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Latest local updates on COVID-19

Last updated at 11:45 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 20

Tuesday, Oct. 20

Scott announces next round of Economic Recovery Grants

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott today announced an expansion of the state’s Economic Recovery Grants, using an additional $76 million in funds from the $1.25 billion the state received from the Federal CARES Act.

These funds are in addition to the $152 million in economic relief already delivered to Vermont businesses.

These new grants will be administered by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD), with assistance from the Department of Taxes.

Vermont businesses and nonprofits, including sole proprietors, that have seen a decline in total sales between March and September of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, and who can demonstrate unmet need, may be eligible to receive an Expanded Economic Recovery Grant.

Qualifying businesses may now receive up to $300,000 in total economic recovery grants.

“We know many businesses and sectors in the state continue to feel the negative impacts of COVID-19 and the steps we’ve had to take to keep Vermonters safe,” said Scott at his bi-weekly pandemic briefing. “With these grants, we are working to support those sectors most impacted by this pandemic and help them survive into the winter months.”

Businesses and nonprofits that collect and remit Meals and Rooms Tax or Sales and Use Tax may apply through the Department of Taxes. All others, including those who have previously received a grant from ACCD, may apply to ACCD.

Unlike previous grant programs, the expanded grant program will not be first come, first served. Instead, grants will be distributed in late November after the total unmet need of all qualifying businesses has been ascertained.

“Vermont’s business community has had to endure unique hardships during this crisis and with these additional grant dollars we hope that by first assessing total need we can make these limited dollars reach businesses with the most unmet need,” said Department of Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein.

The Department of Taxes application is open now through the myVTax portal until midnight, Oct. 30. ACCD will open their application in the next week and the window to submit applications will also be two weeks. Visit accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/expanded-economic-recovery-grants for full details.

In addition, ACCD and the Department of Taxes will host informational webinars on Wednesday, Oct. 21 and Friday, Oct. 23 to review program eligibility, application process, and answer questions from business owners.

Ten new COVID-19 cases reported in Vt.; no new cases in Windham County

BURLINGTON — The Vermont Department of Health reported Tuesday that there are now 1,956 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont, including 136 people in Windham County.

Ten new COVID-19 cases were reported in the state on Tuesday. Fifty-eight people have died so far in Vermont, according to the Health Department, with no deaths reported since July 29.

Chittenden County leads the state with 906 cumulative cases and 39 deaths. Windham County now reports the second-highest of number of cases in the state with 136 cases and a total of three deaths, while Bennington County reports 134 cases and one death.

As of Tuesday morning, the Health Department says 179,713 people have been tested for COVID-19. There are 605 travelers being monitored, and 9,757 people who have completed monitoring. The Health Department is also monitoring 76 people who may have been in contact with someone with the virus.

There are no patients in Vermont hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, and no patients are currently hospitalized under investigation for the virus. A total of 1,701 people have recovered from the virus.

In the weekly by-town count of cumulative cases released on Oct. 14 of Vermonters who have tested positive for COVID-19, a total of 42 identified lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Brattleboro as of that date. Putney and Wilmington had 14 cases each, Vernon had 11 cases, Whitingham had 10 cases, and Rockingham reported eight cases.

The Health Department encourages all Vermonters to continue to follow the four steps to protect themselves and prevent spread of the virus: wear face coverings, keep a 6-foot distance from others, wash hands frequently, and stay home when sick.

For additional COVID-19 health information, guidance, and case data, visit www.healthvermont.gov/covid19.

Monday, Oct. 19

New partnership expands Everyone Eats program

BRATTLEBORO — Vermont Everyone Eats has partnered with Localvore, a digital software company, to engage Vermont restaurants in providing nutritionally balanced meals for those affected by COVID-19. Participating restaurants will be reimbursed $10 for digital meal vouchers redeemed at their business.

Vermont Everyone Eats provides nutritious meals to Vermonters in need of food assistance as well as stabilizing sources of income for Vermont restaurants, farmers, and food producers.

It is funded by the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund and made possible through a grant provided by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development to Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA).

Restaurants participating in the Everyone Eats Voucher Program will be included in both state and local marketing efforts to promote use of these vouchers. An overview of the program and details on how to participate can be found at drive.google.com/file/d/1GD4w_fptpoL4oItKrzLyB8x8nbE4I6lk/view.

Sunday, Oct. 18

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. Households in need of food are asked to call or email to coordinate delivery. There is an urgent need for volunteers, and Foodworks has set up protocols to keep staff, volunteers, and clients as safe as possible. Email them at volunteer@GroundworksVT.org if you are able to help.

• Guilford Food Pantry, Every Thursday from 5-6 p.m. at the Broad Brook Community Center, 3940 Guilford Center 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. Upcoming distribution dates are Oct. 28, Nov. 23, and Dec. 21. Distribution takes place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Wardsboro Vestry.

• 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.

Friday, Oct. 16

After virus outbreak, ice rinks directed to freeze schedules for two weeks

MONTPELIER — Following the decision by the state of New Hampshire to close indoor skating facilities for two weeks, Gov. Phil Scott issued an executive order on Friday prohibiting Vermont’s skating rinks from accepting new reservation for use of their facilities through midnight on Oct. 30.

Scott said the directive is intended to prevent an influx of new users from high risk areas into Vermont’s ice rinks.

“As of today, New Hampshire’s skating facilities were closed by their governor for two weeks in response to outbreaks that have resulted in 158 cases of COVID-19 among 23 different ice hockey teams,” Scott said. “In addition, there is an outbreak in central Vermont that may be connected to the outbreaks in New Hampshire. To reduce the risk to Vermonters, and to help sustain the progress we have made, rinks in Vermont may not take any additional reservations for the next two weeks.”

Rinks may allow their currently scheduled operations over this two-week period, provided all other existing health and safety guidance is fully implemented.

At a news conference on Friday, State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso provided an update on an outbreak of COVID-19 cases among members of youth and adult recreational hockey and broomball teams in central Vermont.

The outbreak is associated with people who practiced or played at the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier earlier this month, and there has been no community spread of the virus beyond close contacts at this time, Kelso said.

As of Friday, 18 confirmed cases have been identified among players and several close contacts. Most of the cases identified are among adults. The Health Department has informed schools if any cases were in attendance while they were infectious.

“The contact tracing team is continuing their work to identify and reach out to people who may be affected,” Kelso said. “So, please, it is important that you answer the phone if you get a call from the Health Department. This is how we can give you and your family the information you need if you are at risk — and it is key to our ability to contain outbreaks from spreading in the community.”

The Health Department recommends that anyone with direct links to the teams, their close contacts, and people associated with the Civic Center be tested. To register for a test, visit healthvermont.gov/covid19-testing.

Scott extends COVID-19 emergency order through Nov. 15

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott announced Thursday that he was extending the state’s COVID-19 emergency order until Oct. 15.

