Vermont is still leading the nation in controlling the spread of COVID-19, state officials on Tuesday warned Vermonters to not get complacent.

In a news briefing, Gov. Phil Scott said cases of the virus are on the rise in many parts of the United States and Quebec, and cautioned that Vermonters needed to keep following the public health protocols that have made the state a national model for containing major outbreaks of COVID-19.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine pointed out that there were now 1 million confirmed deaths worldwide from COVID-19, with more than 200,000 of those fatalities happening in the U.S.

Levine noted a new seroprevalence study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that gives states an idea of how much disease has been prevalent over the pandemic and what percentage of a state’s population has had some contact with the virus.

For Vermont, the study estimated less than 1 percent of the population had antibodies for the virus, among the lowest in the country, Levine said, and there have been no deaths from the virus in Vermont in two months.

Until there is a vaccine, Levine said that mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing will all have a big impact on the reducing the risk of another major COVID-19 outbreak.

Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation and the head of the state’s COVID-19 statistical analysis team, said there have been only 51 new COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days. That is the lowest number of new cases over a two-week period since May, he said.

Pieciak said that cases are predicted to rise gradually over the next few weeks, but not at the levels seen elsewhere in the U.S. and Quebec. He said the situation in Quebec is a concern, for the province has seen a 19 percent increase in new cases over the past three weeks.

Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020

State says Vt. schools can move to phase 3 of reopening guidance

MONTPELIER — Secretary of Education Dan French announced Tuesday that all Vermont schools will be able to move into phase 3 of their reopening plans by Saturday, Sept. 26.

This means schools will be allowed to use gyms and cafeterias, with certain restrictions, and that the fall sports season can begin this weekend with competitions between schools.

Speaking at Gov. Phil Scott’s bi-weekly COVID-19 news briefing, French said this new status doesn’t change what districts may want to do in terms of in-person or remote learning, but it does give schools the option to offer more in-person instruction.

According to Agency of Education guidelines, phase three is the level where schools “are open for in-person instruction with distancing measures,” with attendance restricted “to those from limited transmission areas (other phase 3 areas) only.” It is only under phase 3 that athletic teams may conduct normal training and interscholastic contests.

Friday, Sept. 18, 2020

Bars get OK to reopen, full capacities now allowed for lodging establishments

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott announced at a Friday news briefing that Vermont bars will be allowed to reopen again and that lodging establishments can go back to full capacity, effective today.

Bars have been closed since late March due to COVID-19 restrictions. Scott said that, based on medical data, loosening the restrictions is warranted.

Restaurants and bars can now utilize bar seating if patrons are six feet apart, and a partition is in place between patrons and the staff behind the bar. In addition, capacity limits were lifted for lodging establishments, allowing them to book all available rooms.

All mandatory safety measures, travel restrictions, quarantine requirements and the cross-state travel map remain in place. Capacity restrictions remain for dining and gatherings at these facilities.

Scott said both moves are aimed at helping the hospitality sector ahead of fall foliage season and the upcoming winter ski season.

While Scott said he understood some might worry with more out-of-state visitors arriving, he pointed out that campgrounds, marinas, and cottages operated at full capacity for most of the summer with little impact on positivity rates.

More visitors from the Northeastern states will be able to visit Vermont in the coming weeks. The state has expanded the number of counties in the Northeast where people could visit without a 14-day quarantine with a total of 7.4 million visitors that could come, compared to 5.5 million last week.

Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020

Fauci praises Vermont’s COVID-19 successes, but warns against complacency

MONTPELIER —The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, congratulated Vermonters for their success in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but also cautioned against easing up in the fight.

Appearing via video at a news briefing on Tuesday, Fauci said Vermont should be the model for the rest of the United States, saying he’d like “to bottle what’s happening here and take it with me to other parts of the country.”

“Notwithstanding that this is a small state, but it should be the model of how you get to such a low test positivity that you can actually start opening up the economy in a safe and prudent way,” he said.

Vermont leads the nation in every metric in controlling the virus. It continues to have the lowest positivity rate in the country at 0.2 percent - a rate that has held steady for months. Vermont also has the lowest rate of total infection at 261 cases per 100,000 people, while the national average is 1,845 per 100,000.

Fauci said that success is due to the diligence Vermonters have shown in following public health measures such as wearing masks, avoiding crowds, practicing social distancing, and frequent hand washing.

Addressing the impact of Vermont’s lack of population density on its case trends, Fauci said that “it’s not a question of density or not. It’s a question of what you did or did not do correctly and, from the numbers that I’ve seen, Vermont has done it correctly.”

But Fauci warned that the fight is far from over. “This virus is a formidable foe,” he said. “You give it an opportunity to reemerge its ugly head...that virus is going to take advantage of that. So please, you’ve done so well, don’t let your guard down.”

Continued vigilance, he said, will make a big difference heading into the fall and winter months. He said if Vermonters keep following public health guidance, the threat of a second wave of infection here will be small.

“I believe strongly that if we do what you’ve been doing in Vermont in the rest of the country… that we cannot only get through the fall and the winter, but we can come out on the other end better off then we went in,” Fauchi said.

When asked by Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine to explain to Vermonters the process to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and why they can trust it. Fauci explained the multiple layers of checkpoints, including an independent data and safety monitoring board, a safety pledge by the Food and Drug Administration, and the scientific community, that is watching and “are not shy about giving our scientific opinions.”

“So I can tell you, based on my experience and what I’m seeing, if there’s a vaccine — which I’m fairly certain there will be — that’s safe and effective, I, for one, would not hesitate to take it, nor would I hesitate to recommend that my entire family do it,” Fauci said. “So I feel good about it.”

Health Department working on first COVID-19 cases reported in schools

MONTPELIER — Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Tuesday that the Health Department was notified this week of a small number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 associated with two schools in Vermont.

At of Tuesday, there are fewer than six confirmed cases associated with the two schools, Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, and Hartford High School.

The Health Department’s contact tracing team has been reaching out to close contacts, to provide the guidance they need, and to identify anyone who may need to quarantine.

In addition, Health Department and the Agency of Education are actively working on sharing school data in a manner that is both transparent and protects the privacy of individual students, teachers and staff. School level data will be made available in the coming days.

Friday, Sept. 11, 2020

Scott extends COVID-19 emergency order through Oct. 15

MONTPELIER — At his media briefing on Friday, Gov. Phil Scott announced he was extending the state’s COVID-19 emergency order until Oct. 15.

The emergency order, first announced March 13, had already been extended several times. It had been set to expire Sept. 15.

Scott said the pandemic has required Vermonters to pull together in the same way they did after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington D.C., which happened 19 years ago today.

Scott did say that, if the state’s COVID-19 situation continues to look good as schools reopen and college students return to Vermont, he will look at loosening some of the emergency order’s restrictions, with a focus on helping Vermont’s hard-hit hospitality industry.

Vermont still has the lowest COVID-19 positivity rate in the nation, with only 30 new cases this week. According to state data, as of Friday, 42,109 tests have been done on college campuses over the past three weeks with just 38 positive results, or a positivity rate of 0.09 percent.

Retired Norwich University president Richard Schneider, who is heading up the state’s efforts to reopen colleges safely, said the state has a three-phased approach to students returning: “to get them here un-infected, to keep them un-infected and, if they do get it, to stop the spread.”

Schneider said the compliance from students following the rules has been great and said Vermont is “the safest state for students to go to school in America.”

Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020

Schools reopen in Vermont

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said that as Vermont K-12 students returned to school Tuesday, things would look and feel much different.

“But the start of the school year is still exciting for kids,” Scott said at a news conference. “I wish all students the very best as they start the new year… We’re here to work with schools as we take this step forward, to respond to, and contain cases, just as we have throughout this pandemic.”

Most districts are doing a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning. Education Secretary Dan French said if all goes well, schools may be able to offer more in-person learning later this month.

French said for the first few weeks of the school year, academics would take a back seat to addressing the social and emotional needs of the children who have not been inside a classroom since mid-March.

Scott acknowledged that while we are “by far the safest state in the nation,” he acknowledged that the state will see COVID cases in schools.

However, Scott said that if the state avoids COVID-19 outbreaks, even with schools and colleges reopening, he may ease restrictions on lodging and restaurants even more. Most Vermonters who work in the hospitality sector, which has been hit hard by the pandemic, are still unemployed.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the state’s diligence with testing and contact tracing has made it possible to reopen schools, as well as some sectors of the state’s economy, safely.

Friday, August 21, 2020

State says additional economic relief aid is on the way

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday his proposal for an additional $133 million in economic relief and recovery, using funds from the $1.25 billion the state received from the Federal CARES Act.

As with previous proposals, the Scott administration will work with the Legislature to bring further relief to Vermonters and Vermont businesses.

This latest proposal focuses on four key areas of continued investment in economic development and business support to help Vermonters experiencing loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more details on the proposal visit the ACCD website at accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/economic-development-and-business-support-proposal.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

State officials say reopening schools won’t lead to COVID-19 outbreaks

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott, along with health and education officials, said at a press conference Tuesday that, while anxiety about schools reopening on Sept. 8 is understandable, Vermonters can have confidence in the robust system in place to prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus and quickly respond to any cases that arise.

