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$76M available in third-round of small business grants

34 cases now connected to hockey and broomball outbreak
Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 6:22 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2020 at 7:34 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont officials Tuesday said $76 million more in small business grants are coming to the hardest hit by the pandemic.

The leaves are falling -- a sign that foliage season is waning, and along with it, the state’s tourism revenue. Because there’s been an uptick in COVID cases in our region and across the country, the state reduced the number of people allowed to visit without a quarantine down to 1.6 million from 1.8 million last week. In fact, officials say only about 3-percent of the country would qualify under Vermont’s criteria.

That’s putting further strain on tourism and hospitality, where there are 28,000 in the unemployment line. Vermont’s newest labor report shows the unemployment rate dropping to 4.2 percent, but state officials say those numbers are misleading because 3,000 people left the workforce altogether.

“If we opened up everything up to 100 percent, I don’t believe all of those people would go back to work, because there’s so much hesitation toward travel,” said Gov. Phil Scott.

The state’s unemployment trust fund is at about $230 million, about half what it was when the pandemic began. State officials estimate they can go another six months without taking out a loan.

Expecting jobs and businesses to suffer heading into the winter, the state rolled out another small business cash infusion of $76 million in grants for small businesses and nonprofits. “Businesses are interwoven into the fabric of our communities around the state and their survival and their ability to thrive is key to our future,” said Vermont Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein.

She says this third round of grants will not be on a first-come, first-served basis this time. The state is looking at more than one month of losses this time around -- from March through September. The maximum grant size will be $300,000 but previous grant money will be factored into what businesses get this time. Grant amounts will be determined based on the number of applicants and there will be a two-week application process. Businesses that collect rooms and meals taxes or sales and use taxes should apply on the tax department’s website.

Leaders in Vermont’s arts communities are hopeful the grants will bring artists through their slowest part of the year, but they acknowledge the worst is yet to come. “When a theatre in Dorset or Middlebury holds a performance, they bring tens of thousands of people through their doors, and all of those people spend money and support the local economy,” said Karen Mittelman with the Vermont Arts Council.

34 CASES NOW CONNECTED TO HOCKEY AND BROOMBALL OUTBREAK

There are now 34 cases stemming from youth and adult games at the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center.

Health officials say half of those infections are people who play at the center in Montpelier and the other half caught it from those players. The outbreak now involves Union Elementary School in Montpelier, Oxbow High School in Bradford, and a works site in Burlington.

Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says the spread mostly likely happened off the ice. “They occur at the time of practices and games but they involve things like carpooling, being in close proximity at social events both before and after the game,” he said.

Officials say additional testing will be available at the Barre Auditorium Thursday for close contacts of those impacted by the outbreak. More testing is also being done at the Central Vermont Medical Center Tuesday through Friday for asymptomatic people who are concerned about potential exposure. Appointments are required to get tested at the hospital.

The ice rink remains closed, but the health department gave them info in order to be able to open as soon as Tuesday.

After 15,000 tests on college campuses, just two new positives have been reported and the state adjusted its overall number to 51 cases on college campuses since students returned.

In K-12th grade, there are currently 13 cases in schools, with 11 that have recovered and eight under investigation.

HEALTH UPDATE

Levine cautioned against “pandemic fatigue,” asking Vermonters to not let their guard down. He said you can’t “roll the dice on risk” because if you bet on the virus it might win. He said there is still a number of unknowns about the dangers of the virus in young people and that it can be severe in some cases.

Levine talked about a new study on the drug Remdesivir that showed little or no effect on survival in COVID patients. He said the medical community hasn’t lost faith in it because it helps with symptoms in really sick people, but acknowledged the study showed it doesn’t help with mortality.

Levine said the department is also working on a COVID-vaccine distribution plan and that the governor will be able to review what they have so far in about a week. But when and how the state gets that vaccine will be up to federal officials.

More than 90,000 Vermonters have gotten their flu shot. That’s a 14% increase this year.

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