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

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

“Vermont has led the nation in responding to this virus,” Scott said in a news release. “We’ve worked together to keep each other safe and prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed, allowing us to methodically reopen our economy and keep it open while many other states have had to take steps backward. But we cannot become complacent.”

In addition to helping the state manage the public health risks, the State of Emergency keeps numerous supports in place to mitigate economic hardship resulting from the pandemic. These protections include expanded housing and meal delivery systems, expanded eligibility for unemployment insurance, resources for businesses, and federal emergency funding.

Castleton announces in-person learning option for spring 2021 semester

CASTLETON — Castleton University’s spring 2021 semester will feature an adjusted schedule and more options for students to receive their courses. Castleton will offer some in-person classes, as well as remote or hybrid, after going online-only in the current semester, even while students were allowed to live on campus.

To keep its community as safe as possible throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the upcoming flu season, the university said in a news release that it will adjust its academic calendar in the following ways: the spring semester will be delayed, with classes beginning on Feb. 1, Winter Break and Spring Break will be eliminated, refresh days for faculty and students will be built into the schedule to provide breaks, and the semester will end with commencement on May 15, as it was originally scheduled.

Faculty members chose the format for their courses for the spring semester. Roughly third of Castleton’s spring courses will be taught in-person, half will be taught online (most with scheduled meetings), and the rest will be hybrid combination of in-person and online learning.

Under the plan, any student who chooses to live in the residence halls or visit campus may do so by signing the “Spartan Pledge,” through which every member of our community agrees to protect themselves and others through robust social distancing and face-covering protocols.

Castleton will also follow the recommendations and guidelines put in place by Vermont Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arriving students will again be tested and follow state travel guidelines for quarantine before joining the campus community.

Residential students and commuters to campus will again have access to the offices, services, and resources the campus provides. Those who wish to remain off-campus can remotely access services such as the Academic Support Center, Wellness Center, and Career Services.

Thursday, Oct. 15

Legislative funding provides free classes, training for Vermonters

MONTPELIER — Vermonters whose employment has been affected by COVID-19 can access more than 100 free classes and training opportunities this fall through the Vermont State Colleges System (VSCS), thanks to a $2.3 million allocation of Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) from the Vermont Legislature.

Funding provides tuition, supplies, and support services to Vermonters who have been laid off, furloughed, had hours cut, or been employed in an industry that has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eligible Vermonters can enroll in a wide variety of classes and training at the Community College of Vermont, Castleton University, Northern Vermont University, and Vermont Technical College. Classes and training are available in high-demand fields such as early childhood education, healthcare, business, and manufacturing.

For more information and to register for classes, visit www.vsc.edu/VtWorkers.

Extra 3SquaresVT food benefits in coming in October, November

WATERBURY — The Department for Children and Families (DCF) announced today that many 3SquaresVT households will continue to receive a higher benefit in October and November.

This extra help is part of the federal Coronavirus Relief Bill. It will not permanently change a household’s monthly benefit. It is a temporary increase to help during the health crisis.

Households already receiving the maximum 3SquaresVT benefit, or a zero benefit, will not get an increase. Everyone else will receive an increase that brings them to the maximum benefit for their household size.

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.

Tuesday, Oct. 13

State announces new visitation rules for long-term care facilities

MONTPELIER — The Agency of Human Services announced Tuesday some changes to policies that have restricted access by visitors to long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

Starting today, up to two visitors at a time will be allowed to visit patients indoors. Visitors will need to be masked, observe social distancing protocols, and must be screened for the virus before visitation.

Staff at these facilities will be required to be tested at least once a month, and more frequently if cases increase in the area that the facilities are located.

Older Vermonters had not been allowed to have in-person indoor visits at nursing homes and long-term facilities since March 13.

More than half of the 58 deaths associated with the COVID-19 outbreak took place at two nursing homes in the Burlington area. People over age 65 are considered to be the most at risk for contracting the virus.

If a county’s positivity rate for the virus increases to more than 10 percent, or if a positive case is reported inside a facility, indoor visitation will be suspended.

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.

Friday, Oct. 2

Vermont to get 180,000 rapid response COVID-19 tests

BURLINGTON — The Vermont Health Department says it is updating guidance to the state’s health care providers and facilities regarding the use of COVID-19 antigen testing in Vermont.

Some 180,000 rapid response antigen tests are coming to Vermont that are intended to screen for people with symptoms.

The Health Department’s updated guidance to the state’s health care providers and facilities regarding the use of COVID-19 antigen testing in Vermont calls for a positive antigen test is followed with a polymerise chain reaction (PCR) test, which uses a nasal swab.

In general, the Health Department says that antigen tests should not be used to diagnose asymptomatic persons, but they might be informative in diagnostic testing situations in which the person has a known exposure to a confirmed case of COVID-19. They add that antigen tests might produce false positive results when disease prevalence is low.

Tuesday, Sept. 29

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.

Sunday, Sept. 27

LGBTQIA+ resources available via Out in the Open

BRATTLEBORO — Out in the Open is offering a lot of 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.

Tuesday, Sept. 22

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.

French said the decision to move to phase 3 was based upon the low rate of COVID-19 infection statewide and the desire to give student athletes an extra weekend of competition in an already truncated fall season.

According to Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, a total of four COVID-19 cases were identified at schools in Duxbury, Hartford, and Williamstown over the past two weeks, and none of the people who tested positive got the virus due to being in school.

Levine said that when there is a case in a school, the Health Department will act quickly to investigate the situation and take all appropriate steps to contain its spread.

He reminded caregivers to be aware of any possible symptoms that may be outside the norm for your child — a headache or cough or congestion, however mild. “Keep them home,” he said, “and if the symptoms persist, call your child’s pediatrician for advice.”

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.

Sunday, Sept. 20

Everyone Eats program underway in the Rockingham area

BELLOWS FALLS — The Everyone Eats program is now underway in the Rockingham area. This federally-funded program supports restaurants, farmers, food producers, and the local economy, while also feeding the community.

The Springfield Family Center and Chester Helping Hands have partnered to be a hub for the Everyone Eats program, which is now also running in Springfield via the Springfield Family Center, Londonderry via Neighborhood Connections, Ludlow via Black River Good Neighbors, Windham via Windham Cares, Rockingham/Bellows Falls via Rockingham Helping Helpers and Our Place, Greater Falls Connection, Bellows Falls Senior Center, Grafton via Grafton Community Church, and Chester via the Chester Helping Hands.

Restaurants, which will use locally produced food for at least 10 percent of each meal made, will be reimbursed for the take-out meals, and meals are free to anyone requesting them. Rockingham-area restaurants — currently including Jamaican Jewelz, MKT: Grafton, Wunderbar, Allen Brothers, Leslie’s, and Smokin’ Bowls — will be making meals for people in Rockingham, Westminster, Athens, and Grafton affected by COVID-19.

This week, you can pick up meals at Parks Place in Bellows Falls on Wednesdays, from 5 to 6 p.m., and Fridays, from 10 to 11 a.m.