State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso emphasized that even with low levels of the virus in Vermont, schools should plan for cases of COVID-19, but that a case does not automatically mean a school needs to close.

If students remain together in a single classroom without mixing with others, for example, that classroom may stop in-person instruction for 24 hours while Health Department teams begin contact tracing and provide further recommendations, she said.

Education officials also announced updates to school reopening guidance. Secretary of Education Daniel French said changes include more flexible distancing requirements for younger students. This is based on data that children less than 10 years old are the least likely to acquire and transmit COVID-19, even in close contact scenarios.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Scott signs executive order setting Sept. 8 as universal school opening date

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has signed a directive today officially setting Tuesday, Sept. 8 as the universal reopening date for Vermont schools.

Originally announced on Tuesday, the directive requires all public and independent schools to open for in-person or remote instruction on Sept. 8, with an exception for schools primarily serving students with disabilities, which can restart operations prior to Sept. 8.

The Secretary of Education will have oversight and authority in the implementation of the order and local school officials and governing bodies are required to consult with, and abide by, the direction of the Secretary of Education.

This start date provides schools with an additional week for staff to prepare and test the systems — both online and in-person — built over the past few months. School districts have developed reopening plans under guidance from the Agency of Education (AOE) and Vermont Department of Health, developed alongside pediatric medical professionals and education stakeholders.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Health Department offers advice on wearing face masks

BURLINGTON — Many Vermonters have been wearing masks regularly to help protect themselves, and to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here are some things to remember:

• When do I need to wear a mask? — Any time it’s not possible to keep a 6-foot distance from others who are not part your household. This includes both indoor and outdoor public spaces and group living settings (for example, long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and apartment and condo complexes).

• When don’t I need to wear a mask? — Face masks are not required when you are doing strenuous exercise or activities. They are also not required for, and should not be worn, by children under the age of 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, anyone who is unable to remove it without assistance or anyone who has a medical or behavioral reason for not wearing a face mask. If you have a medical or developmental condition or have trouble breathing, you do not have to show evidence or documentation of your condition.

• How do I choose a mask? — Pick a mask that’s comfortable but fits snugly against the side of your face. It should be secured with ties or ear loops and allow for breathing without restriction. Cloth masks should include multiple layers of fabric and be able to be washed and machine dried without damage or change to shape.

• What’s the proper way to wear a mask? — First, wash your hands before putting it on. Be sure your mouth and nose are covered and hook loops around your ears or tie it snugly. Do not touch it or pull it down while in public and keep it on until you get home. Remove it without touching your eyes, nose or mouth, then wash your hands immediately. Wash it and make sure it’s completely dry before using again. Have a few extra masks on hand so you can rotate them for washing.

For additional guidance on wearing face masks, and other COVID-19 information, visit www.healthvermont.gov/covid19. For information where to buy face masks from Vermont suppliers, or how to make your own, visit vem.vermont.gov/covid19/facecovering.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Scott announces strengthened mask requirements, starting Aug. 1

MONTPELIER —As Vermont continues its sustained efforts to encourage mask use as a tool to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the most vulnerable, Gov. Phil Scott today announced strengthened mask requirements in public places and congregate settings.

Effective Friday, Aug. 1, everyone will be required to wear masks or cloth facial coverings, any time it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least six feet with others from outside their household.

People who are not required to use masks include those exercising outdoors, those under the age of 2, those with a medical or developmental condition that is complicated by a facial covering, and those with difficulty breathing.

Businesses and other entities may require customers to wear masks, and can deny entry or service to those who decline to wear one. They may also post signage explaining their mask requirements.

“Based on national and regional data on how the virus is spreading — and rather than waiting, like other states have — I feel we need to act now to protect our gains,” Scott said Friday.

He added that these requirements will help Vermont stay open into the fall as people spend more time indoors.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said there is mounting evidence that mask-wearing, in combination with the other simple actions Vermonters are taking, will prevent disease and save lives. He cautioned, however, that not everyone is able to wear a mask, many for medical reasons.

“You won’t necessarily be able to tell who is able and who is not — so we must all be understanding and avoid the temptation to judge or shame,” Levine said.

While Scott said the mandate will be difficult to enforce, he asked Vermonters to take personal responsibility to protect the state’s vulnerable populations by wearing masks — not because it’s mandated, but because it is “the right thing to do.”

At least 41 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, now have some type of mask requirement order in place.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Health Dept.: No COVID-19 outbreak in Manchester/Londonderry area

MONTPELIER — Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Tuesday that the Health Department has gathered more data as part of its investigation into positive antigen test results reported last week by the Manchester Medical Center and determined there is not a community outbreak of COVID-19.

Levine said at a news briefing that the Health Department has completed interviews with all 65 people who tested positive through antigen testing at the clinic.

A PCR test, which is recommended to confirm the antigen result, has been conducted for 52 of the individuals, and Levine said that of those 52 people, 48 tested negative. Four people tested positive and are considered confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Levine also reported that 1,613 people were also tested through various sites in the area last week, most in Manchester. That PCR testing only turned up one additional positive result.

Antigen tests are a newer type of test that provide results much more quickly than PCR tests (the most common type of test used to diagnose COVID-19 infection), but they are intended as screening tools for people who have symptoms and need to be confirmed with a more accurate PCR test.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Scott: Vermont remains on track to reopen schools

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott and administration officials say Vermont schools remain on track to reopen for in-person learning this fall.

Vermont’s schools were closed in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and students had to finish the 2019-20 school year with online classes.

At a Friday news briefing, Scott said that current Vermont heath data “continues to support the reopening of schools and we will reassess that at any point.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine emphasized that “we know much more about the virus now than we did in March, can track data in real time, and respond to cases quickly with our contact tracing teams.”

“Vermont’s guidance is clearly and emphatically focused on safety of teachers, students and staff,” he added, while also taking into account the negative impact on children of not reopening schools.

Scott noted that kids need structure, relationships with their peers, their teachers, and other adults for their academic, social, and emotional development. He said that abundant safety precautions and restrictions — developed with public health and infectious disease professionals — will be in place to protect students, teachers and staff, and that all decisions will continue to be guided by the latest public health data and science.

State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso acknowledged that “we are seeing more cases of COVID-19 in children nationwide and in Vermont, but this is not surprising as states have reopened, and more testing has become available.”

Children still make up a minority of cases. Kelso says current state data show that children aged 0-9 make up 3 percent of Vermont cases, while children aged 7-19 make up 7 percent of cases.

“We are in a much different place than we were in March when we closed the schools,” said Kelso, adding that Vermont has a maintained a level of suppression of COVID-19 strong enough to support in-person learning, thanks to the regimen of wearing face masks, maintaining social distancing, and frequent hand washing/sanitizing.

“We know our own data, have studied data from other countries, and now have experience from child care facilities being open in Vermont. Vermont stands with the science… and we continue to do so,” Kelso said.

Dr. William Raszka, Jr., a pediatric infectious specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center, reinforced that sentiment.

Raszka recently co-authored a piece published in the journal Pediatrics, the official peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, that concludes that children infrequently transmit COVID-19 to each other or to adults and that many schools, provided they follow appropriate social distancing guidelines and take into account rates of transmission in their community, can and should reopen in the fall.

“By doing so, we could minimize the potentially profound adverse social, developmental, and health costs that our children will continue to suffer until an effective treatment or vaccine can be developed and distributed, or failing that, until we reach herd immunity,” the piece concludes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Scott extends COVID-19 emergency order through Aug. 15

MONTPELIER — At his media briefing on Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott announced he was extending the state’s COVID-19 emergency order until Aug. 15.

The emergency order, first announced March 13, had already been extended several times. It had been set to expire tomorrow.

Despite Vermont having the lowest percentage of positive test results in the nation, Scott said it is necessary to extend the emergency order for another month, mainly to give his administration the ability to continue control over restarting Vermont’s economy.

Friday, June 26, 2020

State expands ‘trusted travel’ policy to allow quarantine-free travel from additional designated counties

MONTPELIER — As state data and expanded testing and tracing capacity for COVID-19 continue to support reopening, Gov. Phil Scott today announced he will expand the number of states covered under Vermont’s county-by-county quarantine-free travel policy, which allows direct travel from designated counties without a 14-day quarantine requirement.

In early June, Scott, in close consultation with the Vermont Department of Health, opened up travel to and from counties in New England and New York with less than 400 active cases of COVID-19 per one million residents without a quarantine requirement.

Effective July 1, this policy will be expanded to counties below this threshold in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia. Quarantine requirements remain in place for those traveling to and from other regions.

A map of the approved counties is posted on ACCD’s website, accd.vermont.gov, and is updated weekly with the latest county designations. Vermonters planning to travel to other states should understand that each state may have its own quarantine policy and they should be familiar with, and respect, the quarantine policies of those states.

State parks reopened Friday, but they will not be offering cabins, cottages, or indoor space rentals. Playgrounds will be closed, and there will be no rentals of camping and fishing gear.

