Coronavirus pandemic rules

Spacing is crucial for complying with coronavirus pandemic rules as customers wait in line at Aubuchon Hardware in Morrisville.

Stowe has had eight COVID-19 cases, Morristown seven, and Cambridge and Waterbury six apiece, according to a new town-by-town map posted by the Vermont Department of Health.

All other towns have had five cases or fewer, but the map does not show how many towns have had no cases at all.

As of Tuesday, 862 people had tested positive for the virus in Vermont, including 24 reported on the weekend; of the 862, 47 have died.

Joe Woodin, CEO of Copley Hospital, estimates that cases in Lamoille County peaked around April 1. The hospital has tested 460 people for the virus, 27 of whom tested positive, and continues to test everyone who has symptoms.

Copley hasn’t hospitalized a single COVID-19 patient, he said. 

Until this week, the state had resisted disclosing town-by-town information, saying that because of the small populations in some towns, disclosure of a case could inadvertently identify people who had contracted the virus. However, other states have been releasing town-by-town numbers, and Vermont decided to do so as well — but only for towns with six or more cases.

This week, the state reiterated its commitment to contact tracing, promising that every person known to have come into contact with someone with a confirmed COVID-19 infection in Vermont will receive follow-up communications from state investigators.

However, that hinges on testing.

More small steps

Gov. Phil Scott has slightly loosened his business shutdown order, imposed in mid-March to halt the spread of COVID-19. Situations that are now allowed:

• Crews of five or fewer can do outdoor work, and work in vacant structures.

• Manufacturing and distribution businesses may have up to five employees on the job, provided they’re always at least 6 feet apart.

• In-person shopping is allowed at outdoor retail operations, such as garden centers and greenhouses, but no more than 10 people — including employees and customers — are allowed at one time. Businesses must schedule or stage customer visits, with people waiting in cars until their spot opens up.

• Libraries may allow curbside pickup of books and other materials.

• Farmers markets can begin operating May 1, but they can’t be social gatherings, and major changes are required to eliminate crowds and reduce contact between vendors and customers. As much as possible, vendors must ask customers to order in advance, and then pick up the food to minimize contact.

Still in effect are strict rules on in-person contact — limiting the size of gatherings, closing school buildings and relying on online learning, suspending operation of businesses that are not essential or that require close personal contact, requiring working from home wherever possible, and requiring Vermonters to stay home and stay safe except for essential purposes.

In addition, employees and the public must wear masks when in the presence of other people; retail cashiers can stay behind a sneeze guard.

Scott said these steps have largely succeeded in limiting the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state, and preventing the Vermont health care system from being overwhelmed by coronavirus cases.

Safety training required

All businesses that want to reopen during the COVID-19 crisis will be required to complete a training program that will cover how the virus is transmitted, the importance of social distancing, and safe disposal of safety equipment. 

“This is a mandatory requirement to reopen,” said Steve Monahan of the Vermont Department of Labor. “I believe that most businesses are aware of the need to do this, and see that it’s probably a good effort to protect themselves from liability or having a sick workforce.”

1,000 meals a day

ShiftMeals is now delivering 1,000 prepared meals per week to be shared equally across three local sites: Lamoille County Mental Health, Morrisville; Smugglers’ Notch Resort, Cambridge; and Edelweiss Mountain Deli, Stowe.

The deliveries are slated to continue at least until early June, pending funding. 

The food is for anyone who needs a meal: laid-off workers, musicians, artists, gig workers, farmers, anyone affected by this crisis. Meals are available for pickup from 2 to 5:30 p.m. on a daily basis at Edelweiss Mountain Deli, 2251 Mountain Road, Stowe. Meals are frozen so that you can enjoy at your convenience. Come as often as you like. Just wear a cloth mask and observe proper distancing practices.

Other pickup sites have specific times for meal pickup.

ShiftMeals, which is a collaboration of The Skinny Pancake, Intervale Center, Vermont Community Foundation, and High Meadows Fund, began with four locations from Burlington to Quechee, including Waterbury and Montpelier, and has a goal of expanding across the state.

When the Stowe C19 General Relief Fund committee heard about the meals initiative, it proposed bringing the program to Lamoille County. 

The food is available to anyone in need, as needed. 

Information: skinnypancake.com/shiftmeals.

Free food pickup in Stowe

Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Stowe will hold a drive-thru pickup for free food on Sunday, May 3, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. behind Stowe Community Church at 137 Main St.

People can help by donating food in Neighbors Helping Neighbors bins at local businesses, or by bringing food donations to the drive-thru collection on Saturday, May 2, between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., also behind Stowe Community Church at 137 Main St.

The food program is a collaborative effort of the church and the Stowe C19 Volunteer Team.

