Over the last few weeks, the news has gotten a bit ... overwhelming. Stories about the coronavirus crisis are coming in fast and furious.
In an effort to keep you apprised of the latest, we'll post updates here as they come in, one week at a time. Think of it as a place for news briefs in a print edition of a newspaper. Or, as we call it, our "rolling blog" entries. To read previous entries, click here.
Keep checking back for the latest.
Here's what happened during the week beginning March 30, 2020:
Friday, April 3, 2020
Twelve Vermont Ski Areas Have Banned Uphill Travel
Aside from shuttering all resort operations, most Vermont ski areas have also closed their mountains to those hoping to earn their turns by skinning uphill.
Twelve different areas have completely closed their properties to any visitors. Two others don’t explicitly ban the practice, including Okemo, which warns that “all access is at your own risk.” At Magic Mountain, residents living within 10 miles of the ski area are allowed to skin up, “as a means to get outside for exercise per the Governor’s 3/25 order to stay at home.”
Most of Vermont’s ski areas closed lifts, lodges and other facilities as the COVID-19 outbreak expanded in mid-March.
“We understand that the early end to the season is disappointing, and we certainly share that sentiment, however it is important that all of us continue to do our part in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and not put others at any unnecessary additional risk,” Molly Mahar, president of Ski Vermont, said in a statement.
Thursday, April 2, 2020
New Medical Surge Sites Will House 650 Hospital Beds
The State of Vermont is creating an additional 650 hospital beds to serve the expected surge in COVID-19 patients.
The Vermont National Guard will staff a 400-bed medical surge site at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction, and staff at the Rutland Regional Medical Center will support an additional 150 beds in Rutland County, the governor’s office said in a press release on Thursday.
Surge centers have already been set up in Barre, St. Albans and Burlington, adding up to 250 additional beds. They will only be used if hospitals exceed their capacity, state officials said.
The state is also placing 50-bed "rapid reaction medical surge trailers" at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor. It also has two portable hospitals, all of which "can be deployed quickly if needed," the press release said.
Also on Thursday, the Vermont Medical Reserve Corps put out a call for volunteers with certified clinical experience to aid the state's health care workforce.
The wishlist includes doctors and nurses, including retirees; mental health professionals; people with experience in medical data entry and language translation; and those who have worked with homeless populations.
Gov. Phil Scott also called on Vermonters to contribute to blood and food banks and to donate N95 masks and other personal protective equipment to their nearest state police barracks.
“Our state is at its best when Vermonters pull together to help each other," Scott said. "The coming weeks will be very difficult, but united in common purpose, we will face, fight and defeat this virus – and emerge stronger together."
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Calling All 3D Printers: Generator Needs Your Machine
Generator is looking for anyone in northern Vermont who owns Prusa i3 MK3S or MK3 3D printers to lend the machines for three to four weeks so that the maker space can mass produce plastic face shields for the University of Vermont Medical Center's frontline medical staff.
Hospital officials last week tested a prototype of the shields, which allow health care professionals to wear a single N95 mask for longer durations. The medical center has now requested 1,000 shields from Generator — a haul the maker space says would take it about 20 days to produce based on its current printing capacity.
Prototype face shields
"We need 10 more Prusa printers to deliver this critical equipment to front line medical workers ASAP," Generator wrote in a press release Wednesday evening.
Generator says it will guarantee the safety of the machines and will recognize lenders on its website. Those looking to help can fill out this brief survey.
Rutland Makers Plan to Mass Produce Face Shields
A group of engineers in Southern Vermont is seeking materials that it can use to mass produce plastic face shields for health care workers.
A team from the Mint, a community maker space in Rutland, has already received approval from Rutland Regional Medical Center on a design made from a type of flexible plastic known as .020 PET. But the material is in short supply, so the team revamped its prototype using a thinner plastic donated by a local business.
The hospital is now reviewing the slimmer model. If it’s approved, the maker space can produce about 1,000 shields before the donated supply runs out, according to MINT executive director Karen McCalla. That’s enough to keep them busy for about eight hours, McCalla said, but well short of the hospital’s initial request for 10,000 masks.
