MONTPELIER – Gov. Phil Scott is calling all Vermonters into volunteer service to assist in supporting the state’s response to COVID-19.
The state has launched a new website: https://vermont.gov/volunteer to help Vermonters sign up for the program.
Medical volunteers, blood donations, support for local food banks and more are needed as the state ramps up its response in anticipation of the expected surge in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks, the Governor said.
The website directs those with medical and healthcare skills to the Medical Reserve Corp (MRC), and those with other needed skills to a quick registration process to sign up to help.
“I am asking every Vermonter to dig deep and find a way to give more in this incredibly challenging time,” Gov. Scott said.
“As we prepare for a surge in COVID-19 cases expected in the coming weeks, it will require each and every one of us to do our part to ease the burden on our health care system, the struggles of those less fortunate, and, ultimately, to save the lives of our friends and neighbors,” Scott said.
Medical Reserve Corp Volunteers Needed to Bolster Existing Health Care Workers
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. This is needed because Vermont’s existing health care workers are going above and beyond to respond to this challenge as it unfolds, and they are going to need reinforcements.
“In every health care facility in Vermont, staff have been working extraordinary hours, performing herculean tasks under great pressure and with limited resources,” Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s health commissioner, said.
“Knowing we have qualified volunteers ready to serve will help our current health care workers and strengthen Vermont’s response. We are all in this together,” the commissioner said.
The Vermont Medical Reserve Corps is seeking these qualified and experienced volunteers:
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 Volunteer Workers and Donations Also Needed to Strengthen Vermont’s Response
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.
The State expects to draw upon many skills to meet the challenge of serving those affected by COVID-19, potentially including drivers, food service, construction, IT, security, skilled trades and more.
In addition to volunteering their time, Vermonters can also contribute to blood banks, food banks, and other emergency supply efforts. The American Red Cross of Northern New England faces a severe blood shortage and many local food banks and other community organizations are in need of support and donations of supplies. In addition to volunteering, Vermonters can also give back in the following ways:
Gov. Scott is calling on all Vermonters to support these critical needs. “Our state is at its best when Vermonters pull together to help each other. The coming weeks will be very difficult, but united in common purpose, we will face, fight and defeat this virus – and emerge stronger together,” he said.
By Mike Donoghue, Islander Staff Reporter
SOUTH HERO – The Champlain Islands Health Center in South Hero will begin offering tests for the detection of the COVID-19 virus starting Wednesday afternoon.
The tests are administered only after a patient has received authorization in advance from his or her Primary Care Provider, Kate Reed, interim chief executive officer for the health center, told The Islander this afternoon.
People are not allowed to just drive up and ask for tests, Reed explained.
“Nobody can just visit. Don’t show up,” she said. The health center has to follow the directives of the State Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control, she said.
“Only after a referral can we do the tests,” she said.
The Primary Care Provider after conferring with the patient, must get authorization from a clearing house. It is only then that the patient will be notified they are cleared for the test.
The Health Center has personal protection equipment for the staff, Reed said.
A 10-foot-by-20-foot white tent has been erected on the back side of the health center off U.S. 2 to help with the testing. The tent is not a drive-thru, but to hold equipment, computers, test kits, tables and chairs for the staff and related items.
The Champlain Islands Health Center was identified as a key spot to help increase the number of tests being administered, Reed said. She said Vermont, and the Champlain Islands, have seen a low rate of testing.
She said some people may not have wanted to drive into Burlington for testing. So the state is studying adding test sites.
Reed said the health center staff was working Tuesday on the specific duties employees will do during the testing period.
The plan is to offer testing noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday beginning Wednesday, Reed said. Hours could be expanded as needed, she said.
There will be no direct contact between the patient and the staff, Reed said.
Patients arriving at the health center will drive up next to the white tent. The patient will have to provide proof of identity, most likely by displaying a driver’s license through a window.
The name will be cross-checked on the list of people approved for tests. Once confirmed, they will be asked to pull ahead. They will be provided a kit for the test.
The health center had shut down normal operations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 20.
While there have been no confirmed cases in Grand Isle County as of Tuesday, the health center is continuing to offer informational services by phone to patients in the Grand Isle County region.
A nurse and an administrator are remaining on duty in South Hero, but people are being urged to call the office ahead and not just come in unannounced.
The health center can be reached by calling (802) 372-4687.
The health center has been operating in the Champlain Islands since about 2012. It moved from Grand Isle into new modern offices in November 2016.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
MONTPELIER -- Grand Isle County remains one of two Vermont counties that state officials say does not have a single reported case of the COVID-19 virus.