Meals are available on a first-come, first served basis, with limited amounts of vegetarian meals are available at each pick-up location. At each pick-up, households will receive one meal for each person in the household. Recognizing that transportation can be an issue, a household can pick up meals for up to three other households.

To join the program, fill out the Everyone Eats form online at rockinghamlibrary.org. Applicants can also call the Rockingham Free Public Library at 802-463-4270 or email sam@rockinghamlibrary.org.

Everyone Eats program continues in Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO — Everyone Eats is continuing its free meal distribution program through Dec. 11.

This federal stimulus program helps support Brattleboro restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing meals to anyone in Brattleboro, Guilford, Vernon, Dummerston, or Putney who has been affected by the COVID-19 crisis due to unemployment, underemployment, homelessness, or other challenges.

Eleven Brattleboro restaurants are now providing meals for Everyone Eats! — A Vermont Table, Dosa Kitchen, Duo, Echo, Hazel, Indian Masala, MamaSezz, Porch Too, Shin La, The Works, and Yalla.

Everyone Eats! distributes up to 850 meals a day on a first come, first served basis Monday through Thursday, from 4 to 6 p.m. Individuals may pick up their meals at the C.F. Church building at 80 Flat St., Brattleboro, while organizations will pick up their means at Mama Sezz on Marlboro Road in West Brattleboro.

For more information, or to learn how to volunteer, visit www.brattleboro.com/everyoneeats or contact Frances Huntley at frances@brattleboro.com.

Friday, Sept. 18

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.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that people need to keep up their social distancing to make the reopening of bars and increased capacity of lodging establishments a success.

“The key here, whether we’re talking about a lodging establishment or a bar, is to prevent milling around, prevent a breakdown in social distancing, and prevent crowding,” he said.

That become even more important, he said, as the cooler months arrive.

State, BDCC announce new small business relief program

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott announced the Restart Vermont Technical Assistance Program (ReVTA) that will provide technical assistance to hundreds of Vermont businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19.

The state’s regional development corporations (RDCs), including the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., have been tasked with deploying $1.17 million in technical assistance funding which was provided through the federal CARES Act.

The program will leverage a regional and statewide network of technical assistance providers, which includes, but is not limited to, assistance for business operations, financial management, digital and marketing strategies, architecture and design, reconfiguring products or processes, updating safety measures, technology and software consulting, and legal or professional services.

Each RDC will deploy a recovery navigator to work one-on-one with local businesses and determine what form of technical assistance is needed. The cost of the work will be covered by ReVTA. The program is expected to assist more than 250 businesses with awards averaging $3,000. All funds need to be spent by Dec. 4, 2020.

A website has been created for businesses to register to provide assistance as well as those interested in receiving assistance. More details, eligibility requirements, and registration forms are available at www.vermonteconomicdevelopment.com.

Tuesday, Sept. 15

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.

“While we obviously hoped to avoid cases once schools reopened, as we have said all along, this is not unexpected,” Levine said at a news briefing.

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.

As of Tuesday morning, Levine said that 23 people had been identified as close contacts at Crossett Brook, and the department has reached out to all of them. The investigation at Hartford is continuing, Levine said, but thus far there have been no associated close contacts.

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

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.”

Education Secretary Dan French echoed those sentiments, saying “so far, so good” on the start of the school year this week for Vermont’s K-12 students.

Levine: Vermont keeping watch on effort to create safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine

MONTPELIER — Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said at a press conference Friday that the Health Department is keeping a close watch on the vaccine development process “to be sure we can trust that that science — not politics — governs the process.”

“This unprecedented global pandemic has all eyes focused on finding a vaccine as quickly as possible,” said Levine. “But the tremendous pressure to rapidly develop a vaccine for COVID-19 must not outweigh the importance of its efficacy and safety.

“We stand together with other health departments across the country, as well as the national Association of Immunization Managers, in our insistence that any vaccine made available to the public must first meet all U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety standards, and be recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), an independent national advisory committee.”

Levine added that “it is my position that we “trust but verify,” and emphasized that all newly developed vaccines must be continually monitored for safety and efficacy. “A comprehensive system must be fully utilized to ensure the safety of any COVID-19 vaccine,” he said. “As we wait for a vaccine, we must keep up our prevention practices — especially so as we come into the fall and flu season.”

The Health Department strongly recommends that everyone age 6 months and older get their flu shot soon. Flu vaccine is beginning to be available now, in your doctor’s office and at pharmacies around the state.

Thursday, Sept. 10

Grant program available to help Vermont utility customers pay their bills

COLCHESTER — If you’ve fallen behind on your utility bills, a new state grant program can help get you back on track. Many Vermonters are facing financial hardships due to the COVID-19 economic slowdown and have growing past-due balances.

Green Mountain Power customers can qualify for this new free funding, and it is only available for a short time.

The Vermont Department of Public Service runs the Vermont COVID-19 Arrearage Assistance Program. If you have utility bills that are more than 60 days overdue, you can qualify for 100 percent coverage to get you paid up. The program is funded with money from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, and can help pay balances for telephone, water, electric, and natural gas service.

The Vermont Legislature approved $8 million dollars for the program, and the money is only available until Nov. 20. Grants are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

You can get started on your application by going to publicservice.vermont.gov/content/vermont-covid-19-arrearage-assistance-program-0 or by contacting the Vermont Department of Public Service at 800-622-4496 or psd.consumer@vermont.gov.

Tuesday, Sept. 8

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.

However, he cautioned, while anyone can get tested, not everyone needs to get tested.

“Testing is not prevention, and a negative test does not necessarily mean it’s safe to gather with others.” Levine said.

The Health Department recommends testing if you have symptoms of the virus, if you have had close contact with someone who may have the virus (within 6 feet for about 15 minutes or more), or if you are referred by your health care provider for another reason. If you think you should be tested, talk with your health care provider.

Sunday, Sept. 6

Rental assistance program accepting applications

BRATTLEBORO — Help is available for renters experiencing hardships due to the COVID-19 crisis.

If you need help paying your rent and you have a very low income, call 211. Otherwise, contact your landlord and apply together for the Rental Housing Stabilization Program.

For help with past-due rent, Vermonters should apply for the Rental Housing Stabilization Program through the Vermont State Housing Authority (VSHA).

The Rental Housing Stabilization Program is accepting applications on a rolling basis through Dec. 20, with a 10-business day response. The state is making available $25 million in rental assistance for both tenants and landlords through this program, which will be run by VSHA. More information is available at www.vsha.org/rental-housing-stabilization-program.

VSHA is accepting applications from landlords and tenants, and paying landlords directly to bring the tenant’s rent account current. The program pays up to the VSHA payment standards. If the landlord wants payment, the landlord must agree to waive rent amounts in excess of the payment standard for all the months paid for.

When the landlord accepts the money they have to promise to drop any eviction, not start a new eviction for the same number of months (up to six months) in the future as the money pays for, not raise the rent before Jan. 1, 2021, or the end of your lease term — whichever is later, and make sure the unit is up to code in 30 days.