Also Friday, restaurants, arts, and entertainment venues can increase their capacity to 50 percent, or up to 75 customers or guests inside and 150 people outside.

Scott says if the COVID-19 data remain favorable, all sectors of the Vermont economy could be open to 50 percent in time for the July 4 holiday weekend.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Health Department investigating cluster of COVID-19 cases in Windham County

BRATTLEBORO — The Vermont Department of Health is continuing to investigate and respond to a small cluster of COVID-19 cases in Windham County.

Seven people tested positive for the virus late last week, but Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Wednesday that the cases were confined to one family, and testing and contact tracing has shown that the virus has not spread beyond that family.

Deputy State Epidemiologist Laura Ann Nicolai said in a news release on Tuesday that there does not appear to be additional community spread associated with this situation.

Because COVID-19 spreads easily from person-to-person, these types of investigations are becoming more common especially as more sectors open back up, and more people are getting together with family and friends and others in their communities.

Anyone interested in getting tested at one of the Health Department’s pop-up sites across the state can sign up for an upcoming appointment at humanresources.vermont.gov/popups.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Increased capacities now allowed for Vermont’s restaurants, venues

MONTPELIER — The Scott administration announced Friday that, as of June 26, the state will raise occupancy limits for event venues, arts, culture and entertainment venues, as well as restaurants.

Under new COVID-19 guidelines, the cap for indoor establishments is now 75 people, and 150 people for outdoor operations, or 50 percent of their total approved fire safety occupancy — whichever is less.

Requirements to encourage physical distancing between guests remain in place.

Vermont is also giving the green light for interstate travel to more areas in New England. Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin counties in Massachusetts are off the 14-day quarantine list and all but one county in New Hampshire and two in Maine are under the 400 active cases per million people threshold.

For details on the increased capacity size for event venues and restaurants, visit accd.vermont.gov/news/update-new-work-safe-additions-stay-home-stay-safe-order.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Limited outside visits be allowed at long-term care facilities, nursing homes starting June 19

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott announced today changes to policies that have restricted access by visitors to long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

Starting June 19, up to two visitors per day will be allowed to visit patients. The visits will take place outdoors, and visitors will need to be masked, observe social distancing protocols, and must be screened for the virus before visitation.

Facilities can either adopt the new guidelines, or opt to remain closed to visitation.

Restrictions inside long-term care facilities have not been lifted, however. Indoor group gatherings and dining are still not allowed.

Some changes to hospital visitation guidelines were also announced today. One visitor at a time will be allowed in serious health situations, and two visitors will be permitted for pediatric and end-of-life care.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Scott extends COVID-19 emergency order through July 15

MONTPELIER — At his media briefing on Monday, Gov. Phil Scott announced he was extending the state’s COVID-19 emergency order until July 15. The emergency order, first announced March 13, had already been extended once.

While Scott said last week that he hopes Vermont will get to 100 percent open in the next two to three months, that will depend on the number of new cases of COVID-19 reported throughout the Northeast. He said Monday that there are still 130,000 cases within a five-hour drive of Vermont.

Scott stressed that things are far different than they were in March when the emergency order was first issued. He said that everyone knows more about how to prevent the spread of the virus, and medical facilities are better prepared in case of a second outbreak happens. Increased testing and contact tracing has played a big role in keeping new outbreaks under control, he said.

While the order is still in place, Scott said every sector of the economy has been opened in a limited way and, if the data continues to show improvement, more sectors may be fully opened.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Scott: Limited indoor dining can resume June 8; lodging capacity to increase to 50 percent, some travel restrictions set to be lifted

MONTPELIER — While expressing concern over an cluster of COVID-19 cases in Winooski this week, Gov. Phil Scott announced changes on Friday regarding restrictions for indoor dining and out-of-state tourism.

On Thursday, the Vermont Health Department reported 36 new cases statewide, the highest one-day increase since early April, with the Winooski cluster accounting for 34 of the new cases, about evenly divided between adults and children.

However, Scott said he still believes that it is safe to move forward with plans to allow restaurants to offer indoor dining starting Monday, June 8.

The Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) has issued health and safety requirements and procedures to allow limited indoor dining at restaurants and bars beginning on June 8.

Occupancy is limited to 25 percent of legal capacity with distance requirements between tables. Other measures include reservation or call-ahead seating, disposable menus, no bar seating, and more.

Lodging establishments, including campgrounds, can increase capacity to 50 percent starting June 8.

ACCD has issued health and safety requirements and procedures for restaurants and lodging establishments. To view their specific safety guidelines and protocols for businesses, as well as additional resources, visit accd.vermont.gov.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Scott announces more loosening of social gathering restrictions

MONTPELIER — In the latest relaxation of his administration’s COVID-19 emergency order, Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday that social gathering size limits in Vermont will be expanded from 10 to 25 people.

Existing occupancy limits for operations — including retail, recreation, dining, worship, and event spaces — remain in place.

At his news briefing, Scott also spoke about reopening other sectors of the economy. He said the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) has issued health and safety requirements and procedures for the resumption of close contact businesses such as gyms, fitness centers, nail salons, spas and tattoo parlors, as well as cleaning services and other businesses that require home visits, beginning on June 1.

Additionally, overnight youth summer camp programming can resume in a limited capacity and with strict safety and travel procedures, beginning June 7. Reopening of these businesses is dependent on established occupancy limits and physical distancing requirements, as well as health, sanitation, and training measures.

And the Vermont Department of Health has issued guidance allowing for some additional dental procedures, allowing for aerosol-generating procedures in compliance with CDC and Health Department safety standards and precautions.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Friday that the state will soon be able to meet CDC requirements to move into Phase 3, the final health standard states should meet before reopening most businesses.

Hair stylists and barbers resumed operations on Friday, but with restrictions. Customers will also have to book appointments, as walk-ins business is not allowed. Social distancing requirements will be in place, as well as limits on the number of people who can be inside a business at once. Barbers and stylists must keep track of the customers they see, so that contact tracing is possible in the event of an outbreak of illness.

To view the ACCD’s specific safety guidelines and protocols for businesses, as well as additional resources, visit accd.vermont.gov.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Selectboard tweaks emergency mask order

BRATTLEBORO — At its May 26 meeting, the Brattleboro Selectboard reaffirmed and slightly modified its Emergency Order requiring that face coverings be worn by all employees, customers, and visitors in any store, office, or other indoor setting where business is conducted.

The modification clarified that children under 5 “are not required” to wear face coverings. The original order stated that masks “should not be placed on” children under 5. The remainder of the order is unchanged and it continues to apply equally to businesses, non-profit organizations, and governmental facilities anywhere in Brattleboro.

According to a news release, the Selectboard made this decision after lengthy discussions on May 19 and May 26 that included substantial public input on the GoToMeeting platform where Selectboard meetings are currently being held without any specific physical location due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The order will remain in effect until the Selectboard amends, rescinds, or suspends this order, or until the Governor declares an end to the COVID-19 State of Emergency in Vermont, whichever occurs first.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Hospitals, dental offices get OK to reopen for one-on-one care

MONTPELIER — Vermont health officials gave the go-ahead Friday for in-patient surgeries and procedures at hospitals to resume, as well as dental practices and many other in-person medical services.

At a news briefing, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that many health care services can again offer one-on-one care under new COVID-19 safety guidelines. This also includes outpatient services, alcohol and drug counselors, dieticians, psychologists, social workers, chiropractors, and diagnostic imaging.

Levine said dental services can resume, but under stricter rules since there are greater risks for spreading COVID-19. Chiropractic work, massage therapy, and acupuncture services will remain closed for now.

As for non-medical services, Gov. Phil Scott said that salons and barber shops can reopen May 29, as long as safety measures are in place to protect workers and customers.

Churches will be allowed to reopen, but will be limited to 25 percent of capacity. Gyms and spas will still have to wait a while longer reopen. Scott said he expects to announce a reopening schedule for those businesses by the end of next week.

Scott said his goal is to have most of Vermont’s businesses open to at least 25 percent capacity by June 1. He is confident that goal can be met as data gathered by the Health Department shows that Vermont’s number of new infections is among the lowest in the nation.

However, Scott says the state will still be cautious when it comes to allowing larger gatherings. He announced the cancellation of all summer fairs and large festivals this season.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Restaurants in Vermont can offer outdoor dining, with restrictions, starting Friday

MONTPELIER — Restaurants in Vermont can open for outdoor dining starting Friday, but they will need to follow guidelines aimed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Under the latest guidance issued by the Scott administration Wednesday, customers must make reservations or call ahead before going out to eat. Takeout-style service is recommended, while table service is discouraged.

Tables will need to be at least 10 feet apart and, at each individual table, the number of people is capped at 10. Diners at each table can only be from two different households. The total number of customers a restaurant can serve at one time will be limited to 50, or the restaurant’s maximum licensed capacity — whichever is less.

Restaurants will need to provide customers with disposable menus and are encouraged to provide single-use condiment packets. Cashless and touch-less transactions are also encouraged. They will also need to keep a log of all customers and their contact information for 30 days, in case the state needs to trace the contacts of someone exposed to the virus.