During a Monday news conference, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said to the best of his knowledge there were still no known cases in the two counties.
The Islander had asked whether the lack of hospitals in both those counties might lead to a false belief of no cases, or that residents with the virus might show up in adjoining Chittenden and Franklin Counties, which have hospitals.
That was later reinforced by Ben Truman, the public health communications officer for the Vermont Health Department.
“I can confirm that as of last night we have zero positive cases identified as GI County residents,” Truman said in an email to The Islander.
He said the Health Department does not know the county of residence for all the cases in Vermont.
“As those are ID’d the map, etc., are updated,” he wrote.
The Vermont Health Department website contains daily updates including statistics. They include a breakdown by counties of the number of confirmed cases. As of Monday, there were 133 in Chittenden County and 11 in Franklin County.
The comments come as Gov. Phil Scott said he was asking out-of-staters arriving in the state and Vermonters returning from winter vacations to self-quarantine for 14 days to help protect the rest of the community.
He said visitors and returning residents should not make any stops along the way, but head to their homes or destinations immediately. Once there they should stay inside for the most part.
Scott is discouraging anybody to come to Vermont from a so-called COVID-19 “hotspot.”
He is especially seeking compliance with the CDC’s Domestic Travel Advisory for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, which advised residents of those states to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days.
Levine said as of Monday there were 256 confirmed cases in Vermont, an increase of 21 from the day before.
The number of deaths remained at 12, including seven linked to the Burlington Health and Rehabilitation Center at 330 Pearl Street.
Levine said he is concerned that two deaths have been linked to an Essex Junction apartment complex that serves residents age 55 and older. One was a resident and the other was the significant other of a person that was associated with the complex.
Levine stressed Pinecrest at Essex, which is off Susie Wilson Road, it is not a nursing home, but rather more than 50 apartments designed for older people.
The state said 3,930 tests have been undertaken. There are 219 patients still being monitored. Another 546 have completed monitoring.
State Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle/Colchester said last week that construction has been suspended on the new drawbridge between North Hero and Grand Isle on U.S. 2.
Mazza, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said various contractors and the state of Vermont are working together to try to ensure the protection for the work crews. The contractors agreed to halt work, he said.
“They want to stop the virus,” Mazza said.
The senator said some construction sites, including work on a culvert on Interstate 89 near Exit 18 will continue because it is a major safety factor.
Mazza said other road projects will be suspended under Gov. Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order.
Mazza said maintenance work can continue to ensure that roads, and bridges remain safe for drivers.
Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn of South Hero directed the orderly shutdown of all construction projects that are not critical to the public health, safety, or national security.
The shutdown will last until at least April 15 and could be extended by the Governor.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
Vermont law enforcement has begun to check all hotels, motels, lodges and inns to ensure they are complying with Gov. Phil Scott’s Executive Order closing non-essential businesses.
The Vermont State Police asked other law enforcement agencies over the weekend to help review various lodging businesses to make sure they were not operating outside the Executive Order.
The directive sent by Col. Matthew Birmingham on behalf of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling on Saturday morning asked officers only to check if the businesses were operating, but not to conduct any enforcement of the Executive Order.
Grand Isle County Sheriff Ray Allen said his office was asked by Vermont State Police to check the businesses in the five island towns on Saturday. Allen said none in Grand Isle County were found to be out of compliance – and most are shut down because of the off-season.
Joanne Batchelder, an owner at Holiday Harbor Lodge on Lake Champlain in North Hero said they close down each year when the ice goes out and resumes each May. She said it is considered the off-season.
The North Hero House had said earlier that it was shutting down due to the COVID-19 scare. They plan to reopen when they get "all clear" sign.
Colchester Police Chief Doug Allen declined to say what his officers found when they went to the various hotels in town. “It was information asked for by the state and was provided to the state.” Allen said he would not elaborate.
Word of the unannounced statewide police sweep at more than 300 businesses throughout the 14 counties surfaced after the owners of the Tucker Hill Inn in Waitsfield posted on its Facebook Page on Saturday afternoon about a visit by Vermont State Police.
The inn owners reported the state trooper claimed he was there to investigate the possibility of turning the lodge into a temporary hospital and wanted to know how many rooms they had on-site, according to the Valley Reporter in Waitsfield, which broke the story.
The Tucker Hill Inn owners, after posting what the trooper reportedly had shared, indicated the law enforcement officer later called business to confess “he wasn’t completely honest” about what he stated earlier during his visit, the local weekly newspaper reported on its website Sunday.
That news story eventually caused the Vermont State Police to issue a press release about noon Sunday trying to clear the air.