“The only limit is really on our materials right now,” she told Seven Days, noting that a team of four can churn out about a mask a minute.
The maker space is now asking for help locating the plastic and has asked for monetary donations so that it can buy any material it finds. It's also published files of the designs on its website so that others with laser cutters can also help out.
"Somebody might be sitting on a whole warehouse of this plastic that they have for some other use," McCalla explained.
The shield isn’t the only project they have in the works. The maker space has also used 3D printers to prototype an accessory for ventilators — also in short supply — that hospitals could use to treat up to four patients instead of just one. A Rutland physician passed the design along to MINT after a consortium of maker spaces in Colorado published it online.
"As soon as we hear back from [the hospital] on that, we’ll start cranking those out as well," McCalla said.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
DHMC Launches Trial of Potential COVID-19 Drug
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is conducting trials of an antiviral medicine that the World Health Organization considers to be “the most promising” in the fight against COVID-19.
The medical center is one of 97 participating in the trial of Remdesivir, which proved effective in patients battling the Ebola virus in West Africa. The trials at the Lebanon, N.H., hospital involve patients with both moderate and “severe advanced” COVID-19 symptoms, the medical center said in a press release Tuesday night.
The drug is administered intravenously.
“These Phase 3 studies will gather information about safety and effectiveness by studying different populations and different dosages as well as using the drug in combination with other drugs,” DHMC said in the release.
Scott Urges Vermonters to Volunteer in COVID-19 Response
Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday put out a call for reinforcements in the fight against the coronavirus, launching a new website aimed at enlisting a fresh wave of volunteers with medical skills.
The website directs people with medical experience — nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, veterinarians, mental health professionals and more — to volunteer for community-based groups known as the Medical Reserve Corps. The hope is that these units can be used to bolster Vermont’s health care workforce.
“I am asking every Vermonter to dig deep and find a way to give more in this incredibly challenging time,” Scott said in a press release announcing the website Tuesday night. “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.”
At least three dozen health care workers in Vermont have the coronavirus, Seven Days reported on Tuesday, a tally that includes 22 hospital employees across four counties and 14 infected staffers at the Burlington Health & Rehabilitation Center.
State officials hope the call to action will encourage skilled personnel who are not already working in health care — such as retirees or those with jobs in other fields — to consider joining the cause.
Vermonters without medical backgrounds can also volunteer on the web portal by indicating their expertise and availability, the press release said. They can also donate to blood banks, food banks or other emergency supply efforts.
“Our state is at its best when Vermonters pull together to help each other,” Scott said in the press release. “The coming weeks will be very difficult, but united in common purpose, we will face, fight and defeat this virus – and emerge stronger together.”
Burlington Will Check Essential Workers' Temperatures, Distributes Thermometers
The City of Burlington is deploying forehead thermometers to senior living facilities and local businesses that employ essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
The city purchased 100 of the sought-after thermometers — at $139 a pop — using a portion of the $1 million in coronavirus response funds granted by the city council last week, Mayor Miro Weinberger announced Tuesday. A fever is a telltale sign of COVID-19, which has so far infected nearly 300 Vermonters.
Burlington Aviation Director Gene Richards has been tasked with distributing thermometers to six organizations that serve senior citizens, including the Burlington Health & Rehabilitation Center, where more than 30 patients and staff have been diagnosed with coronavirus. Other beneficiaries include Birchwood Terrace, the Burlington Housing Authority, Elderwood at Burlington, the Howard Center and the Living Well Group, which operates the Ethan Allen Residence.
"We hope that these thermometers help those organizations keep their facilities secure, keep the virus out of those facilities," Weinberger said.
The city is also using the devices to screen employees who work at the city's Emergency Operations Center and other essential buildings, such as the police department, water and wastewater treatment plants, the city's five fire stations, and Burlington Electric Department.
Correction, March 31, 2020: Due to incorrect information provided by the mayor, a previous version of this story noted that Richards had already distributed the thermometers. He had not.
