By MIKE DONOGHUE,
Islander Staff Writer
MONTPELIER – Grand Isle County now has three positive cases of the COVID-19 virus, the Vermont Health Department said today.
The two new cases were reported after Grand Isle County recorded its first positive test on Tuesday. Essex County has one confirmed case as of the Wednesday morning update.
The Vermont Health Department did not say the hometowns of the three patients. It also was unknown if the three are being treated in a hospital or in a home.
Gov. Phil Scott also disclosed today that his planned extension of his Executive Order -- “Stay Home, Stay Safe” -- will not come until Friday. He had first mentioned the extension last Friday during questioning by The Islander.
Scott declined to say how long the extension would last, but that he wants to ensure that the new order clarifies some items that might have been unclear by earlier orders.
The current order expires April 15 and covers “Essential Workers,” which include employees at grocery drug and hardware stores, the news media and first responders.
One issue Scott said he may try to clarify is when members of Vermont’s lodging industry will be able to resume taking reservations. They are blocked from accepting reservations under one of his recent executive orders.
“When is it going to end? I don’t have all the answers,” Scott said during his latest news conference on Wednesday. He did say the steps that Vermonters have taken has reduced the number of cases by thousands.
“It’s working,” Scott said. "We can't lift our foot off the gas just yet because this can change in an instant."
He also said without compliance by Vermonters with the Executive Order the state could have lost an estimated 1,000 lives. As of Wednesday 23 deaths had been reported in Vermont among people that had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
Vermont is not expected to peak until the end of this month or the first week in May. New projections will be shared on Friday, Scott said.
He also warned Vermonters the health crisis will not end quickly.
The plan is to take small steps comparing it to taking quarter turns on a water spigot each time, Scott explained.
Officials also reported the first Vermont prison inmate to test positive for COVID-19 is at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans Town.
The prison is in full lockdown and tests will be offered, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.
The inmate began to show symptoms on Monday and was tested, Smith said. He said the inmate was moved to a negative pressure cell.
Three staff members at the St. Albans prison had earlier tested positive and one staff member at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport.
Dr. Mark Levine, state health commissioner, said the two largest outbreaks remain at the Burlington Health and Rehab on Pearl Street and Birchwood Terrace Rehab and Healthcare on Star Farm Road in North Burlington.
There have been 120 positive tests between those two facilities, Levine said. The positive tests cover staff members and patients.
Levine says state health officials have visited most of the 86 nursing homes and senior housing facilities in Vermont to provide guidance on trying to avoid outbreaks.
The Vermont Labor Department continues to be swamped with phone calls and computers filings.
Interim Commissioner Michael Harrington explained that the state is unable to expand its call center to a 24-hour service due to an old computer. He said the call center need to be shut down each night so that the incoming claims can be uploaded and the processing started.
Media outlets, including The Islander, have received complaints about the inability to file for unemployment compensation or ask other questions.
Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said law enforcement is continuing to monitor non-essential businesses to see if they are complying with the “Stay Home, Say Safe” Executive Order.
He also said when complaints come in, businesses are checked and if they are major issues, they are referred to Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan. Donovan has not taken any action against a non-complying business.
Schirling estimated as many as 30 businesses have been reported.
**Updated to include Essex County has one reported case of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, March 8.