The news release did not identify the state trooper and if and how the officer went off any script intended for use during the inspection.
State troopers, municipal police, and county sheriffs completed 295 checks, department spokesman Adam Silverman said in the news release. He said 20 sites remain to be checked.
It was unclear how many sites were in compliance or how many were violating the order, Silverman said. Those numbers were still being compiled Sunday from the various police agencies across the state, he said.
Silverman said the information might be available as early as Monday and will be used to consider any additional steps needed to help meet the goals of the Governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order.
Scott, who has been hosting regular media briefings in recent weeks on COVID-19, is expected to have another on Monday.
It also was unclear where the master list of hotels, motels, and inns to be checked was compiled: if names were based on places that pay the state rooms and meals tax, or if the sites were known by the Vermont Health Department or some other licensing function from the state.
The Birmingham memo had a spreadsheet attachment with the names of places for police checks.
Also unclear is whether any Airbnbs – rooms or homes that often get rented out over the Internet – were visited by police.
Silverman noted in the news release the executive order requires lodging sites to be closed except under limited circumstances, including:
The purpose of the visits was to evaluate compliance, he said.
Allen said the checks in Grand Isle County were easy because it is between season.
“I am very proud of the residents of Grand Isle County. Any time there is any natural disaster or emergency crisis the county comes together and does its part,” Allen said.
The Grand Isle Sheriffs, which are the primary police force for the five towns, has seen a reduction in complaints and in traffic, Allen said. He said it appears people are leaving their homes only to get essentials as allowed under the Governor’s order.
“Their cooperation is greatly appreciation,” Allen said.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
UPDATE: The meeting has been changed to 3:30 p.m. on Monday, March 30. The Zoom Meeting Room, Meeting ID and password have been updated. The updated information to log on to the meeting is below.
Meeting ID: 559 314 475
GRAND ISLE – As local and state government boards, commissions and offices get more creative in carrying out their duties during COVID-19, the Grand Isle Selectboard plans to hold its upcoming meetings by computer.
On Monday at 3 p.m. the board plans to make a test room to see if the board and general public can connected through a program known as ”Zoom.”
The practice test is to try to ensure that the regular board meeting on April 6 will go on without a hitch, Selectboard member Rachael Griggs said.
The Vermont legislature last week relaxed a couple of requirements under Vermont’s Open Meeting Law, including that at least one board member must be present at a public meeting site.
The changes are only in effect during the State of Emergency declared by Gov. Phil Scott.
School closings result in temporary layoffs at NCSS
By Joe Halko, NCSS Director of Community Relations
St. Albans – COVID-19, commonly known as the new coronavirus, is having an unprecedented impact on the health, safety, and well-being of everyone. Everything that we knew as normal has been replaced with a level of anxiety and uncertainty.
Sadly, with the recent closure of schools and the Governor’s “Stay Home” order, we find ourselves needing to temporarily reduce our workforce. As a result, Northwestern Counseling & Support Services (NCSS) has temporarily laid-off 124 employees. When given the option, 71% of the temporary lay-offs were voluntary and primarily affected school based and community support staff.
“The majority of NCSS staff continues to provide much needed services in a variety of creative and alternative ways. In an attempt to maximize care, we have reassigned many staff to other programs that need coverage during these trying times.”, stated Todd Bauman, CEO of NCSS.
“We are all living firsthand through a series of challenging events. We have put a lot of thought into the actions we’ve taken; it’s a delicate balance between operating and taking care of staff. We have made exceptions to many policies, one of them being the decision to continue people’s health insurance without collecting their bi-weekly share.”, noted Stacey Remillard, Director of Human Resources.
At this time, we hope to recall staff during the month of April. We will continue to adapt as new information becomes available.
By MICHAEL DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Reporter
ST. ALBANS -- The Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans reported late Friday afternoon that one of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Islander had reported the St. Albans hospital had two positive tests among patients last Saturday morning.
“With the presence of COVID-19 in our community, we have understood that it was inevitable that employees from among our team of nearly 900 people would eventually test positive for the virus,” Dr. John Minadeo, Chief Medical Quality Officer said.
The positive test came as Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced during the Friday news conference that 10 people testing positive for COVID-19 have died in Vermont.
Seven of the deaths are patients from the Burlington Health and Rehabilitation on Pearl Street. One of them died in a hospital setting, Dr. Levine said
The number of positive tests hit 184 as of Friday, compared to 95 positives on Tuesday, the Vermont Health Department said.
Grand Isle County – along with Essex County – still has no reported cases.
The number of conducted tests hit 2,261 as of Friday compared to 1,535 on Tuesday.