VSHA will need applications from both the landlord and the tenant. Tenants should talk to their landlord and agree on the amount they owe, and make sure that amount is on both applications. Apply for this rent help on the VSHA website. If you need help with your landlord, an eviction, or applying for the rent help, contact Vermont Legal Aid at vtlawhelp.org.

Friday, August 28

Preparations for flu season amid pandemic are underway

MONTPELIER — Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said at a press conference Friday that preparations are beginning for flu season, with the goals of keeping Vermonters healthy, and to have the rate of flu be as low as possible to ensure that we do not face a “twindemic” of both flu and COVID-19 cases this winter.

“Our primary focus will be to increase the rate of vaccination, especially among children and teens,” Dr. Levine said, adding that last year only 42.6 percent of children ages 5 to 12 and 35.5 percent of our 13 to 17-year-olds received the flu vaccine. “We can and must do better,” he said.

Levine emphasized that no decision has been made to require universal flu vaccine for all K-12 students. Currently, only one state, Massachusetts, has moved to require flu vaccination for students.

“A policy decision of whether to do so is still under consideration — driven, as always, by the data and science,” Levine said. “But as a physician and a public health chief, I would be shirking my responsibility to protect the health of Vermonters if we did not at least explore the merits as well as the weaknesses of every potential public health intervention.”

Levine also addressed the controversy around some changes to Centers for Disease Control testing guidance, saying that Vermont’s recommendations will not change.

On Aug. 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its testing guidance to say that people who are asymptomatic may not need to be tested, even if they “have been in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person with a COVID-19 infection for at least 15 minutes (…) unless (…) state or local public health officials recommend you take one.”

The Health Department continues to recommend testing for people with COVID-19 symptoms, people who have had close contact (within 6 feet for about 15 minutes or more) with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and people who are referred by their health care provider for testing for another reason.

The state continues to require any asymptomatic person who has traveled to a non-approved county, who has been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, to quarantine for 14 days. If an asymptomatic person wants to “test out” of that quarantine, they’d need to be tested at day 7 or later (and then continue to remain asymptomatic for the remainder of the 14-day incubation period).

For persons who chose to continue to quarantine for 14 days, and who do not develop symptoms, they can opt to not be tested. If you do need testing, look for a clinic or pharmacy that offers testing near you, or register at one of the state’s pop-up locations. For more information, visit www.healthvermont.gov/covid19.

Thursday, August 27

No COVID-19 cases found after testing at Springfield prison

WATERBURY — Mass testing of Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield conducted on Aug. 24 showed no new positive cases of COVID-19 among the 455 staff and inmates tested.

According to a news release, this latest round of testing was conducted as part of Vermont Department of Corrections and Vermont Health Department’s plan to test all Vermont facilities on a rotating basis.

At Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility (TCCF) in Mississippi, another Vermont inmate tested positive for COVID-19 during follow-up testing of all negative inmates.

There are now 185 unique positive cases identified among the 219 Vermont inmates at TCCF, 153 of whom are now considered “in recovery.” Two inmates are in the infirmary, none are hospitalized, and none are exhibiting concerning symptoms. All staff at TCCF are being tested for the virus.

Daily updates on the COVID-19 response in Vermont’s correctional facilities can be found at doc.vermont.gov/covid-19-information-page.

Monday, August 24

Vermont secures federal funding for increased unemployment benefits

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott today announced that the State has applied for, and received, an initial grant award of $35.8 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the Other Needs Assistance, or Lost Wage Assistance (LWA), program.

The LWA program provides an additional $300 per week to eligible individuals filing for unemployment insurance. The first round of funding from FEMA covers the initial three weeks of the program beginning with the week ending Aug. 1, at which time, states can apply for additional funding, should the program remain open.

The Department of Labor has begun implementing this program and expects to start issuing payments to eligible Vermonters in the coming weeks.

In addition to the application submitted to FEMA for this benefit, the Governor has requested $20 million in Coronavirus Relief funding from the Vermont Legislature to provide an additional $100 per week to eligible claimants, bringing the total benefit to $400 per week, for three weeks.

Vermont’s application for LWA was authorized under an Aug. 8 memorandum by President Trump. The LWA program applies to claimants eligible for unemployment insurance benefits under the Traditional Unemployment, PUA, PEUC, or Extended Benefits programs, as of Aug, 1, 2020. For further information, visit labor.vermont.gov.

Friday, August 21

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 and resulting mitigation measures:

• $23 million in additional funding for Economic Recovery Grants to help fill gaps in the original program, to include sole proprietors, certain types of non-profits, new businesses, and those with less than 50 percent loss that is sustained over a longer period.

• $50 million in targeted hospitality and tourism funding to address areas of need as fall and winter approach and travel restrictions and capacity limits remain in place.

• A $50 million “buy local” campaign that will provide $150 to every Vermont household to spur economic activity that supports local businesses.

• And $10 million in Economic Development and Tourism Marketing funds that will, within the context of COVID-19, leverage social, earned, and owned media to bring more out of state revenue to Vermont.

For more details on the proposal visit the ACCD website at accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/economic-development-and-business-support-proposal.

Wednesday, August 19

Vermont Economic Recovery Grants funding levels increased

MONTPELIER — The Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) and the Department of Taxes announced an increase to the maximum grant award for Economic Recovery Grants for Vermont businesses negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increase in the maximum grant award is available to businesses in the lodging, retail, hospitality, arts, travel and event affiliated sectors that have continued capacity constraints.

Previously, businesses could receive up to $50,000 in grant funds. Now, businesses in eligible industries can receive up to an additional $100,000 in grant funding, for a total of $150,000 from the program.

The increased maximum award is available both to new applicants to the program and to those businesses that have already received a $50,000 grant. For more information, visit accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/economic-recovery-grants.

Tuesday, August 18

With Vt. schools set to reopen soon, state officials say districts are getting ready

MONTPELIER — With the reopening of Vermont’s K-12 schools approaching, Gov. Phil Scott and state officials say school districts are putting their plans together on how to reopen on Sept. 8 and do so safely in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a Tuesday news briefing, Secretary of Education Dan French said that 46 of Vermont’s 60 school districts are planning to use a hybrid learning model split between 2-3 days of in-person education and 2-3 days of remote learning.

French said that only three districts so far say they will only do remote learning, while the rest of the districts are still working on their plans.

Access to child care for working families is a concern with the hybrid learning model, and Scott said he is addressing this by signing an executive order to reimburse home-based providers. Scott said this action could create up 3,000 slots statewide.

Scott said the state is planning to use $12 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to create 73 regional child care hubs to serve students during remote learning days. More details will be available in the coming days.

Vermont’s schoolchildren have not been inside a classroom since mid-March. Scott said the concerns about COVID-19 need to be balanced against the developmental needs of children, and that the medical data supports a return to some form of in-person learning.

Monday, August 17

Brooks Memorial Library now accepting book returns

BRATTLEBORO — Brooks Memorial Library, which is now open for brief periods of browsing and limited services, is also now accepting returns of checked-out books, CDs, and DVDs.