Green Up Day Is Postponed by Four Weeks
A springtime tradition is being postponed this year due to the coronavirus.
Originally scheduled for May 2, Green Up Day — now in its 50th year — will be held on May 30, according to a press release from Green Up Vermont, the nonprofit that organizes the annual roadside cleanup.
Even though the activity can be done in accordance with federal social distancing guidelines, Green Up Day "is about healthy surroundings, and it is about connecting our communities with a goal for common greatness," the press release said.
The organization will begin distributing Green Up supplies the first week of May. It will also launch a mobile app to help Vermonters create virtual teams and track pickup routes statewide.
"Communication will be an imperative component to handling this community service safely while keeping everyone connected to giving back by Greening Up," Green Up executive director Kate Alberghini said in a statement.
Monday, March 30, 2020
Lawmakers Form Task Force to Help Struggling Small Businesses
Leaders of the Vermont General Assembly announced Monday that they’re creating a task force to help businesses struggling with the economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) and Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) announced the formation of the Small Business Solutions Task Force to help direct small businesses, independent contractors and the self-employed to the financial assistance they need.
Thousands of business in the state have been shuttered, and more than 10,000 people have been laid off, delivering a body blow to the Vermont economy. Understanding the rapidly evolving federal and state sources of assistance for businesses can be confusing, and the goal is to direct them quickly to help they’ll need to survive, Ashe said Monday afternoon.
“We’re creating a smaller work group with a few senators and a few House members to work together to think how we can best help small businesses understand how to navigate this system,” Ashe said.
Most businesses aren’t familiar with existing state programs or involved with business organizations, he said.
“They just go out and run their small businesses, and right now they’re just trying to figure out how to stay afloat,” he said.
Another goal is to identify gaps in the assistance that the lawmakers can fill, Johnson said.
Senators on the task force will be Randy Brock (R-Franklin), Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) and Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden). House members will be Michael Marcotte (R-Coventry), Charlie Kimbell (D-Woodstock) and Stephanie Jerome (D-Brandon).
Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly.
No Evictions in Chittenden County During Coronavirus Crisis
A Chittenden County judge said Monday that she won't issue eviction orders during the pandemic, citing the public health risks of putting renters out on the street.
In an order that covers the county's civil court, Vermont Superior Court Judge Helen Toor delayed action on eviction petitions, called writs of possession, until at least April 15, when a statewide "judicial emergency" is currently scheduled to lapse.
"Because it will be virtually impossible for anyone to find new housing during the Governor's stay-at-home order, and because causing people to leave their residences to seek housing or to become homeless could increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 in the community, the court will defer action on any motion seeking a writ of possession until expiration of the current Judicial Emergency," Toor wrote.
The court will make exceptions for "emergency" situations if a property owner can also prove that the eviction petition will not make an occupant homeless. Toor also delayed all foreclosure sales for 90 days.
The statewide judicial emergency was enacted on March 16 and may be extended. That declaration already slowed most evictions by postponing routine hearings, though it did not halt proceedings that were already underway or that a judge deemed an emergency.
After initially offering free rides through April 1, Green Mountain Transit announced Monday that it will continue the practice "indefinitely."
The public transit system has reduced service on several lines and altered schedules on others amid the coronavirus outbreak. GMT encourages those who can to stay home in an effort to protect drivers and allow the system to provide "travel for essential workers, like nurses, doctors, child care workers, first responders, transit workers."
When possible, GMT drivers are encouraging passengers to load and unload through the back door of the bus. For more information on service and schedule changes, click here.
Burlington Stops Issuing Marriage Certificates
Burlington couples won't be able to obtain marriage licenses from the city until further notice, Mayor Miro Weinberger said Monday.
Marriage licenses require an in-person visit to the city clerk's office, which the city is suspending as part of its response to Gov. Phil Scott's stay-at-home order. The city will make exceptions for coronavirus-related or end-of-life situations "that cannot wait," Weinberger said.
The city is also suspending land records appointments, which are required for most property transactions such as sales.
Weinberger announced the changes at a daily press conference on the city's COVID-19 response.