Gov. Scott warns Vermonters to prepare for stricter mitigation measures
MONTPELIER- At his press conference Monday, Gov. Phil Scott told Vermonters to expect additional mitigation measures soon, although he stopped short of calling for a “shelter in place” order.
“At the state level we've done a lot to make sure people are social-distancing,” Gov. Scott said, “as well as other efforts to slow the spread. We're going to have to do a lot more before this is over. I want Vermonters to prepare for even more difficult measures.”
Gov. Scott said that he has ordered businesses and nonprofits to implement any work-at-home procedures they can, and has expanded unemployment benefits, emergency business loans, and other initiatives to help people through the pandemic.
Gov. Scott has also directed the National Guard to set up the first of three medical “surge” sites, which can provide added capacity for COVID-19 treatment. “I hope we don't have to use them, but we must be prepared.”
Vermont Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine said that the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state rose from 52 cases to 75 cases over the weekend, and three people died, bringing the total number of deaths from coronavirus in Vermont to five. The deaths were related to an outbreak at a nursing home in Burlington.
Levine said the increase in the number of positive cases should not come as a surprise. “As our testing capacity has increased, we're seeing more positive tests,” Levine said. “And many of our tests, other than those we've determined the highest priority, are sent out to commercial labs, and we've begun to see the test results come back now. A number of the positives are in that group. We're seeing more sustained community transmission.”
Levine and Gov. Scott praised Vermonters's actions. “I can tell you from my own observations,” Levine said, “People, even when they recognize me, were respectful and did not come up to my face and talk to me.”
Levine urged Vermonters to take advantage of technology to stay socially-connected despite being physically isolated.
Gov. Scott called on Vermonters and Vermont business to step up and help, whether it's finding ways to help people stay employed and working at home or finding ways to supply peoples needs while maintaining social distancing. “There are still important needs to be filled,” he said. “This is the time to tap into your creative spirit. This is an opportunity for each of us to step up and be together even while we must be physically separated. I'm asking for your help. We need each of you to contribute in whatever way you can to help pull us together. I'm so proud of this state, and I know we're going to get through this.”
Rep. Peter Welch said it is the job of the federal government to provide the funding to keep American families secure, hospitals secure, and to keep businesses from failing. “The federal government belongs to the people of this country, and if ever there was a time when it had to act on behalf of everyone, it is now,” he said.
Welch said Congress is working on a $2 trillion package that includes the expansion of unemployment insurance, increasing the maximum benefit by about $600 (for a total of about $1,100 in Vermont), and extending benefits to independent contractors, and to the self employed. “Folks in the past who haven't qualified, but whose incomes have collapsed,” Welch said.
Welch said there may also be a one-time direct payment to Americans of about $1,000. “There's also a desire to have a moratorium on debt repayment,” Welch said. “Credit cards, late fees, student loans, car loans, those things that are every day obligations, and for people who meet their obligations, it's now a challenge. I don't want families to come out the other side of this with ruined credit.”
For businesses, Welch said he wants the federal government to provide a loan program “that can become a grant when (a business) uses that to fund payroll. I want to make it possible for them to open those doors when it's okay for the public to go back.”
Another provision of the relief package would support hospitals with masks and personal protective equipment and with funding. “They are under enormous strain,” he said. “They've been told to stop elective surgeries. For a lot of hospitals, the difference between being in the red and being in the black are those surgeries,” he said.
The relief package would also provide funding for states. “The cost to Vermonters is going to be significant. I believe the federal government should be paying the expense for what is a national emergency.”