Materials may be deposited either in the large blue book drop in the Municipal Center parking lot, or they can be returned directly to the library during their new open hours, noon to 5 p.m. All materials will be quarantined for one week before being checked in.

As for library visits, there still is a maximum building capacity of 30 people, and visits are limited to a maximum of 20 minutes, after which the building will be cleared for cleaning.

Admittance will be on the hour and half-hour, from noon to 4:30 p.m. Face masks are mandatory while in the building, and hands need to be sanitized upon entering. Individuals must maintain social distance. and directional arrows will guide patrons through the stacks.

There will be computer access on the first floor, along with copying and printing capabilities. Personal assistance will be available within the appropriate social distance constraints.

The library has temporarily raised the age for unattended children to 12.

Much of the library’s furniture has been stored and only limited seating is available, to avoid congregating and contact with surfaces. Magazines will be available to take home, including the current issues, but there will be no newspapers to read on site.

To ensure the safest possible transactions for public and staff, library staff encourages patrons to continue to use their convenient curbside and delivery service, and to access the growing wealth of electronic resources including streaming video and downloadable ebooks and audio. For more information, contact the library at 802-254-5290 or info@brookslibraryvt.org.

Friday, August 14

Scott extends COVID-19 emergency order through Sept. 15

MONTPELIER — At his media briefing on Friday, Gov. Phil Scott announced he was extending the state’s COVID-19 emergency order until Sept. 15., as well as additional local discretion for gathering size limits and liquor sales.

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

The latest order enables cities and towns to enact stricter local limits for gathering sizes than those established by the state. Municipalities may also mandate shorter hours for the sale of alcohol by bars and clubs than those set forth by the Department of Liquor and Lottery.

Additionally, the Department of Motor Vehicles will develop processes for temporary electronic plates and permits that will be valid for up to 60 days.

Despite Vermont having the lowest percentage of positive test results in the nation, Scott said it is still necessary to extend the emergency order for yet another month, particularly with the reopening of schools and colleges in the coming weeks.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said testing has already begun at college campuses around the state.

Thursday, August 13

State to distribute 300,000 free cloth face coverings

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott today announced that the state of Vermont will distribute up to 300,000 cloth face coverings to the public, emergency responders and select agencies.

The State Emergency Operations Center procured the masks from those donated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

As of Aug. 1, face coverings are mandatory in all public places in Vermont. While wearing a mask is not a substitute for physical distancing and other mitigation measures, public health experts advise that masks help limit the spread of COVID-19 and should be worn in public when physical distancing is not possible.

Vermont Emergency Management, the Health Department, the Agency of Transportation and the Vermont National Guard are facilitating the distribution effort. 200,000 masks have already gone out or will soon go out to towns, school nurses, community action agencies, the Vermont Department of Health Equity Team and district offices, emergency response agencies, the Vermont National Guard and food distribution sites.

Vermonters may access these free face coverings through their towns. Municipalities are responsible for distributing the masks and many are working with their emergency services departments (i.e., fire and police) to aid in that effort.

To obtain a face mask, visit vem.vermont.gov/maskdistribution to find your local contact. If your town is not listed, then your local officials may have not requested their allotment or provided contact information.

Tuesday, August 11

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, August 7

Testing shows 146 positive cases among Vt. inmates housed in Mississippi prison

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Department of Corrections (VTDOC) says 146 Vermont inmates held at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility (TCCF) in Tutwiler, Miss., have tested positive for COVID-19.

At a Friday news briefing, Interim Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker said VTDOC has sent officials to that prison, including a doctor who is starting to see inmates. Baker said proper protocols are now being followed by TCCF — isolation, quarantine, and proper medical care.

As of Friday, no inmates are hospitalized, and two were treated and released.

Baker said CoreCivic, the private corporation that operates TCCF, had not been following Vermont guidelines before, and that TCCF lacked testing capacity and did not understand the gravity of the situation.

Baker said he spoke with the CEO of CoreCivic and he said that his trust level is rising, but that he still insists everyone in the facility be tested, not just the 219 Vermonters being held there.

There are a high number of COVID-19 cases in that part of Mississippi, Baker said, so widespread testing is necessary to contain the outbreak. He says officials may return next week depending on what the team there now discovers.

Baker says families of prisoners there who have questions can get answers by contacting the DOC, but cautioned that bringing some of the inmates back to Vermont would be too complicated right now, compromising bed space here and the ability to quarantine inmates here. Vermont inmates are assigned to three different living units at TCCF.

Tuesday, August 4

Front-Line Employees Hazard Pay Grant Program now accepting applications

MONTPELIER — Beginning today, public safety, public health, health care, and human services employers whose employees worked to help mitigate or respond to COVID-19 may apply for hazard pay grant funds for their employees.

The Front-Line Employees Hazard Pay Grant Program was established in Act 136 of 2020 using Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars to pay eligible employees who worked during the COVID-19 public health emergency from March 13 through May 15, 2020.

The $28 million program allows covered employers to request funding to provide $1,200 or $2,000 in hazard pay to each employee who meets eligibility criteria. Eligibility is determined by conditions outlined by the Legislature in Act 136, including the risk of exposure to COVID-19, number of hours worked and employee’s hourly wage.

Grants will be awarded through an online application process and funds will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis until the program’s funding is used up. When employers who applied are approved, they will receive the award amount.

For more information, to apply using the online application, and to sign up to receive periodic updates, visit the Agency of Human Services’ website at humanservices.vermont.gov.

Monday, August 3

Economic Recovery Grant program expands eligibility to more Vermont businesses

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) and the Department of Taxes today announced expanded eligibility for Economic Recovery Grants for Vermont businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the original eligibility criteria, a business was required to have at least one W-2 employee who was not an owner of that business. Starting Aug. 3, businesses with at least one W-2 employee — now including those who are an owner — are also eligible and encouraged to apply.

More than $78 million has already been awarded to Vermont businesses but there are still funds available. Businesses are encouraged to apply if they have experienced losses of at least 50 percent in the month of July 2020 (compared to July 2019) and have not already received a grant. Businesses that may not have been eligible earlier in the year are encouraged to re-evaluate their losses for the month of July as they may now be eligible.

Businesses who chose not to apply, or already applied and were deemed ineligible and believe they may be eligible under these new criteria, are encouraged to contact the Department of Taxes at 802-828-6611 or ACCD at 802-828-1200 to learn more. Those who have not yet submitted an application are encouraged to do so and can learn more at accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/economic-recovery-grants.

Friday, July 31

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

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

“Schools should take this extra time to make sure systems are ready and effective, so we can deliver for our children, and build confidence in the public education system’s ability to be flexible and responsive,” said Scott said in a news release.

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.

The Vermont Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has called on school districts to prioritize in person attendance for all students preschool through grade five and students of all ages with special needs, as these groups receive the greatest benefit from in-person instruction.