Restaurants were ordered to close their dining rooms on March 16, and have been limited to takeout service since that date.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Selectboard passes emergency order requiring face coverings in stores, offices

BRATTLEBORO — The Brattleboro Selectboard issued an emergency order at its meeting Tuesday night requiring that face coverings be worn by all employees, customers, and visitors in any store, office, or other indoor setting where business is conducted.

This requirement is effective immediately and applies equally to businesses, nonprofit organizations, and governmental facilities anywhere in Brattleboro.

The Selectboard made this decision after a lengthy discussion that included substantial public input on the GoToMeeting platform, where Selectboard meetings are currently being held without any specific physical location, due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Scott announces $400 million economic relief package

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott and Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle on Wednesday announced a $400 million economic relief and recovery package for small businesses around Vermont that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The money will come from the $1.25 billion of economic aid from the federal government that the state recently received.

Legislative leaders have worked with Scott to come up with a plan to use the federal money to help Vermont’s employers and small businesses. The money will come in two phases, starting with $310 million for immediate emergency relief to the most affected sectors and businesses. It will be followed by $90 million in long-term recovery investments.

Also announced were additional changes to the state’s emergency order that allow low-contact workers — such as attorneys, accountants, and real estate agents — to be able to open their offices to the public on a limited basis. Previously, they had been allowed only one-on-one contact.

Nonprofits and municipal offices may also open under the new rules, which also call for physical distancing and the wearing of face masks.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Scott extends emergency order through June 15, but loosens some of its restrictions

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said Friday that he is extending Vermont’s state of emergency order through June 15.

The order, which was first issued on March 13, was to have expired May 15. Scott said while the trends are promising in terms of the low rate of new COVID-19 cases, the need for the emergency order still remains.

Scott outlined four metrics his administration is monitoring as it continues restarting Vermont’s economy. They are:

• Syndromic surveillance: The percentage of visits to emergency care with either COVID-19-like illness or flu diagnosis.

• Viral growth and reproductive rates: Case growth measured by daily, 3-day, 7-day, and effective reproductive rate.

• Percentage of new positive tests: Percent of tests resulting in a new positive case.

• ICU and critical care beds: Number of occupied and unoccupied medical surgical and ICU beds.

While tracking those metrics, the Scott administration is slowly easing up on some of the emergency order’s restrictions, starting with a plan for a gradual reopening of Vermont’s hotels and motels, starting May 22. This also includes short-term rentals, campgrounds, and marinas.

Under the new rules, lodging facilities would be allowed to take in Vermonters, as well as out-of-state guests who can prove they have met the 14-day quarantine requirement for non-residents visiting Vermont. Short term rentals, cottages, and camps are exempt from that guideline. Reservations at Vermont State Parks remain canceled through June 25.

Hotels can only be at 20 percent capacity. Other restrictions include limit contact with guests, with food service only available for take out or delivery. Lodging establishments will also have t0 keep a 30-day log of guests so the state can perform contact tracing if needed.

To view the full guidelines, visit the Agency of Commerce and Community Development’s website at accd.vermont.gov.

The state’s hospitality industry has been virtually shut down since mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only essential personnel, such as out-of-state medical workers, have been allowed to stay in Vermont’s hotels. Other lodging has been used as emergency short-term housing for people experiencing homelessness.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Scott: Retailers can open on a limited basis on May 18

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said Monday that Vermont retailers will be able to reopen on May 18 as long as they follow strict new guidelines.

At a news conference, Scott said the precise details are still being worked out, but retailers that do reopen will need to limit the number of customers in their stores — no more than 25 percent of the maximum legal capacity — and require mask wearing and social-distancing.

Vermont now has the third lowest rate of COVID-19 case growth in the country, but Scott says it is critical that residents remain cautious, saying that within a 350-mile radius of Vermont, there have been 45,000 deaths due to the virus.

Scott said the state is increasing its testing for coronavirus, with a goal of testing up to 1,000 people a day.

The current emergency and stay-at-home orders are set to expire on May 15. Research shows Vermonters are still following those guidelines and Scott said on May 8 that if that trend continues, he expects to announce more openings later this week.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Scott: Day care centers can reopen June 1; data indicates continued decline in new COVID-19 cases

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday that all child care facilities will be able to reopen by June 1, if they choose to do so, and that staff can go back to work by May 18 to prepare to meet more stringent health protocols.

Further guidance is expected next week, but Scott said that up $6 million in re-start grants will be available to child care centers to make the programs safer for children and staff.

That decision came in the wake of continued good news on the COVID-19 front.

Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation and a member of the COVID-19 team, said Friday that Vermont is among a handful of states that is seeing projections of a doubling of COVID cases in months as opposed to weeks.

According to the latest data, Pieciak said the rate of doubling in Vermont now stands at about three months. That compares just two weeks in New Hampshire, where the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise at a rapid pace.

Scott also announced Friday that summer day camps will be allowed open if they abide by health guidelines that include physical distancing, the wearing of face masks, and stricter hygiene procedures.

Overnight camps may also be allowed, but the final guidelines from state health officials for summer and overnight camps are still in progress and are expected in the coming weeks.

Schools will still remain closed for the remainder of the current school year, and education officials say they plan to stick with plans to continue remote learning until the end of the academic year.

Vermont education officials say traditional high school graduations will not be allowed because of potential crowd sizes. Current health guidelines call for gatherings must be smaller than 10 people, so graduations will like have to be done virtually.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Scott: Small groups will be allowed to gather, with precautions; additional outdoor activities allowed

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott today announced at his tri-weekly COVID-19 briefing some modifications to his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” emergency orders.

Starting today, small social gatherings of friends and families up to 10 people will be allowed, as long as physical distancing and hygiene precautions are maintained. The elderly and medically vulnerable are advised to continue to self-isolate.

Also starting today, 0utdoor recreation and fitness activities — such as hiking, biking, golfing, or tennis — will be allowed all over Vermont, as long as physical distancing is observed.

Vermonters were also asked to explore some of the lesser-frequented state parks and trails as to not overwhelm the more popular sites, as well as visiting during non-peak hours.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Scott: Some elective health care procedures may resume in Vermont

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott today announced limited elective procedures would resume, which had previously been put on hold as Vermont’s health care system focused on preparing for, and responding to, COVID-19.

Scott’s decision comes as the state’s modeling continues to show spread of COVID-19 has slowed — thanks to Vermonters’ physical distancing efforts — and the state’s ability to track and trace outbreaks of COVID-19 has become more robust.

Health care providers who recommence these procedures have been provided guidance and must meet specific mitigation criteria to protect patients and clinicians from possible infection.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Scott further loosens restrictions on manufacturing, construction work

MONTPELIER — Manufacturing, distribution, and construction companies in Vermont will be able resume full operations by May 11, but under stringent new health and safety restrictions to keep the spread of the COVID-19 virus under control.

In a news conference on Friday, Gov. Phil Scott announced that those three business sectors will be able to increase the number of people allowed to work together from five to 10, starting on May 4.

The goal, Scott said, is that by May 11, “manufacturing, construction, and distribution operations may restart with as few employees as necessary to permit full operations while continuing to maintain health and safety.”

In an addendum to his original “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, businesses that do reopen will be required to have employees complete a COVID-19 safety training program developed by the Vermont Occupational and Safety Adminstration (VOSHA).

The state Agency of Commerce and Community Development has also been working with industry leaders and the Vermont Department of Health to establish workplace safety measures, which include curbs on employee gatherings, a requirement to wear face masks, and regular body temperature checks.

On March 24, Scott ordered non-essential businesses, including many in manufacturing, to suspend their operations to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Over the last two weeks, the governor loosened some of those restrictions, including allowing two people to return to work at the offices of low-contact professional services, such as real estate, municipal offices, and attorneys.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

State seeks to increase testing for COVID-19 virus

MONTPELIER — At a news conference on Wednesday, Gov. Phil Scott, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine and State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso detailed a phased-in approach to have the state conduct up to 7,500 tests per week — more than triple the current number.

The increase will take place in stages over the next month, each expanding on the targeted populations to be tested. Scott also announced the establishment of the Vermont Enhanced Testing and Tracing Task Force to help monitor new developments and recommend new strategies.

The Health Department says it will enhance its contact tracing efforts using SARA Alert technology, a text-based illness monitoring system that will allow us to keep in touch with contacts and help them manage symptoms. The state plans to handle 300-900 cases and contacts per week under the new strategy.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Scott further loosens restrictions on selected businesses as COVID-19 outlook improves

MONTPELIER — As the rate of new cases of COVID-19 in Vermont continues to slow, Gov. Phil Scott on Friday gave the green light to further loosen regulations on certain businesses.

Calling it a “a very measured and moderate approach,” Scott said at a news conference that construction, manufacturing and some other outdoor employers can now deploy crews of up to five people for outdoor work or work in unoccupied structures as long as they follow social distancing guidelines, such as remaining 6 feet apart.

