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COVID-19 news for Monday: Scott tells nonresidents to self-isolate

  • In an effort to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott announces a state of emergency for Vermont during a press conference Friday, March 13, 2020 in Montpelier, Vt. The vast majority of people recover from the new coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness. (Jeb Wallace-Brodeur/The Times Argus via AP) Jeb Wallace-Brodeur

Valley News Staff Writers
Published: 3/30/2020 2:02:57 PM
Modified: 3/30/2020 10:11:34 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Gov. Phil Scott on Monday told nonresidents who have recently come to Vermont to self-isolate in their homes for 14 days in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Scott also took steps to discourage travel to Vermont from COVID-19 “hotspots,” including issuing orders that Airbnb and other online lodging sites shut down and hotels mostly close.

Scott said he was asking nonresidents who were coming to Vermont to stay in their second homes or to be with family, as well as those who may be returning to Vermont after spending the winter elsewhere, to stay at home for two weeks after their arrival in the state.

“If you don’t need to come to Vermont, please don’t,” Scott said in a news conference Monday morning. “This is about public health and safety, which is our top priority.”

The new order suspends the operations of lodging facilities, including hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, Airbnbs, campgrounds and RV parks. (Guests who are already lodged are allowed to remain there through the end of their scheduled stay.)

Of the 318 non-Airbnb type lodging facilities in the state, officials found 88 were still open during an investigation over the weekend. Half of those were in compliance, serving essential personnel such as traveling nurses, other health providers and flight crews.

The motels and other lodging facilities can also continue to serve as emergency shelters for people who are homeless.

The other half were out of compliance, serving non-essential parties. The Attorney General’s Office will be sending out letters and following-up to ensure compliance with the order.

“We have every belief that these properties will become compliant,” Vermont Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Schirling said.

If not, they could be subject to fines ranging between $1,000 to $10,000 and as much as six months in prison.

“The last thing any of us want to do is enforce those orders,” said Attorney General TJ Donovan. Still, Donovan said, “We’re prepared to do our job.”

Royalton Police Chief Loretta Stalnaker said her department aims to make people aware of the new order without resorting to enforcement.

She said that officers who have pulled someone over for another reason might ask drivers where they live and if they’ve recently traveled outside of Vermont before reminding them to quarantine for 14 days, Stalnaker said.

“For the most part, it’s just information and asking people to cooperate at this point,” she said.

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce said it supports the measure and will push for education and “voluntary compliance.”

NH won’t do standardized tests

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said on Monday that schools in the Granite State will not be able to offer standardized testing like the SAT for the rest of the current school year because of the outbreak.

Sununu said he is suspending standardized testing requirements as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency, saying there was no way to “craft a secure, remote way to administer the SAT to New Hampshire students this spring.”

The New Hampshire Department of Education will continue to work with the College Board to create a way students may be able to take the SATs, a key part in the college application process, this summer or in early fall.

As it is, the “remote learning” program for New Hampshire schoolchildren has been extended until May 4, meaning school buildings themselves are closed to students.

Sununu also said that under the massive bailout package passed by Congress last week, many people claiming unemployment benefits in the state will see the minimum payment increase from $32 to $168 a week, and all recipients will get an additional $600 a week, all federally funded.

In addition, people could continue to collect unemployment for 39 weeks, 13 weeks longer than usual, under the federally funded package.

Deadlines for filing business tax payments and interest and dividend tax payments for most people have also been pushed back to June 15.

Patient at Mt. Ascutney

Thus far, 256 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Vermont. Twelve people have died, including seven at Burlington Health & Rehab, a nursing home where an outbreak is ongoing.

Also included in those deaths are two that have been tied to Pinecrest at Essex, an independent living facility for seniors in Essex Junction, Vt. One death involved the significant other of an employee at the facility and the other was a resident, Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said during a news conference on Monday.

Health officials are working to trace the contacts of the infected people, and directing them to isolate and contact their medical providers, he said.

As of Sunday evening, the state had 19 inpatient COVID-19 patients, said Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith.

While 14 of those are at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, the other five are at smaller hospitals around the state, including one at Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor, Smith said. The state will now be providing the number of hospitalizations each day.

In the meantime, the state received six truckloads of supplies from the federal government over the weekend. As of Monday, the Vermont National Guard was working to add additional storage space because the state’s regular storage space is full, Schirling said.

The state has more than 400 ventilators on order, officials said.

State officials are also looking into how the state’s manufacturers might begin making various forms of personal protective equipment, as well as ventilators, which are used to help people breathe.

The state also is exploring the possibility of hooking up more than one patient to a ventilator at a time, officials said.

NH numbers

New Hampshire saw another 56 new cases, for a total of 314, Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said on Monday. Chan said at least 46 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the state and have recovered, but he also said there is increasing evidence that the virus can be transmitted before a carrier shows any symptoms.

He said the country is in the “acceleration phase of the pandemic.”

“We will continue to see an increasing number of cases in New Hampshire,” Chan said.

“We all know that the surge is still coming,” Sununu added. “Our job is to be as prepared as we can.”

Dartmouth College said an employee and an undergraduate student living on campus have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in self-isolation.

Three more Dartmouth students were being tested on Monday. Thus far, four people on the Dartmouth campus have tested positive, college officials said Monday.

The Prouty may go “virtual”

The Prouty, the major fundraiser for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, is considering options to have supporters participate online as they recreate if it can’t hold its planned weekend of events on July 11.

As it is, organizers have had to cancel planned “kick-off parties” which were scheduled for April 30 because of the limitations on gatherings. And Prouty officials are now examining various ways to continue with fundraising and athletic activities this summer that can maintain social distancing, such as walking, biking and running.

“We’re going to hold something because The Prouty really is about community,” Jean Brown, the executive director of the Friends of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, said on Monday. Details are being finalized and are forthcoming, she said.

Last year’s Prouty event involved 4,400 people and raised more than $3.3 million.

Another institution, Vermont’s annual Green Up Day, is being postponed from May 2 to May 30.

Sullivan County pet shelter closed to public

The Sullivan County Humane Society said it is closed to the public until at least May 4 because of state-ordered closure of many businesses and nonprofits. But it is considered an essential service, so staff and volunteers are in the shelter every day, taking care of the animals there.

Anyone with essential business there is asked to call 603-542-3277. The Humane Society said it has had to cancel four fundraisers thus far but excepts the demand for its services to rise if people have to give up their pets for economic reasons in the fallout from the virus outbreak.

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