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Vt. emergency order expires; executive order aims to provide ongoing assistance

Published: Jun. 15, 2021 at 6:43 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 6:02 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont’s state of emergency ends Tuesday night at midnight after the state reached the governor’s goal of vaccinating 80% of the eligible population and lifted restrictions. But he’s replacing that order with a different one, to bridge the gap for those who still need help.

Advocates say the problem of Vermonters still experiencing homelessness and food insecurity is immense. Starting next month, the state is laying down new eligibility requirements for rooms and offering financial help for those in need.

“We want to make sure that when lifting this order, people who have relied on some of the programs and services aren’t left behind,” Scott said Tuesday. He says a new executive order he is signing will accomplish those goals, including keeping the Vermont National Guard on standby to administer vaccines and continued funding for federal food and housing programs. “We believe this has had a significant impact and our goal is to make sure there is a smooth transition back to pre-pandemic services.”

Starting next month there are new eligibility criteria for the state’s hotel voucher program. Vermont spent $80 million on it last year. To make it more sustainable, roughly 700 people will be phased out. Older Vermonters, those with children, people with disabilities, and those at risk of domestic violence will be able to stay for another three months. Those who don’t qualify will be given a $2,500 stipend to support them as they transition to staying with friends, care homes, or camps. Eligible Vermonters moving into their own housing can get up to $8,000 to help with the move.

“We will continue to do everything possible to make sure the transition to a permanent solution, permanent housing is available,” said AHS secretary Mike Smith. And 30 days after the emergency order expires, Vermont’s eviction moratorium will end too.

There’s $375 million in federal rental assistance, but advocates say the rollout of those funds has been slow and they worry that many can’t access those funds in time to avoid eviction. “In the meantime, they have this sort of deadline that they’re facing, where their landlords are legally going to be able to start an eviction process against them here,” said Grace Pazdan with Vermont Legal Aid.

State leaders say that they don’t expect a wave of evictions next month and that there’s plenty of help available. Even then, Governor Scott says many of those decisions will fall to the courts.

The executive order also keeps the drinks to-go rules an option for restaurants until a new law kicks in on July 1.

VACCINATIONS REMAIN TOP PRIORITY

With a vaccination rate of 80.3%, officials say Vermont is the first state to achieve this milestone.

Chittenden and Lamoille Counties are tied for first place with a vaccination rate of 82.9% Essex County is still on the low end at 56.9%, but health officials say it could be higher than that because some of those people may have gotten vaccinated in New Hampshire.

Even though they have reached the big goal, AHS Secretary Mike Smith says they “haven’t given up yet” on vaccination efforts and will continue to offer numerous clinics. He says the state is also planning for vaccinations for an estimated 44,000 kids ages five to 11 years old, once federal officials allow it.

MODELING AND HEALTH UPDATE

Commissioner Mike Pieciak says Vermont remains the safest state in the country with the lowest number of cases, lowest hospitalization rate, lowest death rate, and highest vaccination rate. Pieciak says improving vaccination rates in Canada could mean the reopening of the border in the coming weeks.

Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says his department is closely tracking the spread of the delta variant in Vermont. The variant, which was first reported in India, is now the dominant strain in the U.K. and makes up about 10% of U.S. cases. Levine says they have now counted a total of three cases in Vermont. He says vaccination remains the best way to prevent the spread of this more contagious strain.

As of Tuesday, Vermont health officials reported 8 new coronavirus cases for a total of 24,339. There have been a total of 256 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 0.7%. A total of 398,117 people have been tested, and 23,752 have recovered.

Vermont officials, like many essential workers, have been working overtime since the pandemic hit in March of last year.

LESSONS LEARNED

Looking back over the last 15-months, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine was asked what he wishes he had done differently.

“Anytime you have 256 people who are no longer with us, you ask yourself those questions in the middle of the night all the time. I wish I could say that some percentage of those were people we could have saved from the fate they ultimately succumbed to, but the reality was early on, the virus spread so quickly and we lost a number of people in some of our nursing homes and I forever regret that. But at the same time, we tried our best,” Levine said.

Asked the same question, Governor Scott said the U.S. needs to invest more in science and manufacturing things like PPE, so we can better protect ourselves in the next pandemic.

Program note: With the lifting of the emergency order, WCAX will no longer break into programming for the governor’s Tuesday press briefings. They will continue to be available on WCAX.com.

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