Scott said that manufacturing and distribution operations will be allowed to open with a maximum of five employees, as long as there is sufficient space for social distancing, and that businesses doing curbside pickup or delivery must continue operating with as few employees as possible.

Outdoor retail facilities, such as garden centers and greenhouses, can allow customers into those spaces, but with no more than 10 people in the facility, including staff and customers.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

HCRS opens free phone support line

SPRINGFIELD — Health Care and Rehabilitation Services (HCRS), southeastern Vermont’s community mental-health agency, has opened up a phone support Warm Line (800-917-1622) for the community.

The expansion of the nonprofit agency’s Warm Line to the community is in response to the increased need for support to manage the stress and anxiety associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The warm line is staffed with trained professionals offering support seven days per week from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. The phone support line is anonymous and open to anyone in Windsor and Windham counties.

HCRS is also working with some rural communities to host online workshops about managing stress and anxiety as well as understanding suicide signs and risk. These one-hour online workshops are designed to be informative and interactive. Stay tuned to the agency’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/HCRSVermont) for more details on these upcoming workshops.

The agency continues to accept new clients seeking to receive mental health, substance use, or developmental disability services. Although many services are currently provided remotely, the use of telehealth is very effective. In addition, critical outreach staff have been identified and are available to provide face-to-face support when necessary.

Community members who want to sign up for services can contact HCRS on the following toll-free lines: Brattleboro area (855-220-9428), Springfield area (855-220-9429), and Brattleboro area (855-220-9430). There are currently minimal wait times to access services and supports. Additional information regarding services can be found at www.hcrs.org.

HCRS’ 24-hour crisis hotline (800-622-4235) for mental health emergencies, continues to support members of the community. Anyone who lives in Windsor or Windham counties may call this toll-free hotline if they or someone they know is experiencing thoughts of intent to harm, either themselves or others.

‘Southeastern Vermont COVID-19 Resources for Individuals’ guide now available

BRATTLEBORO — A new COVID-19 resource guide, aimed at individuals living in southeastern Vermont, is now available. This resource list is a compilation of currently known programs and activities relevant to people living in southeastern Vermont.

The resource can be found on the Windham Regional Commission’s website by visiting www.windhamregional.org. If you are in immediate need of assistance, call Vermont’s resource line by dialing 2-1-1 about help and resources.

The initial resource guide for the Windham Region was compiled by Groundworks Collaborative, United Way of Windham County, the town of Brattleboro Sustainability Coordinator, and the Windham Regional Commission. This resource guide is meant to be a living document that will be updated on a regular basis.

With the changing nature of this pandemic, individual needs, and community response to it, you can help keep it current and up to date. Updates and suggestions are welcome through an electronic form on the guide webpage. For more information, contact Margo Ghia at mghia@windhamregional.org or Chris Campany at ccampany@windhamregional.org.

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England launches new telehealth service

COLCHESTER — In recognition that people’s reproductive and sexual health care can’t wait, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE) announced the launch of a new telehealth program in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

It allows patients to access high-quality, affordable health care services by phone or through a private and secure video conferencing platform that connects them with PPNNE’s trusted health care providers.

Through telehealth, patients can access services with fewer visits or without needing to visit a health center at all, allowing providers to answer patient questions, manage prescriptions, and help patients address their sexual and reproductive health care needs remotely.

In addition, PPNNE is still offering in-person visits when necessary as 12 health centers around Vermont, including at its office in Brattleboro. For more information about connecting to PPNNE through telehealth, visit www.ppnne.org or call 866-476-1321.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Statewide death toll stands at 38, 62 cases now reported in Windham County

BURLINGTON — The Vermont Department of Health reported Sunday that there are now 812 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont, including 62 people in Windham County.

Thirty-eight people have died so far in Vermont, according to the Health Department, but last week ended with the slowest rate of increase of new positive cases since the pandemic began in mid-March.

As of Sunday morning, the Health Department says 12,726 Vermonters tested negative for COVID-19. There are 25 Vermonters being monitored, and 808 Vermonters who have completed monitoring. There are 27 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and 26 patients hospitalized who are under investigation for the virus.

At a news conference on Friday in Montpelier, State financial regulation commissioner Michael Pieciak, who has been leading Vermont’s modeling of the COVID-19 outbreak, said that the rate in which cases have have been doubling in Vermont has slowed enough to indicate that “it is safe to assume we have reached our peak.”

Friday, April 17, 2020

Scott announces first steps toward reopening businesses in Vermont

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday the first tentative steps that his administration is taking to re-open Vermont’s economy.

At a news conference, Scott said that starting this Monday, April 20, two people would be allowed to return to work at the offices of low-contact professional services, such as real estate agents and appraisers, municipal clerks, and attorneys.

Property management and construction firms could also begin operating with two-person crews.

Workers in these settings will have to continue remaining six feet from anyone, wash their hands regularly, and wear face masks in public.

Garden and construction supply stores would be allowed to reopen next week, but with phone and online ordering only, curbside pickup, and minimum staffing.

And farmers’ markets would be allowed to reopen starting May 1, following guidelines currently being developed by the Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets.

However, Scott said most Vermonters should “expect telecommuting and remote work to stay in place for the foreseeable future, because we still need to reduce contact to contain the spread of this virus.”

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Statewide death toll rises to 35, no new cases reported in Windham County

BURLINGTON — The Vermont Department of Health reported Thursday that there are now 768 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont, including 58 people in Windham County.

Thirty people have died so far in Vermont, according to the Health Department, but the rate of new positive cases cases continues to slow. The nine new cases reported Thursday represents the third straight day of single-digit increases.

As of Thursday morning, the Health Department says 11,507 Vermonters tested negative for COVID-19. There are 30 Vermonters being monitored, and 803 Vermonters who have completed monitoring. There are 33 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and 25 patients hospitalized who are under investigation for the virus.

At a Wednesday morning news conference in Montpelier, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Vermont may be seeing a trend toward cases beginning to plateau. Levine said the percentage of people testing positive for the virus in Vermont is under 5 percent, and there are signs that the new infection curve is flattening.

Corrections Department creates online support portal for inmate families, friends

WATERBURY — The Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) has established a new online portal specifically for family and friends of inmates. This portal will allow loved ones to contact the Department with questions and quickly receive responses.

According to a news release, family and friends of inmates in Vermont’s six facilities, and those housed out of state, are invited to submit questions to the Department by visiting the Family and Friends page on DOC’s website, doc.vermont.gov/information-inmate-families-and-friends, and submitting the online form. A DOC representative will review the form and contact each person individually within one business day of receiving their message.

DOC encourages people who have a loved one in a correctional facility to use this new portal to access information. The portal will directly link loved ones with the team dedicated to assisting family and friends, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and afterwards.

The department is also making regular updates to the website’s “Frequently Asked Questions” page. The FAQ ensures information can be quickly shared with the greater community. Along with answers to common questions, the FAQ page includes up-to-date policies and procedures at Vermont’s six facilities.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Statewide death toll rises to 29, but number of new cases falls to lowest level since March 17

BURLINGTON — The Vermont Department of Health reported Tuesday that there are now 752 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont, including 57 people in Windham County.

Twenty-nine people have died so far in Vermont, according to the Health Department, but the rate of new positive cases cases continues to slow. The four new cases reported Tuesday represents the smallest increase since March 17.

As of Tuesday morning, the Health Department says 10,585 Vermonters tested negative for COVID-19. There are 35 Vermonters being monitored, and 796 Vermonters who have completed monitoring. There are 31 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and 33 patients hospitalized who are under investigation for the virus.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said at a news conference in Montpelier on Monday said that the 21 cases were found out of 500 new tests, showing that the number of new cases is “leveling off” among the general population. However, he said the cases are still increasing among vulnerable populations, including nursing homes and correctional facilities.

Also Monday, the Health Department announced that health professionals can quickly become temporarily licensed to provide care during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The new emergency measures grant a temporary license for health professionals who are licensed and in good standing in other states or were licensed in Vermont, but whose licenses lapsed in recent years.

To apply for a license or get more information about the process, contact either the Board of Medical Practice (healthvermont.gov/systems/medical-practice-board, 802-657-4223) or the Office of Professional Regulation (sos.vermont.gov/opr, 802-828-1505).

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Statewide COVID-19 death toll rises to 27

BURLINGTON — The Vermont Department of Health reported Sunday that there are now 727 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont, including 54 people in Windham County.

Twenty-seven people have died so far in Vermont, according to the Health Department, but the rate of new positive cases cases continues to slow, with the 17 new cases begin the smallest number reported since March 21.

At a news conference on Friday in Montpelier, State financial regulation commissioner Michael Pieciak, who has been leading Vermont’s modeling of the COVID-19 outbreak, said that the rate in which cases have have been doubling in Vermont has slowed enough to indicate that the ongoing pandemic may have less of an impact than first thought.

While Pieciak said that the state’s hospitals will have sufficient resources to deal with the steady increase in cases expected over the next two weeks, Pieciak warned that the state has “a limited margin for error.”

