COVID-19 news on Friday: Vt. reports 51 new cases; Dartmouth freezes hiring

Published: 4/3/2020 6:26:18 PM
Modified: 4/3/2020 9:16:15 PM

Vermont reported 51 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the statewide total to 389, according to Health Commissioner Mark Levine.

He said the state has enough capacity on hand now to conduct tests for “well over 10 days, if not double or triple that.”

A new testing site is slated to open in Orange County on Tuesday at the Wells River office of the Bradford, Vt.-based Little Rivers Health Care, a federally qualified health center, though a referral from a provider is required.

State officials also said Vermont has enough personal protective equipment in stock — including 1.9 million gloves and 283,000 N95 masks — to protect health care workers under likely projected demands for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Gov. Phil Scott also extended his order closing restaurants and bars to in-house meals, though takeout and delivery are still allowed.

Scott’s executive order closing bars and restaurants was among his first moves to promote social distancing, and was set to expire Monday, but it has now been extended to April 15.

NH preps for overflow

New Hampshire has prepared 14 medical overflow sites, containing a total of 1,600 beds, around the state in preparation for the surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations. The costs of setting these facilities up is borne by the state and federal governments, as well as managed care organizations and hospitals, Gov. Chris Sununu said during a Friday news conference.

Municipalities and host institutions will not be on the hook for those costs, he said.

Sununu also announced an executive order giving cities and towns the option of waiving interest for late property tax payments, along with a plan to move $50 million of the state’s cash reserves to New Hampshire-based banks to ease making loans to small businesses.

New Hampshire on Friday reported 61 new COVID-19 cases, for a total of 540. Two more people, Hillsborough County residents both over 60, died from the disease, bringing the New Hampshire death toll to seven. Sununu on Friday also said that about 100 first responders in the state are out on “quarantine status.”

Belt-tighteningat Dartmouth

Dartmouth College officials told employees and students they have imposed a freeze on staff hiring through the end of December because of financial losses from the pandemic, including a drop in the endowment and loss of room-and-board revenue.

Faculty hiring can continue with approval from the relevant dean, as can staff hires that are fully funded by research grants or related funds, according to an email from Provost Joseph Helble and Executive Vice President Rick Mills.

The email said that except for those required by union contracts or connected to promotions or faculty tenure, employees will not receive any wage or stipend increase in fiscal year 2021, which starts in July.

Dartmouth also plans “targeted reductions” in expenditures this spring beyond compensation, including spending on supplies and events, the email said.

“The steps we’ve outlined above will help decrease the deficit, but we will likely need to take further action to close the gap,” the email said.

In terms of possible furloughs or layoffs, the email said Dartmouth would honor its commitment to pay regular, non-temporary staff through June, but made no commitment beyond that.

Laconia-area healthsystem furloughs 500

Lakes Region General Hospital is furloughing 500 full-time employees, LRGH President and CEO Kevin Donovan said Friday.

It will keep its emergency department, critical care and coronavirus treatment services open as it deals with the financial fallout of the pandemic, Laconia, N.H., Mayor Andrew Hosmer confirmed based on information he received from the hospital.

Hosmer said this will be a major financial blow to the city and will have ripple effects through the local economy. LRGH is the largest employer in the Lakes Region.

The hospital was struggling with a high debt load and major revenue issues before the pandemic, which exacerbated its problems as elective surgeries and other profit-driving procedures had to be canceled to prepare for an expected surge of COVID-19 patients.

Material from the Laconia Daily Sun and VtDigger was used in this report.

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