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For the first day in weeks, no new coronavirus cases were reported in Vermont

Sandy Dowley, a resident of Valley Cares, in Townshend, Vt., smiled as a parade made up of first responders went by to raise the spirits of those staying there during the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, April 28.Kristopher Radder/Associated Press

Statistics reported Wednesday by the Vermont Health Department show the first day in weeks in which no new cases were reported of people infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

The figures also showed that no one has died of COVID-19 in Vermont in a week. A total of 862 people have tested positive since the pandemic began for the virus that causes COVID-19 and 47 people have died.

“It’s great news, but one day doesn’t create a trend and we have to look at the trend lines to see where we are going,” Gov. Phil Scott said Wednesday during his regular coronavirus briefing.

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The welcome numbers came the same day that Scott and officials from the Vermont Health Department outlined a plan to triple the number of tests the state can conduct for the coronavirus over the next several weeks. The state also plans to increase the ability to trace the contacts of new cases of COVID-19 as part of an effort to prevent a resurgence of the disease.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the goal is to be able to conduct 1,000 tests per day.

Some of the focuses of the expanded testing will be long-term care and other group-living facilities, health care providers, correctional institutions, for child care workers and people who are undergoing 14-day quarantines, Levine said.

“As our testing continues to expand, we will use the strategies to ease some of the restrictions Vermonters have had to endure over the last few months,” Levine said.

Over the last two weeks Vermont has begun to ease some of the economic restrictions posed by the pandemic. The next steps are expected to be released at the governor's next briefing on Friday.

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UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT

The president of the University of Vermont said Wednesday he was confident the Burlington school “will be able to return to in-person status” in the fall.

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In a letter to the UVM community, President Suresh Garimella said officials were preparing for a return to an in-person campus in a way that is responsible and informed by science and public health officials.

“It is all but certain that cultural and behavioral shifts will be required as we navigate a world changed by COVID-19,” his letter said. “The bottom line is that ongoing education is critical, not just on an individual level, but to our state, nation, and society as a whole."

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UNEMPLOYMENT

Scott said that the Department of Labor had begun making payments to those whose jobs were affected by the pandemic, but who aren't covered by the traditional unemployment program, such as the self-employed and independent contractors.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program is part of the federal pandemic assistance program.

As of Wednesday morning, 9,500 people who had made claims were in the system. Of those, 8,500 are eligible for assistance. The first round of electronic payments totaling $24 million went out Wednesday. Paper checks will go out next week, Scott said.

“This is much-needed money getting into the hands of Vermonters,” Scott said.

Some legislators have volunteered to help Vermonters who are having trouble filing unemployment claims because the system has been overwhelmed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The House of Representatives has created a system where legislators may be able to speed the process. Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson told the Rutland Herald that the best way for Vermonters to contact their state representatives is through their emails, which can be found on the Legislature's website.

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One challenge is that most people who are still experiencing delays are facing issues that need adjudication, which requires expertise from the Department of Labor, said Rebecca Kelley, spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Phil Scott. “However, we have about 15 legislators who have volunteered so far, and who will be trained this week to help respond to lower level issues and answer frequently asked questions," Kelley said.