He added that Gov. Phil Scott’s decision to extend his state of emergency orders until May 15 is “absolutely necessary” to keep the state on track for the best-case scenario of fewer infections and fewer deaths than first feared.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Scott extends State of Emergency, closures until May 15

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott today extended Vermont’s State of Emergency through May 15, which also extends the expiration date of all corresponding orders and directives issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The original State of Emergency, issued on March 13, was set to expire on April 15, as were the subsequent mitigation measures. As a result of this extension, all measures, including the Governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, are now in effect until midnight on May 15.

Schools will remain dismissed for in-person instruction through the end of the school year.

The Scott administration developed and continues to update state-specific modeling to project COVID-19 case growth and track capacity of the healthcare system and availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and life-saving equipment like ventilators.

This data, along with guidance from public health experts at the Vermont Department of Health, has informed the mitigation measures put in place throughout this crisis.

Modeling shows that the mitigation measures have slowed the expected spread of this contagious disease, but that the state has not yet hit its peak number of cases. Accordingly, Scott, in consultation with Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, has extended the State of Emergency and all associated social distancing measures. For more information, visit governor.vermont.gov/covid19response.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Health officials caution against using non-approved drugs for COVID-19 treatment

BURLINGTON — As reports appear in the news of certain drugs being potentially used for treatment or prevention of COVID-19, the Vermont Department of Health strongly urges caution.

At this time, the U.S. Drug Administration has not approved any drugs specifically for the treatment of patients with COVID-19.

Though the anti-malarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, among others, have been widely discussed as potential treatments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there are no data currently available from randomized clinical trials that would inform how these drugs could be used to treat COVID-19.

In fact, there are significant potential risks to taking such drugs, including death.Health officials remind Vermonters that most people who get COVID-19 can manage their symptoms at home with rest, drinking fluids and taking fever-reducing medication. Talk to your health care provider before taking any substance alleged to prevent or treat COVID-19.

Providers should only prescribe these drugs for individuals with diagnosed conditions, and not for prevention, to help maintain the supply for Vermonters who need them.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Retreat Farm continues food distribution program

BRATTLEBORO — Retreat Farm is distributing bags of food to families in need. They are working with local nonprofits and government agencies dedicated to helping people in need to streamline information and provide a bag of groceries as a stop-gap measure. Call the farm at 802-490-2270 if you are in immediate need.

According to a news release, Retreat Farm is working with the Vermont Food Bank, Foodworks, and others to distribute food, and looking for funding to support this effort. Go to www.retreatfarm.org/donate for more information.

They have also assembled a list of local organizations offering food, financial assistance, and more at www.retreatfarm.org/community-aid.

Women’s Freedom Center continues daily virtual support group

BRATTLEBORO — The Womens Freedom Center is expanding its support group for domestic violence survivors during the COVID-19 crisis. For the month of April (and beyond if necessary), they will host a daily virtual support group, Monday through Friday, from noon to 1 p.m.

This group is free, confidential, and entirely by drop in — you can attend as often as you’d like. The group is open to all self-identified women who have experienced domestic violence. For more information, call 802-254-6954.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

State adds additional medical capacity; BMH included in ‘surge’ plan

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has announced new steps in the state’s plan to prepare for a surge in COVID-19 cases, and in turn, the need for additional hospital and medical capacity.

Scott said in an April 2 news release that the state has coordinated with communities and hospitals statewide, and with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, to increase capacity in the event of a sharp increase of COVID-19 patients who require medical care.

In partnership with the Vermont National Guard, the state is creating two additional high capacity care sites for surge: one in Essex Junction at the Champlain Valley Exposition, which will provide 400 beds staffed primarily by Guard personnel; and another in Rutland County, supported by the Rutland Regional Medical Center, which will provide 150 beds.

These high-capacity surge sites are in addition to regionally deployed sites at the Collins-Perley Sports and Fitness Center in St. Albans, Barre Civic Center in Barre, and at the University of Vermont, which will create available bed space as this response unfolds.

These sites will be operated in close coordination with health care providers and will only be used if hospitals exceed their capacity.

Additional rapid reaction medical surge trailers containing material for 50 additional beds have been prepositioned across Vermont, including at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, and Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor. More assets, including two state portable hospitals, will be staged if needed.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Scott asks Vermonters to offer aid in COVID-19 response

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott is calling all Vermonters into service with the launch of a new website allowing people to sign up for volunteer assistance to support the state’s response to COVID-19: vermont.gov/volunteer.

This website directs those with medical and healthcare skills to the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), and those with other needed skills to a quick registration process to sign up to help.

Those with medical experience or other health care background and the ability to volunteer are needed to bolster the ranks of Vermont’s current health care workforce.

The state’s volunteer website directs these individuals to Vermont’s MRC units, community-based groups of volunteers who can supplement local emergency, health care provider staff and public health resources.

The Vermont Medical Reserve Corps is seeking these qualified and experienced volunteers, such as licensed and certified health care professionals; people with mental health, or other types of clinical or professional experience; health care administrative experience, such as with medical data entry or language translators; and people who have worked with displaced individuals, such as homeless shelter programs.

State officials emphasize this effort is about drawing more skilled personnel, such as retirees or those not currently employed in the healthcare field, into the response and not about redirecting existing healthcare workers.

Vermont has eased licensing requirements for the purposes of aiding this emergency response. Individuals who are licensed in other states or who were previously licensed should visit the Health Department website and review the guide on emergency licensure.

Other individuals who do not have medical or healthcare backgrounds but are willing to volunteer their time in Vermont’s response effort can register through the state’s volunteer web portal and indicate their expertise and availability.

In addition to volunteering, Vermonters can also give back in the following ways:

• Donate PPE: Donations of N95 masks, medical and industrial grade or surgical masks can be brought to your nearest State Police Barracks. You can find the location nearest to you at vsp.vermont.gov/stations.

• Give blood: Visit the American Red Cross to learn how to safely donate blood: www.redcross.org/local/new-hampshire-vermont.html.

• Support your local food bank: Donate online at vtfoodbank.org or you can text GIVEHEALTH to 85511. If you’re in need of help, visit vtfoodbank.org/gethelp.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Scott orders additional restrictions for travelers arriving in Vermont

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has ordered additional restrictions on travelers arriving in Vermont and announced additional guidance for the lodging industry to enhance compliance with his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order.

At a news conference on Monday, Scott said he is taking additional action to encourage compliance with newly-released CDC guidance around interstate travel from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, which advised residents of those states to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days.

This new order directs residents and non-residents coming from outside the state for anything other than an essential purpose to home-quarantine for 14 days and strongly discourages travel to Vermont by those located in COVID-19 “hot spots.”

The measures under the order, effective March 25, were implemented in consultation with the Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health to minimize all unnecessary activities outside the home until at least April 15 to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect the public.

Scott’s order also provides additional guidance to lodging providers to ensure compliance with the Stay Home, Stay Safe order, which suspended lodging operations.

The order makes clear that lodging facilities — which includes hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, inns, short term rentals (e.g. VRBO, Homeaway, Airbnb, etc.), and all public and private camping facilities and RV parks — are to be closed except for stated exemptions when supporting the state’s COVID-19 response. Additionally, the Governor has suspended online lodging reservations.

Under this order, the Vermont State Police and local law enforcement will monitor lodging providers for compliance and work with the Attorney General’s Office on additional compliance measures if needed.

Vermont State Police and other law-enforcement agencies throughout Vermont visited hotels and motels over the weekend to assess compliance with Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order, which required commercial lodging establishments to immediately begin to cease operations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Scott dismisses schools for in-person instruction for remainder of 2019-20 school year

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has directed schools to remain dismissed through the end of the 2019-20 school year. Districts will close schools for in-person instruction and be required to implement continuity of learning plans for remote learning.

This extends Scott’s previous directive dismissing PreK-12 schools from March 18 to April 6.

According to a March 26 news release, this decision was made in consultation with the Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Education in the continued effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. To minimize disruption to students’ learning, the Governor’s order directs school districts to come up with plans for distance learning by April 13.

Scott said the Agency of Education will shortly provide technical guidance to districts on how to implement continuity of learning plans, specifically looking to address challenges around equitable access to learning opportunities, Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for students with disabilities, continuation of school meals, and school attendance and school calendar requirements.

The Department for Children and Families will also provide updated reimbursement provisions for providers who are not currently offering services and for providers who are delivering child care through this health crisis.

The full directive can be found here: governor.vermont.gov/content/directive-5-continuity-learning-planning-pursuant-eo-01-20.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Brattleboro town offices settle into off-site operations

BRATTLEBORO — After the first day of compliance with Gov. Phil Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, Town Manager Peter Elwell wrote in his daily COVID-19 response briefing on Thursday that while many town employees “are not in our usual places interacting with the public in the usual manner, we are here for you during these extraordinary times.”

Elwell wrote that the town “made arrangements for many administrative employees to conduct most or all of their usual activities from their homes. Some will continue to come to the office occasionally to complete tasks that can only be completed there. Importantly, all email communications and most telephone communications are functioning exactly as they do during normal office operations.”