Wednesday, July 29

State makes $2 million available for broadband expansion

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Department of Public Service has launched the Line Extension Customer Assistance Program (LECAP), which provides up to $3,000 in assistance to help consumers extend telecommunications lines to their homes, with $2 million in total funds available.

This program was passed through Act 137 and developed in response to the COVID-19 emergency to help Vermonters access broadband.

Access to broadband (high-speed internet service) has proved critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for students, patients and teleworkers accessing education, health care services and virtual offices due to closures and other pandemic mitigation measures.

Hundreds of Vermonters without 25/3 Mbps broadband service live just out of the reach of current cable and other Internet Service Providers’ networks. Extending these networks to unserved and underserved areas can be expensive and the full cost can be unaffordable for those looking to take this step.

Under this program, up to $3,000 in financial assistance is available to offset the customer cost portion of a line extension. For details about how to qualify for the LECAP, Vermonters should call the department at 800-622-4496.

All line extensions funded through this program must be completed on or before Dec. 30, 2020. Additional information can be accessed at publicservice.vermont.gov.

Tuesday, July 28

Scott: Opening day for Vermont’s schools pushed back to Sept. 8

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott announced Tuesday that he will sign an executive order later this week that will set Sept. 8 as the date that schools will reopen in Vermont.

It will still be up to individual school districts to decide how they will proceed with the start of the 2020-21 school year in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, Scott said.

There is no current official guidance from the state Agency of Education on reopening, leaving it to the school districts to decide to fully reopen schools, fully commit to online learning only, or to have a hybrid model of some classroom time and some online time for students.

Education Secretary Dan French admitted at Tuesday’s news briefing that “this is uncharted territory that acknowledges a considerable amount of uncertainty and anxiety,” but that starting after Labor Day “gives us a bit of extra time to make these preparations to take advantage of this time to make sure the new school year can be successful.”

Scott said many school districts are leaning toward the hybrid model, but that he recognizes that no one model fits every school’s needs.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that “this is the right time to open schools,” and that schools should make it a priority to make sure students under age 10 get the maximum feasible amount of classroom time.

COVID Support VT offers tips, resources, and connections to existing mental health, community services

MONTPELIER — Many Americans are feeling deepened anxiety, loneliness, and uncertainty about the future, all of which takes a heavy toll on daily life. Vermonters are no exception.

To help alleviate the extraordinary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID Support VT 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.

COVID Support VT is for anyone needing emotional support to deal with stressful circumstances due to the pandemic. It can be found on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

The program will work to reach higher-risk populations such as essential workers, elders, homeless, children, new Americans and refugees, people in recovery from mental health conditions or substance use disorders, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and more.

In addition to being at high risk of severe illness, people in these groups may also be experiencing social isolation and loneliness, which can lead to both poor mental and physical health.

The services available through COVID Support VT are designed to help those suffering from the pandemic by connecting them to resources for mental and emotional well-being, local and national helplines, accessible and easy-to-access education and helpful tips on coping with the effects of the pandemic, and connections to community organizations that provide crucial services.

Future services may include crisis counselors to provide individual brief support counseling and connections to community resources, through a single call center; virtual group counseling, and ongoing education and outreach tailored to support the emotional well-being of Vermonters.

For more information and resources, visit covidsupportvt.org, call 802-828-7368 or email info@covidsupportvt.org.

Monday, July 27

Health Department offers advice on wearing face masks

BURLINGTON — Vermont’s new strengthened mask requirements are set to begin Aug. 1.

Many Vermonters are already wearing masks regularly to help protect themselves, and to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But as Vermonters prepare for the state’s new requirement that masks be worn in public spaces in Vermont, the Health Department says that “it’s a good time to do a mask check.”

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Visitors are strongly encouraged to register with Sara Alert at the Vermont Health Department’s website for daily symptom reminders from the Vermont Department of Health and must attest to meeting the travel requirements.

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

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

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

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

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.

Thursday, June 11

Local service groups continue grocery delivery service

BRATTLEBORO — Brattleboro VFW Post 1034 and Brattleboro Elks #1499 banded together back in April to buy groceries and other essential items for those who cannot not venture out.

Volunteers purchased items, bagged or boxed them, and delivered them to homes where needed in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, Putney, and Vernon.

They are still taking names of folks who need help. If you need groceries, call VFW Post 1034 Quartermaster Lisa Lofting at 802-257-0438.

More than $6,000 in donations have taken in over the past two months to fund this program. Cash donations are always welcome, with 100 percent of the proceeds to be used to purchase items.

Make checks payable to VFW Post 1034, and include a return address so a receipt can be mailed. Mail to VFW Post 1034, P.O. Box 8233, Brattleboro, VT 05304.

Wednesday, June 10

State officials say Vermont schools will reopen this fall

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said the state is committed to getting schools open for in-person instruction this fall.

At his news briefing on Wednesday, Scott said the Education Department has been working with the Health Department to come up with protocols and guidelines for reopening schools. The full guidelines will be released next week.

Education Secretary Dan French said Wednesday that in-person instruction will look different, with protocols to keep COVID out of buildings through daily disinfection and stricter hygiene measures. There will be daily health checks for students and staff and screenings before boarding buses.

Scott said he did not want to forget about the Class of 2020 “who have endured a lot” this spring with the closure of schools and the disruption of graduation celebrations.

With that in mind, Dan Smith of the Vermont Community Foundation announced that every Vermont high school graduate in the Class of 2020 will be eligible for one free course at Community College of Vermont. The McClure Foundation is partnering with CCV to make this offer to graduating seniors.

Friday, June 5

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.

Tuesday, June 2

Scott establishes racial equity task force

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has signed an Executive Order to form the Racial Equity Task Force as a component of a broader state effort to promote racial, ethnic and cultural equity, including in its response to COVID-19.

“We cannot continue to treat racism and examples like the one in Minneapolis as uncomfortable and rare events, which is why we’ve been working on a Racial Equity Task Force in recent months,” Scott said at a news briefing Monday. “A task force is not the cure-all for what ails us. It is going to take some soul searching and real change — individually and systemically — to make a difference.”

The task force will undertake three major projects including:

• Evaluating structures of support for racially diverse populations, including a focus on the racial disparities in health outcomes highlighted by COVID-19;

• Reviewing current state and federal law on hate speech and freedom of speech and considering changes to state law to clarify the path for prosecuting harassment, hate speech, and other bias-motivated crimes; and

• Studying and presenting options to encourage Vermonters from diverse, marginalized, or underrepresented racial and ethnic groups to run and serve in public office at all levels.

It will submit recommendations to the Governor on the first project by Aug. 15 and preliminary recommendations on the second and third by Dec. 15. The group will also provide guidance as needed by the Governor.

“This task force will contribute to advancing equity in Vermont, and yet it is only one piece of that effort,” said Executive Director of Racial Equity Xusana Davis, who will chair the task force. “The group will shine further light on existing disparities, but it is up to individuals, institutions and local and state government to make it happen. This is such important work, and it is everyone’s work.”