Open, closed, in between

Here’s a link for stowereporter.com’s list of which businesses are open, closed, or in between: bit.ly/openclosedinstowe.

Things are likely to change rapidly now that the governor is reopening the state bit by bit, so it’s best to double-check with a business before going there.

Plenty of test kits now

Vermont has the capacity to conduct five times more Covid-19 tests a day than are currently being offered.

Vermont can now conduct up to 2,185 tests a day, but has been averaging only 419 tests a day this month.

When aggressive testing would have been ideal early in the pandemic, Vermont didn’t have the capacity. Now that the state has the tests, fewer people with symptoms are requesting them.

Use masks, please

Mask-wearing is not mandatory for everyone in Vermont, but is highly recommended.

Since a person may be infected and not know it, wearing a face covering helps protect everyone from exposure to the virus that person carries. State officials advise people to wear their masks when they’re out and about, keep them on until they get home, remove them without touching their eyes, nose or mouth, and then wash their hands immediately. Masks need to be hand-washed and then dried before being used again.

New guidelines from the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development require employees of businesses and other organization to wear non-medical cloth face coverings over their nose and mouth when in the presence of others. To prevent spread of the virus, people should still stay at least 6 feet from others, even when wearing a mask, wash hands often and follow the state’s Stay Home, Stay Safe guidance.

Unemployment woes

Vermonters are overwhelming the state’s unemployment system and having a hard time getting the help they need. Between 80,000 and 85,000 Vermonters have filed for unemployment since the crisis began, a meteoric increase over past years.

The backlog got so deep that, on Gov. Phil Scott’s orders, the state began issuing $1,200 checks early last week to 8,384 Vermonters who had not yet been able to resolve issues with their claims.  

Earlier this month, Scott said that Vermonters who have been unable to get through to the Department of Labor have “every right” to be angry. 

“It’s not enough for me to say ‘have some patience’ because this isn’t about patience. I accept responsibility for this,” he said. “This is an area that we didn’t foresee and certainly, no excuses, but we need to do better.” 

And while the Department of Labor has said that dozens of new call center workers and increased involvement by an outside vendor would expedite the process, Vermonters report continued difficulty in getting through to sort out issues barring them from receiving unemployment benefits. 

— VTDigger

In the Legislature

The Vermont Senate passed a medley of COVID-19 response legislation Monday, including bills that make it easier to receive workers’ compensation for contracting the virus on the job and that give towns the power to delay the deadline for property taxes.

— VTDigger

Free food available

Thompson Family Farms, Craftsbury General Store, C Village Store and Pete’s Greens are donating food to anyone in need after hearing the food shelf is stretched thin.

For assistance, call 586-2882 or email goodeats@petesgreens.com. To donate, send checks to Craftsbury Albany Food for Neighbors, 266 S. Craftsbury Road, Craftsbury, VT 05826.

Once the crisis is over, all remaining food will be donated to the Hardwick Area Food Pantry.

Bottles and cans

Because of the coronavirus, retailers and redemption centers don’t have to redeem beverage containers under Vermont’s bottle bill law right now.

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation said the hiatus reduces unnecessary person-to-person contact and possible virus transmission and lets grocers focus on restocking food shelves to ensure groceries are available.

The hiatus will last until Gov. Scott cancels his declaration of a state of emergency. The department recommends residents check with redemption centers before taking containers to redeem.

Keep your socks on

Darn Tough Vermont has donated 10,000 pairs of socks to Vermont hospitals around Vermont.

“We’re honored to contribute what we uniquely can, and show our appreciation to some of the toughest Vermonters,” said Rick Cabot, the company’s president and CEO. “We’re all in this together.”

The company’s socks retail for about $20 a pair and come with a lifetime, unconditional guarantee.

Darn Tough is based in Northfield, but expanded its manufacturing operations to Waterbury this spring, in space once occupied by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.

Break on car insurance

More than 40 insurance companies plan to return premiums or reduce rates for Vermont policyholders, saving them more than $14.6 million, according to the Department of Financial Regulation. The breaks — most will be 15 to 20 percent for a period of two or three months — result from the fact that people are driving much less because of Vermont’s stay-home, stay-safe order.

Online gallery in Greensboro

Other local art galleries have online art exhibits — including the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe and the Bryan Gallery in Jeffersonville — but the Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro sought out art from the community for “Pigment & Paper,” an online show while the center’s closed because of the virus crisis.

In just three weeks, the center received more than 70 submissions for the gallery, from professional artists to homebound people trying art for the first time.

“Although we cannot see our beloved patrons or the artists who bring life to our stage and galleries, the show must go on,” said Meghan Rublee at the art center. “Being able to share the extraordinary work people are creating has helped all of us feel connected and hopeful.”

Send work to artchallenge@highlandartsvt.org.

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