Also, Elwell wrote that field crews “will be performing limited ongoing field work to ensure that health and safety concerns are promptly addressed, and all field employees will be on call every day for addressing urgent maintenance issues (like a water main break, a snowstorm, etc.). If there is anything you need from your town government, please contact us.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Scott issues ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ order; directs additional closures

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has issued a “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order and directed the closure of in-person operations for all non-essential businesses.

The Stay Home, Stay Safe order starts on today at 5 p.m., and will be in effect until April 15, although it may be extended or shortened as needed.

Scott’s order directs Vermonters to stay at home, leaving only for essential reasons, critical to health and safety, such as grocery shopping, seeking medical care, or exercising outside. If leaving the home, Vermonters should adhere to social distancing policies, including remaining 6 feet from others (except for those with whom they share a home), regularly washing their hands, and avoiding touching their faces.

All businesses and nonprofits not expressly exempted in the order must suspend all in-person business operations. Operations that can be conducted online or by phone, or sales that can be facilitated with curbside pickup or delivery only, may continue. The order contains exemptions for businesses and entities that provide services or functions deemed critical to public health and safety, along with economic and national security.

This includes — but is not limited to — health care operations; retail that serves essential human needs, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and hardware stores; fuel products and supply; maintenance of critical infrastructure; news media; financial institutions; and transportation and critical manufacturing sectors. Travel to and from these exempt businesses and entities is permitted. For a full list, go to governor.vermont.gov/content/addendum-6-executive-order-01-20.

Leaving the home for exercise and outdoor activity is allowed, provided that people are adhering to appropriate social distancing.

According to a news release from the Department of Public Safety (DPS), if police officers observe or are made aware of people operating in violation the order, law enforcement “is encouraged to speak with the proprietor, staff, or group, provide a reminder of the new requirements, and assess voluntary compliance. Civil or regulatory mechanisms, specifically informing and educating those encountered in violation of the order about the mechanisms that may apply, could prove helpful. Again, officials expect the vast majority of compliance to be self-regulating.”

DPS said the executive order “does not close roads, nor does it establish roadblocks, checkpoints or the authority to demand identification. Motor-vehicle and pedestrian traffic will continue as Vermonters engage in permissible activities outdoors and travel to and from businesses and entities that are continuing to operate under the order. Accordingly, the order does not establish cause to initiate a motor vehicle stop or detain people for questioning about their travel.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Area schools providing free lunch to all children

BRATTLEBORO — School nutrition programs in Windham and Windsor counties responded quickly to the state-mandated closure of all schools.

According to the nonprofit Food Connects, districts in both counties have created an alternate delivery model for school meals, utilizing a combination of school- and community-based distribution sites and bus delivery routes.

The following districts are providing free breakfast and lunch to all children ages 18 or under in their community, regardless of enrollment or free and reduced meals status: Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, Windham Southwest Supervisory Union, West River Education District, Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, and the Springfield School District.

No paperwork or identification is necessary and children do not need to be present to receive their meals. Districts request that participating families provide the number of children to ensure enough meals are prepared.

The Hunger Council of the Windham Region is coordinating a community response to the COVID-19 outbreak in partnership with the Vermont Foodbank and area food shelves. The Hunger Council encourages community members interested in volunteering and organizations with developing needs to utilize United Way’s Get Connected platform at unitedwaywindham.galaxydigital.com.

Those looking for additional information or resources should call 2-1-1. For more information on the work that the Hunger Council of the Windham Region is doing, contact Margaret Atkinson at margaret@winstonprouty.org.

Urgent need for masks, face coverings for first responders, medical professionals

BRATTLEBORO — If you sew or can source materials for those who sew, join thousands of volunteers across the country and create masks for health care providers, patients, and caregivers.

You can follow this basic pattern here at www.deaconess.com/How-to-make-a-Face-Mask or use this beginner tutorial created by local Brattleboro business owner Alix Joyal at www.youtube.com/watch?v=PT3TX572x2s&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2IogSiQ8-0-gMvIiZcj1EHU8jRE0nB5w80DzvVWMXdKJdpq3pU5na4P84.

If you would like help or support while creating, consider joining an ongoing Facebook group such as Mask Drive: Help Our First Responders. If you have masks ready in the meantime, contact Joanna Phillips at joannawilsonphillips@gmail.com and they will be put to immediate use.

Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is accepting masks until 4 p.m. each day, beginning today. They can be left at 55 Belmont Ave. (the first house on the right — white with green shutters). There will be a box/bin on the front porch where you can drop your donation off.

BMH does request, however, that you do not leave masks if you are suspected of having coronavirus, or been in contact with anyone who may have been exposed within the past 14 days. For more details, go to www.bmhvt.org/coronavirus.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Scott orders businesses, nonprofits to implement work-from-home procedures

MONTPELIER — In consultation with the Department of Health, Gov. Phil Scott has directed all businesses and not-for-profit entities — to the maximum extent possible — to put into place telecommuting or work-from-home procedures, no later than 8 p.m. on March 23.

This order follows further reductions to the allowable size of non-essential mass gatherings to no more than 10 people and the closure of all close-contact businesses, both announced Saturday, March 21.

At this time, any entities not required to close under a previous order, or unable to implement work-from-home procedures, must implement — and publicly post — CDC and the Vermont Department of Health guidance related to COVID-19.

This includes maintaining a distance of 6 feet between people, insuring employees practice appropriate hygiene measures, including regular, thorough handwashing, insuring that employees who are sick remain home; and regularly cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Dept. of Public Service issues Wi-Fi Hot Spot Map to help Vermonters access internet

MONTPELIER —The Vermont Department of Public Service (DPS) has released an interactive Public Wi-Fi Hot Spot Map to help Vermonters connect to publicly available internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The map includes the location of the Wi-Fi hot spots and pertinent information about how to access them, including places where users can access Wi-Fi from outside the building or in a parked vehicle to encourage social distancing.

DPS received assistance from libraries, schools and municipal governments in creating the map, as well as support from the Agency of Digital Services, the Department of Libraries, the Agency of Commerce & Community Development, the Agency of Education, the Vermont Center for Geographic Information and the Department of Health.

The map, which will be updated as new information becomes available, can be found at publicservice.vermont.gov/announcements/public-wifi-hotspots-vermont. Additional connectivity resources can be found at publicservice.vermont.gov/content/new-connectivity-resources-support-you-during-covid-19-state-emergency-vermont.

Vermonters are encouraged to send information about Wi-Fi hot spots to psd.telecom@vermont.gov.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans available to Vermont small businesses affected by COVID-19

MONTPELIER — Vermont small business owners suffering economic injury due the COVID-19 pandemic can apply for Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loans, following a statewide disaster declaration.

SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) offer up to $2 million in assistance per business, providing economic support to overcome temporary loss of revenue.

EIDLs may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. The interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses and 2.75 percent for private nonprofit organizations, which are also eligible for EIDLs.

For small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and most private nonprofit organizations, the SBA offers EIDLs to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster. EIDL assistance is available regardless of whether the business suffered any physical property damage.

SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years. Terms are determined on a case-by-case basis, based upon each borrower’s ability to repay. Small businesses with credit available elsewhere may not be eligible.

To apply online, visit disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Documents that may be requested when applying include recent federal tax return, profit-and-loss statement and balance sheet. For more information, call the SBA disaster assistance customer service center at 800-659-2955 (TTY: 800-877-8339) or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Groundworks continues shelter assistance

BRATTLEBORO — Rhianna Kendrick of Groundworks Collaborative has offered this information regarding emergency housing proceedures during the COVID-19 pandemic:

• Economic Services (ESD) has extended the Adverse Weather Condition motel rooms for seven days starting March 22, and will assess this next week again.

• There are no longer any periods of ineligibility.

• They are no longer referring clients to emergency shelter first before placing them in a motel through General Assistance (GA). ESD staff are working on issues around GA motel capacity.

• The state is actively working on strategies to consider where current GA clients are housed.

• Shelters and transitional housing programs that do not have separate bedrooms and bathrooms for clients are recommended to stop accepting new clients into shelter, and instead to refer them to GA for a motel voucher. Groundworks is following this recommendation. If you run into any issues, let Kendrick know and she can troubleshoot solutions.

• It has been recommended that DV agencies with their own motel funds also follow the above recommendation.

• The process to access a motel room is to call the benefits center at 800-479-6151, and then the local office will call people back. If you run into issues with access, let Kendrick know and she can help solve them, either with ESD or 2-1-1. After 4:30 p.m., it is no longer the local office supporting GA motel rooms, and folks will instead need to call 2-1-1.

For more information, contact Kendrick at rkendrick@groundworksVT.org or 802-275-7179.

Local mutual aid groups form

BRATTLEBORO — Localized mutual aid has been organized in Brattleboro and Putney and hyper local neighborhoods in Marlboro. If your community does not have mutual aid or you can’t find it, one may sign up to volunteer to ask for help if needed.

Whether you can help pick up or make food, donate food or supplies, offer rides, childcare or more, organize volunteers, make calls to find volunteers or anything else, there are many ways that everyone can help during this crisis.