Monday, June 1

Scott: Officers involved in George Floyd killing should be prosecuted

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott started his Monday news briefing on the COVID-19 outbreak by addressing a subject that has overshadowed the virus — police violence and systemic racism.

Scott said that the four Minneapolis police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd should be prosecuted, calling their actions “barbaric and totally inexcusable.”

Hundreds of protesters turned out in Brattleboro, Burlington, and Montpelier over the weekend as part of nationwide protests sparked by the killing of Floyd.

Scott, who joined the Vermont State Police in condemning the Minneapolis police actions on May 29, said the anger of protests was justified, and that they were the result “of calls for help for centuries that have gone unheard.”

“I respect those who are doing so,” Scott said. “I only ask that you do so peacefully and safely, especially considering the public health crisis we’re facing.”

At the same time, he said that hate and ignorance “is a far greater risk than COVID-19” to the health and general welfare of nation.

Scott also announced the launch of a racial equity task force to explore policies to combat systemic racism in Vermont. He acknowledged a task force is not a cure-all, encouraging Vermonters to take time to reflect on what role every person can play to end hate, racism and bigotry.

Friday, May 29

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.

Thursday, May 28

Newfane Heritage Festival is canceled for 2020

NEWFANE — Newfane Congregational Church has decided to cancel the Newfane Heritage Festival, scheduled for Oct. 10 and 11, 2020, and postpone the festival’s 50th anniversary celebrations until 2021.

Wednesday, May 27

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

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, but fairgrounds can still hold events that meet state rules. The Guilford Fair already announced its cancellation for 2020 earlier this week.

Thursday, May 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sunday, May 3

Elwell: Town offices to reopen for on-site activity on Monday

BRATTLEBORO —All town offices will resume daily on-site office functions starting Monday, May 4.

Town Manager Peter Elwell said last week that the offices will have to adhere to the follow guidelines:

• The exterior entrances to all town facilities will remain locked at all times. Signs will be posted at all exterior entrances clearly indicating that no one may enter the building if they have any symptoms of respiratory illness (fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath).

• There will be only one employee in each office at any one time, except when more than one employee is necessary to complete a required task.

• Employees who are not in the office will continue to work from home in the same manner as they have been during the full closure of town offices since March 27.

Ewell asked that the public should continue to do as much town business as possible remotely— by email, internet, phone, or mail. This includes the payment of property taxes and utility bills. Those can be paid by mail or online.

They can also be paid by dropping an envelope containing your check (no cash) into a locked black dropbox that will be attached to the large wooden light pole in the parking lot behind the Municipal Center.

Visit the town’s website at www.brattleboro.org for more details about town operations during the COVID-19 crisis.

Friday, May 1

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.

Farmers’ Market compiles local food source listings

BRATTLEBORO — Are you looking for sources for local food? The Brattleboro Area Farmers’ Market has compiled a online list of its vendors who offer direct sales to customers.

The list will have current food offerings at farm stands and CSAs, information on curbside pickup, and more.

Visit www.brattleboroareafarmersmarket.com/shop-local-covid-19 for more information. The list will be updated regularly.

Thursday, April 30

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

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

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.

Wednesday, April 22

Thompson House employees get tested after staffer tests positive for COVID-19

BRATTLEBORO — All employees at Thompson House Rehabilitation and Nursing Center are undergoing testing today for the COVID-19 virus after a staff member at the facility tested positive for the virus.

“This is just a precaution and it may seem extreme, but one thing we are all learning is what is extreme one day is policy the next,” facility administrator Dane Rank wrote in a letter sent to residents, families, staff, and friends on Tuesday. “I thought it prudent to get a handle on anyone at this point who might be infected and get them isolated ASAP, as long as the opportunity is open for us.”

According to Rank’s letter, during the facility’s routine monitoring for the virus, they identified a staff member who had someone in their household with an elevated temperature. Both were sent for testing. Rank wrote that the family member tested positive while the employee did not have symptoms and was not initially tested.

Rank wrote that the employee agreed to self-quarantine for two weeks and was expected to come back to work on April 20 wearing a mask and gloves.

The employee is continuing to self-quarantine for two weeks, after which two more negative COVID-19 tests will be needed before they are allowed to return to work, Rank wrote.

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Vermont have seen the most of the infections and deaths from COVID-19, according to the Vermont Department of Health.

‘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.

Tuesday, April 21

Student loan relief secured for Vermont borrowers not covered by federal CARES Act

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott and Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) Commissioner Michael Pieciak today announced a multi-state initiative to secure student loan relief options for thousands of Vermonters with privately held student loans.

Relief options include providing forbearance of payments for a minimum of 90 days, waiving any applicable late payment fees, protections from negative credit reporting, ceasing debt-collection lawsuits for 90 days, and working with borrowers to enroll them in appropriate assistance programs, such as income-based repayment.

To determine the types of federal loans they have and who their servicers are, borrowers can visit the Department of Education’s National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) at nslds.ed.gov or call the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-433-3243 or 800-730-8913 (TDD).

Borrowers with private student loans can check the contact information on their monthly billing statements. VSAC borrowers may call 833-802-8722 for assistance.

If a borrower is experiencing trouble with their student loan servicer, they are encouraged to contact the following and file a complaint: DFR Banking Division: 888-568-4547, dfr.bnkconsumer@vermont.gov; Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program: 800-649-2424, AGO.CAP@vermont.gov; and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint.

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.

Vermont DART addresses growing pet food needs in face of pandemic

BRATTLEBORO — As part of its mission to keep pets with their families during the COVID-19 crisis, the Vermont Disaster Animal Response Team (VDART) has been busy assessing needs, fundraising, and providing pet food to food banks across the state.

Last week the Windham Disaster Animal Response Team (WinDART), a regional team of the statewide group, donated $500 worth of pet food to the Vermont Food Bank’s (VFB) Brattleboro warehouse.

Staff at the Windham County Humane Society assisted with the delivery, which will be available to local VFB member agencies in Windham County and beyond.

This initiative was part of a COVID-19 Emergency Animal Care Grant the group received from the Humane Society of the United States to support the care of animals who are victims of the pandemic crisis and its current and future economic consequences.

Donations to help fund this pet food project can be made through the organization’s website at www.VermontDART.org/donate.

Sunday, April 19

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

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

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.

Vermont Arts Council, Vermont Community Foundation partner on statewide COVID-19 Arts Recovery Fund

MONTEPELIER — The Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Community Foundation announce the creation of an Arts Recovery Fund to respond to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Vermont’s arts and culture sector.

According to a news release, the Arts Recovery Fund has two goals: to deliver fast-tracked support to Vermont’s struggling arts and culture sector and to provide a central place to coordinate philanthropic giving. Direct grants will be available to support both individual artists and cultural organizations that are experiencing financial distress due to the spread of the novel coronavirus across Vermont.

For donors, the Arts Recovery Fund is an opportunity to join a coordinated effort to facilitate the recovery of Vermont’s creative sector. Donations are now being accepted on the Community Foundation’s website at vermontcf.org/ArtsRecovery.