The St. Albans hospital knew its staff would be impacted after he two patients were infected.
The hospital said it would not provide additional information about the infected person, including whether it was a man or woman, a doctor or nurse or some other profession. The hospital also failed to provide an age range.
The Medical Center made the announcement on its website. NMC officials did not respond to phone messages on Friday seeking more information.
The state was more forthcoming during a more than one-hour news conference featuring Gov. Phil Scott, Commissioner Levine and other key commissioners.
The news conference was used by Gov. Scott to further outline his announcement from late Thursday afternoon ordering the closing of schools and ending in-person learning for the academic year.
“I know this news is incredibly difficult, it’s disappointing, it’s just plain sad” Scott told reporters, many calling into the Montpelier press conference.
The school closing order came two days after Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order asking Vermonters to stay at home. Scott’s Executive Order, effective on allows for certain essential Vermont services, including grocery stores, banks, hardware stores and the news media to continue to deliver assistance for Vermonters.
Scott and U.S. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt. are among those that have been urging Vermonters to stay home. Leahy took the additional step of asking out-of-staters to stay out of Vermont while the state tries to resolve the epidemic.
Under questioning, Scott urged thousands of college and high school students sent home without all the property from their dorm rooms to hold off on returning to retrieve items. Many of them are from out-of-state – including hot spots like New York State.
“They should ask themselves, Do I want it or do I need it?,” Scott responded.
“If you just want it, stay right where you are until we get further down this path. If you need it….I’m sure the school could ship it to you. What’s the best action for your personal safety and others?”
Gov. Scott also told reporters that it is up to the state legislature to delay the start of a July 1 ban on single-use plastic grocery bags. Scott said believed he did not have authority to order a delay.
Some Vermont stores are refusing baggers to handle reusable grocery bags.
MONTPELIER – Gov. Phil Scott and members of his administration provided an update today at a press conference on the Governor’s directive to dismiss schools for in-person instruction for the remainder of 2019-2020 school year.
“The education of our kids, along with the bonding and learning experiences they get at school, are incredibly important, so I fully understand and appreciate the impact this will have on our kids individually and families across Vermont,” said Governor Scott. “But from my vantage point, I believe it’s the right decision because it’s for the health of our kids, communities and the entire state. That’s why we’re doing this—to keep people safe, to slow the spread and to save lives.”
Click here to view the full press conference and see a full transcript of Governor Scott’s remarks below.
For the latest information and guidance relating to Vermont’s COVID-19 response, visit www.healthvermont.gov/covid19.
Scott said he planned to have another press briefing on Monday.
Good morning. Thank you all for continuing to tune into these important updates.
As this pandemic continues, the health and safety of all Vermonters is my top priority. Every decision I’ve made is guided by what’s best for public health based on the best science we have available. And, as I’ve said, as the virus continues to spread and we learn more about COVID-19, Vermonters can expect we may have to take further action to help slow it down.
Slowing the spread of infection is critical to making sure we can protect the vulnerable, meaning the elderly and others who are at risk for serious illness and, in too many cases, even death.
These steps are also necessary to keep our healthcare system from being overwhelmed like we’re seeing right before our eyes in other states like New York. What we’re doing is important to the health and safety of all Vermonters.
To help reach these goals, on March 15, I ordered the temporary dismissal of schools. While we hoped this would be enough, that has not proven to be the case.
So, working closely with the experts at our Department of Health and the Agency of Education, I came to the difficult decision to extend dismissal and close in-person instruction at schools for the remainder of the school year. However, to make sure our kids continue learning, I’m asking districts to complete plans for continued education through remote learning so we’re ready to go April 13.
I know this news is incredibly difficult. Let’s face it: It’s disappointing, frustrating and it’s just plain sad for kids, parents, teachers and all school employees. My heart goes out to all of you. It’s going to be hard. I know that.
The education of our kids, along with the bonding and learning experiences they get at school, are incredibly important, so I fully understand and appreciate the impact this will have on our kids individually, and families across Vermont.
But from my vantage point, I believe it’s the right decision because it’s for the health of our kids, communities and the entire state. That’s why we’re doing this--to keep people safe, to slow the spread, to save lives.
The sobering reality is: Before too long, each of us will know someone who has lost their life from this virus. That’s why we must come together and support each other to get through this.
Even with this decision, it’s my hope that with the mitigation steps we’ve taken, our children will be able to return at the end of the year for activities like graduation. But we won’t make that decision until we’re certain it’s safe.
For now, we need to use our creativity to find ways to deliver quality remote learning for our students through the end of the school year.