Sign up at www.brendaforvermont.com/cms/help-your-neighbor.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Scott announces new COVID-19 mitigation measures; closes down ‘close contact’ businesses

MONTPELIER — Governor Phil Scott today announced additional community mitigation measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While most individuals affected by coronavirus will experience mild to moderate symptoms, others — especially the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions — are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness.

In a news release, Scott and public health officials have set a strategy aimed at protecting those at greatest risk, slowing the spread of illness in our communities and minimizing the risk to the public.

In consultation with the Department of Health, Scott said he determined it is necessary to prohibit in-person operations at close-contact businesses, meaning those unable to comply with guidelines for social distancing.

He has directed gymnasiums, fitness centers and similar exercise facilities, hair salons and barbers, nail salons, spas and tattoo parlors to close all in-person operations no later than 8 p.m. on Monday, March 23.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Scott says state will offer additional help to workers, businesses

MONTPELIER — At a news conference Friday, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said he understands the economic toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacted from Vermont’s workers and small businesses and announced additional plans to help those affected.

Those steps include streamlining the process for filing for unemployment benefits, adding safeguards to help people continue their health care coverage, and working with state agencies to waive fees and penalties for the duration of the crisis.

Scott said the state is also looking at using the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) to make loans available to small businesses, similar to what was done in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

More information about these resources can be found online at accd.vermont.gov/economic-development/resources.

United Way starts COVID-19 Response Fund

BRATTLEBORO — United Way of Windham County has launched a COVID-19 Response Fund, designed to rapidly mobilize resources to support organizations on the front lines of COVID-19 relief efforts.

According to a news release, all dollars given through this fund will be used to support organizations, businesses, and individuals in Windham County. The COVID-19 Response Fund has been jump-started by a generous gift from the Thomas Thompson Trust. The Thomas Thompson Trust will match, dollar for dollar, all contributions up to $25,000.

The United Way says the COVID-19 Response Fund will be rolling out in two phases.

Phase One will address the needs of non-profit agencies and other organizations in Windham County to pay for unanticipated costs related to COVID-19 relief efforts. Phase Two will address the needs of individuals who have lost income directly related to policies which have forced their employers to close or alter their business models.

To make a contribution to the COVID-19 Response Fund, text “Response” to 313131 or go to www.unitedwaywindham.org/responsefund.

For more information on how and when these funds will be available, contact Ruben R. Garza, the United Way of Windham County Director of Development and Community Impact, at communityimpact@unitedwaywindham.org or 802-257-4011.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

PUC tells utilities to halt disconnection of service orders

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) has directed the state’s regulated utilities to stop any disconnection of residential utility service due to nonpayment of electricity, natural gas, and telecommunications bills.

This moratorium on involuntary utility disconnections will last until at least April 30. The PUC said in a March 18 news release that it issued the order “to ensure that all Vermonters are protected from utility disconnections during the [current] state of emergency.

The PUC noted that many regulated utilities (including Green Mountain Power, Vermont Gas Systems, Burlington Electric Department, the Vermont Electric Cooperative, and others) had already informed the Commission and the Vermont Department of Public Service (DPS) that they are temporarily ceasing disconnections at this time. Other companies have followed suit, such as Comcast and AT&T.

Secretary of State announces COVID-19 emergency measures for healthcare workers, pharmacies

MONTPELIER — Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos has announced measures taken by the Office of Professional Regulation (OPR) to address healthcare workforce shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide emergency guidance to pharmacies.

The Office of Professional Regulation is a division of the Secretary of State’s office.

To address a potential shortage of healthcare workers in Vermont, following the Governor’s issuance of a declared State of Emergency, OPR is issuing temporary licenses to healthcare workers and pharmacies.

The Vermont Secretary of State’s Office of Professional Regulation has the authority to issue temporary licenses in a declared state of emergency under 3 V.S.A. §129(a)(10).

Scott orders childcare centers to close regular operations; provide care for ‘essential’ persons

MONTPELIER — Governor Phil Scott has directed childcare centers across the state to close normal operations, but encouraged continued operation exclusively where needed to provide childcare services for workers who are essential to Vermont’s ongoing effort in community mitigation of COVID-19.

To support those most critical to Vermont’s ongoing COVID-19 response, Scott has ordered schools to provide childcare for “essential persons” working in response to the crisis. District by district information will be available as those local plans are finalized.

The full directive can be seen at governor.vermont.gov/content/directive-2-childcare-essential-service-providers-pursuant-eo-01-20.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Windham Southeast schools closed until April 6

BRATTLEBORO — Schools in the Windham Southeast School District — Brattleboro Union High School, Brattleboro Area Middle School, Academy School, Green Street School, Oak Grove School, Vernon Elementary School, Guilford Central School, Putney Central School and Dummerston School — were all closed as of March 16.

School officials say they will remain closed until at least April 6.

All open gym and spring sports are on hold, and school staff are working with the Vermont Principals’ Association and other schools to determine what the spring sports season could look like.

Windham Northeast schools closed

BELLOWS FALLS — Schools in the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union — Bellows Falls Union High School, Bellows Falls Middle School, Central Elementary in Bellows Falls, Westminster Elementary School, Grafton Elementary School, and Saxtons River Elementary School — were closed as of March 16.

The schools will remain closed until further notice, according the the WNESU website.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Gov. Scott orders orderly closure of Vermont schools this week; Windham Southeast schools will be closed Monday

MONTPELIER — In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Phil Scott announced Sunday a Continuity of Education Plan for the orderly dismissal of all schools, and cancellation of all school related activities, no later than March 18.

According to a news release, Scott’s directive “will task local districts with three key components to support the state response — food and special needs services for children; collaborating with the state to provide childcare options for healthcare workers and others essential to the response; and systems for ensuring maintenance of education during the initial dismissal; and a continuing education plan if schools are dismissed for an extended period.”

Further, the directive states that “no student is required to be in school Monday or Tuesday, if their parents or guardians would prefer to keep them home. Education professionals should report to work as scheduled to assist in these efforts during this period of school dismissal. Districts are directed to follow workplace hygiene guidance issued by the Vermont Department of Health.”

Friday, March 13, 2020

State declares state of emergency, goal is to slow spread of virus

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott Scott declared a state of emergency as the state deals with the ongoing COVID-19 situation.

At a news conference at the Pavillion Building this afternoon, Scott said he issued an executive order restricting all non-essential visitors at senior and long-term care facilities. It also prohibits all large non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people. He also suspended all non-essential travel for state employees.

There are no plans as yet to close down the state’s schools, Scott said, but added that state and local officials will continue to monitor the situation and take action as needed.

Scott said the declaration also provides resources to the Department of Public Safety for contact tracing and investigative efforts when a coronavirus case is suspected.

Scott said the emergency order will be reevaluated by April 15. “We are going to get through this together,” said Scott.

The text of the emergency order can be found here: governor.vermont.gov/sites/scott/files/documents/EO%2001-20%20Declaration%20of%20State%20of%20Emergency%20in%20Response%20to%20COVID-19%20and%20National%20Guard%20Call-Out.pdf.

Vermont Department of Corrections suspends in-person visitation

WATERBURY — The Vermont Department of Corrections is cancelling in-person visitations services at all six Vermont correctional facilities. Given the current concerns surrounding COVID-19, the Department said on March 13 that it “is taking all necessary precautions to limit any potential exposure to this virus.”

“Enhanced recreational opportunities will be made available to the inmate population. In addition, GTL (the video visitation provider for the Department) has agreed to offer one free video visitation per week to each inmate beginning March 14,” the department said in a news release.

VT COVID-19 Response Fund established by Vermont Community Foundation

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Community Foundation announced it has established the VT COVID-19 Response Fund to support nonprofit organizations throughout the state that are particularly equipped to address community impacts of the novel coronavirus.

Working with partners at the state and local level, the Community Foundation says it will prioritize the most immediate public health and economic impacts of the new disease, focusing on vulnerable populations and the service providers that support them. The new fund’s grantmaking strategy will be designed with partners who are on the front lines of both immediate response and long-term recovery.

Contributions to the VT COVID-19 Response Fund can be made online through vermontcf.org/vtcovid19response.

State AG’s office warns of price gouging, scams

MONTPELIER — Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan and local business leaders on March 12 called for consumers and businesses to remember their neighborliness in the face of the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

Donovan urged consumers to resist an urge to hoard and warned Vermonters to report any incidents of price gouging or COVID-19-related scams to his office. The Attorney General also released a plain language guidance for businesses on topics related to COVID-19.

In times of emergency, two common problems that can arise in the marketplace are price gouging and unnecessary hoarding. Price gouging is when the price of essential goods or services are inflated during a market crisis. Price gouging is illegal in Vermont under the Consumer Protection Act. For petroleum products, price gouging is by statute illegal when the Governor declares a market emergency.

To assist small businesses through this crisis, the Vermont Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) prepared a “plain language guidance” on topics related to COVID-19. The topics range from providing sick time to employees to price gouging to continuity planning. The guidance is available at ago.vermont.gov/cap/small-business-help.

Vermonters are also advised to beware of COVID-19-related scams. For more information, visit ago.vermont.gov/cap/consumer-complaint.

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