Details about the application process will be available in May. Artists and organizations interested in applying should contact Amy Cunningham at acunningham@vermontartscouncil.org.

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

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).

Monday, April 13

Labor Department, swamped with unemployment claims, starts new intake system for clients

MONTPELIER — Facing an unprecedented level of new umemployment claims, the Vermont Department of Labor has implemented an alphabetized structure for the intake of weekly claims and inquiries.

Effective this week, the department is designating specific days of the week for individuals to contact the Department, based on the first letter of their last name.

The primary option for claimants to file their weekly claim is through the automated phone service, which can be accessed by dialing 800-983-2300. No restrictions have been placed for claimants looking to file a weekly claim over the phone system, which is open 24-hours on Sundays, and from 5 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

For those looking to file their weekly claim online through the Claimant Portal, found at uipublic01.labor.vermont.gov/Claimantportal/portal/login.aspx, claimants are encouraged to observe the following structure: Sunday (Everyone), Monday (A-E), Tuesday (F-L), Wednesday (M-R), Thursday (S-Z), and Friday (Everyone).

The state says it has received more than 70,000 unemployment applications and has paid out over $23 million in benefits as of last week, but there is still a huge backlog of applications and working to increase its capacity to process them. Visit labor.vermont.gov for more information.

Sunday, April 12

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

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

Trump approves Vermont disaster declaration

MONTPELIER —Gov. Phil Scott’s request for federal disaster funds to assist the state of Vermont in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been approved by President Donald Trump.

The president approved the state’s request for federal Public Assistance funds for the state and all towns for costs incurred in the response to and recovery from the pandemic.

This declaration will provide 75 percent reimbursement to state and local governments and some non-profits for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, for all areas in the state of Vermont affected by COVID-19.

Scott requested the disaster funding earlier this week. Vermont has so far spent more than $20 million responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to state officials.

His request sought federal Public Assistance funds for the state and all towns for costs incurred in the response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as Individual Assistance, including Disaster Unemployment Assistance and Crisis Counseling Assistance/Regular Services Program for all Vermont counties.

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Pete Gaynor has named W. Russell Webster as the federal coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the affected areas.

A request for a disaster declaration typically includes an assessment of physical damage to property in order to qualify for relief. Under these extraordinary circumstances, preliminary damage assessments are not required or recommended due to the dynamic nature of the pandemic.

Nonprofits that could be eligible for reimbursement include nursing homes, laboratories, rehab centers that provide medical care, hospitals and emergency care facilities, fire/rescue emergency services and education facilities.

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

Strolling of the Heifers cancels June parade

BRATTLEBORO — There will no heifers strolling down Main Street this June.

Strolling of the Heifers Executive Director Lissa Harris announced today that they will not be holding the famed Saturday parade or the rest of the events that were scheduled for the weekend of June 4-7 due to the COVID-19 crisis.

In a letter to The Commons, Harris said that the COVID-19 outbreak made it clear “that we will not be able to move forward with the Stroll Weekend events,” adding that “for some events we have a clear plan forward in place already and for others we are still researching the best options.”

Harris said there are no plans to reschedule the parade in 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

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

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

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

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.

USDA Rural Development launches COVID-19 resource webpage

WASHINGTON — USDA Rural Development has launched a COVID-19 resource page to keep its customers, partners, and stakeholders continuously updated on actions taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help rural residents, businesses, and communities affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Visit www.rd.usda.gov/coronavirus for information on Rural Development loan payment assistance, application deadline extensions, and more.

Thursday, March 26

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

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

AG’s Office publishes workplace guidance on COVID-19-related concerns

MONTPELIER — Attorney General T.J. Donovan today announced that his office has published the COVID-19 Pandemic Resources for Vermont Employers and Employees.

The guidance, which follows a “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQs) format, addresses a variety of issues—such as pay obligations during an Emergency Order or harassment of workers relating to COVID-19 fears.

It was written by the Attorney General’s Office’s (AGO’s) Civil Rights Unit, with input from the Human Rights Commission. It includes links to additional information from sources such as the Vermont Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control, and the Vermont and U.S. Departments of Labor.

The guidance is available on the “COVID-19 Information and Resources” page of the AGO’s website at ago.vermont.gov/covid-19-updates-and-information-from-the-attorney-general.

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

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

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.

Foodworks puts out call for food donations

BRATTLEBORO — Foodworks Foodshelf said Friday that it is seeing an increased need for food donations as grocery shelves are becoming increasingly bare.

Donations of food to Foodworks will be accepted weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the Groundworks Drop-In Center at 60 South Main St.

There is a particular need for ready-to-eat meals, pasta and sauces, peanut butter, dry milk, soups and canned protein such as tuna, beans, and meat (zip-top cans preferred), crackers, rice and instant potatoes, juices, and cereal.

Call 802-490-2412 for more information.

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

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

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

Brattleboro Representative Town Meeting canceled for now

BRATTLEBORO — Due to the COVID-19 health concerns, and the guidance from Governor Scott to limit gatherings to 50 people, the Brattleboro Selectboard decided at the March 17 Selectboard meeting to cancel the March 21 Representative Town Meeting.

According to Town Manager Peter Elwell, the meeting will be re-warned when it becomes legal and prudent to do so. The current plan is to re-warn RTM on April 7 and to hold RTM on May 9. The public will be informed when a new date is set.

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.

Tuesday, March 17

The Root announces programming changes

BRATTLEBORO — In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Root Social Justice Center on Williams Street has decided to take the following actions:

• All in-person Root programs will be suspended and moved onto an on-line and call-in platform, Zoom, at their regularly scheduled times. Program coordinators will be contacting program participants with detailed information.

• No new events are being scheduled at the Root. Additional cleaning and disinfecting protocols are being put into place; and a week of cleaning and disinfection of the space is planned before they reopen.

• While their website is down for revisions, they will be making concerted efforts to communicate through our Facebook page and program groups. Contact The Root at 802-451-0509 or therootsjc@gmail.com for more information.

Humane society open by appointment only

BRATTLEBORO — Due to coronavirus, the Windham County Humane Society is now open to the public by appointment only.

To make an appointment to get a rabies vaccine for your pet (waiving income requirements), make a Pet Care Assistance appointment with our vet or get pet food (income requirements in place, apply online), meet their adoptable animals, surrender an animal, or bring in a stray animal, call 802-254-2232 or email info@windhamcountyhumane.org.

Brattleboro Area Hospice closed to public

BRATTLEBORO — Brattleboro Area Hospice’s office, at 191 Canal St., is closed to the public until further notice as a safeguard for all visitors, clients and volunteers.

This closure includes their Medical Supply Loan Closet. Staff are continuing to work at the office.

If one is in need of end-of-life or bereavement support, or need help completing an Advance Directive, contact their care coordinators at 802-257-0775 to discuss the support services they can offer during this temporary closure.

Monday, March 16

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

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

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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