I want to thank school administrators, superintendents, educators and staff around the state who are working hard to adapt to incredibly challenging circumstances. The fact is, we need your help and we appreciate your public service.
Childcare providers will also remain closed but will still be able to provide care for the children of those workers critical to the state’s response. I’ve been impressed with school districts who have worked very hard to set up creative and critically needed programs to offer care for students whose parents are working on the frontlines. These educators and staff, who are finding ways to support these families, have been so important to our COVID-19 response efforts.
I’m proud and appreciative of their hard work, creative can-do attitude and their willingness to step up in this moment of service. These educators, and the staff supporting them, represent the very best of our public education system.
We find ourselves at a time when there’s no road map available. So, our education leaders, parents and kids--and all Vermonters for that matter--have never been asked to do anything quite like this. But these times require all of us to think outside of the box to find creative solutions, and we must work together to ensure we still get the best outcomes possible for our kids.
I want to assure you, me and my team are here to help every step of the way as we navigate these uncharted waters together. Our way out of this is using the best information we have, common sense about what we want and what we need and working together in service to Vermonters.
The Agency of Education will be providing technical guidance to districts by the end of this week and Secretary French is with us on the phone today to answer questions.
I want to thank the many education leaders, teachers, parents, staff and others who’ve stepped up during this difficult time. I know this is not easy. But your commitment to public service and your ability to adapt is exactly what we need.
It’s what makes us Vermont strong--and united as well. We will get through this and we’ll do it together.
GOVERNOR PHIL SCOTT DISMISSES SCHOOLS FOR IN-PERSON INSTRUCTION FOR REMAINDER OF 2019-2020 SCHOOL YEAR
School districts to implement continuity of learning plans for remote learning by April 13
Montpelier, Vt. Governor Phil Scott today directed schools to remain dismissed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Districts will close schools for in-person instruction and be required to implement continuity of learning plans for remote learning. This extends the Governor’s previous directive dismissing PreK-12 schools from March 18 to April 6.
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.
“The education of our students and the bonding and learning experiences they have at schools are tremendously important, so I fully appreciate the impact and difficulty of this decision,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I also recognize it will be challenging for some schools to implement remote learning through the end of the year. But I’m encouraged by the creativity I’ve seen from administrators, educators and parents already, which is why I know, together, they can rise to the occasion.”
Governor Scott also noted that some school districts have also set up creative and critically needed programs to offer onsite care for their students whose parents are working on the frontlines in this response. “These educators and staff who are finding ways to support these families have been critical to our COVID-19 response efforts and I am so proud and appreciative of their hard work, creative can-do attitude and their willingness to step up in this moment of service. These educators, and the staff supporting them, represent the very best of our public education system.”
The Agency of Education will provide technical guidance to districts on how to implement continuity of learning plans by the end of the week, 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.
Read the full directive here: https://governor.vermont.gov/content/directive-5-continuity-learning-planning-pursuant-eo-01-20.
For the latest information and guidance relating to Vermont’s COVID-19 response, visit www.healthvermont.gov/covid19.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
MONTPELIER -- Gov. Phil Scott’s new directive ordering Vermonters to remain in their homes as the state deals with the escalating COVID-19 pandemic is now in effect.
The “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order , announced on Tuesday, went into effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
There are a limited number of essential jobs that permit workers to continue to work in the community. They include police, fire, rescue, and news media along with those working for grocery stores, drug stores, hardware stores, and for car repair centers etc.
Vermonters asked to remain in their homes are allowed outside to get fresh air or to walk a dog, Scott said during a news conference. However the 6-foot minimum buffer between people needs to be honored while outside, Scott said.
The steps within the Executive Order are expected to help slow the spread of the virus and protect people who are more vulnerable, the Governor said.
The directive comes as the number of Vermont deaths increased from 7 to 8 as of Wednesday afternoon.
The number of positive tests also are up. They increased from 95 to 123 over the previous 24-hours.
Grand Isle and Essex Counties remain as the only areas that have no positive tests.
Chittenden County remains in the lead with 55 cases, while Windsor County with 17 is second. Bennington County has 11 and Addison has nine, the Vermont Health Department said.
The number of monitored cases went up from 339 to 342, while the completed cases went from 316 to 317.
During the morning news conference, both Gov. Scott and Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said the state will be looking for voluntary compliance in seeking people to stay home.
Schirling said police agencies will still need a justified reason for stopping a motor vehicle. Just being on the road would not be enough reason to stop a motorist.
The state also is encouraging to connect with each other through technology, reading books, playing games and finding hobbies. We’re all in this together.