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Mailbag: Mike McCarthy’s Issues in Dallas; A Look at the Jets’ Future

Emily walpole



From Justaworkingman (@Justaworkingma4): Do you think Jerry Jones is starting to think he made a mistake in hiring Mike McCarthy?

Workingman, I don’t think the Joneses are there yet. Stephen Jones and I spoke last week on the team’s self-inflicted wounds, and he referenced McCarthy in his answer: “Until we eliminate those things, it’s gonna continue to be a battle. I know we will because we have a great head coach with a lot of skins on the wall in Coach McCarthy. And I know he’s got zero tolerance for it. It’s just a continual challenge we have to execute and be better. Things should only improve as we move forward.”

They sure didn’t improve Monday night, and I know that sort of performance isn’t something Jerry will have much tolerance for. I also believe, given the investment the team made in Andy Dalton, that McCarthy will be assessed on the play of the quarterback, too, past Dak Prescott’s injury. And there’s urgency in Dallas, given the age of the team’s core.

Add it up, and it’s not hard to imagine the Joneses looking longingly across the field on Monday and at native Texan Kliff Kingsbury, the imagination of his offense, the buy-in of his players, and the trajectory of his team—and maybe wondering what might be if they could someday lure another Texan, Lincoln Riley, from Oklahoma. (Remember, the relationship is there. Riley, a few years back, recruited Jerry’s grandson/Stephen’s son.)

Now, I’ll say that the Cowboys have traditionally acted with a lot more restraint than people give them credit for. Jason Garrett and Wade Phillips hung on for a lot longer than a lot of people thought they ought to have. In Jerry’s 32 years as owner, only one coach didn’t make it at least three years, and that one, Chan Gailey in the late ’90s, got two. So having a one-and-done coach would be super out of character for the Joneses.

We’ll see what happens.

From Michael Dunn (@mikeywmFREE): I think the only way the Jets end up with Bieniemy as HC is if they land the #1 overall, i.e. Lawrence. If they don’t, who do you think Joe Douglas will look at for their next HC?

Michael, I think it’s way too early to make proclamations about that. We don’t even know for sure which member of the Johnson family will be calling the shots coming out of the 2020 season. So with all due respect to Eric Bieniemy and the rest of the candidates out there, I don’t know how anyone would be able to tell you definitively who would be atop the Jets’ list come January.

Here are a few things we do know …

• The Jets are 0-6, which means this season will end for them on Jan. 3.

• Last year, the Jets rallied from 1-7 to 7-9. But this year, the schedule doesn’t soften as last year’s schedule did in November and December.

• As a result, Adam Gase’s prospects aren’t great. Also, since he did a four-year deal in 2019, the team would only be on the hook for two more years if they fire him.

• Conversely, GM Joe Douglas signed a six-year deal last summer, running through the 2025 draft, which means he’ll likely survive and have a hand in picking the next coach.

Now, the thing with Douglas is that there really isn’t an obvious coach to connect him to. It’s been six years since he was in Baltimore, and his last season there the coordinators were Gary Kubiak and Dean Pees. Douglas also has connections to Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who made the playoffs three times as Colts head coach, going all the way to the AFC title game in 2014.

Anyway, the lack of an overly logical candidate makes me think Douglas could tap into his college connections. It helps, too, that the Johnsons kicked the tires hard on the idea back in 2019, throwing bouquets in the direction of Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, flirting with Kingsbury, and going all the way to the altar with then-Baylor coach Matt Rhule. I also think, right now, there are attractive names at that level, and Lawrence could be, as you alluded to, a carrot to lure them up to the NFL.

From Eric Lancet (@ELancet): Wouldn’t it make sense for the Jets to double down with Darnold and trade the top pick and build around him? Pat Mahomes ain’t winning with that roster.

Eric, I do this every week, so I hope I don’t come off as too aggressive here—I strongly believe whoever gets the first pick in this year’s draft will keep it and draft Lawrence, regardless of whether or not they have a promising young quarterback on the roster. There are two reasons for that. One, Lawrence is a once-in-a-decade prospect. Two, it gives you the chance to restart the QB-on-a-rookie-quarterback clock for your franchise.

As for the Jets, in particular, landing Lawrence would mean getting to sidestep what was going to be a complicated long-term decision on Sam Darnold, and getting more draft capital to build around Lawrence (even if that haul wouldn’t be near what they probably could get for the first pick this April). Remember, the Jets already have Seattle’s first- and third-round picks, so this was already going to be a big draft for Douglas.

And yes, it’s crazy we’re already talking about how the Jets would build around Lawrence. But I totally get how all of you who root for them are there now.

From Matt Sedlacek (@matt_seds): How far do you think the Bears can go?

Matt, this is a good question to kick off this week—I love the Bears’ defense, and their ability to pull out wins in tight spots. They may have the NFL’s most physically imposing front, anchored by Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn and Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith’s starting to live up to his enormous potential and a secondary led by Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller has gotten a nice boost from rookie Jaylon Johnson.

They may not be quite what the 2018 defense was, but I think they’re close.

Which brings us to the offense. The line is an issue. Running back depth is paper-thin. And Nick Foles has been fine, but he’s not the sort of quarterback who’s going to cover up all the issues the team has. Now, could they get better? Sure. Rookies Cole Kmet (who I think is a real one) and Darnell Mooney should continue to ascend, and that’ll help. GM Ryan Pace could add a piece on the line before the deadline. It’s realistic to expect improvement.

To me, how much improvement they see on the offensive side—and maybe I’m Captain Obvious on this—determines how far they go and could be the difference between being a fringe playoff team, and one to be taken seriously in January. Stay tuned.

From Josh (@HepaTaydus): Will there ever be a successful spring football league?

Josh, I think it depends on how you define “success.” If by “success,” you mean a fiscally successful spring football league, then no, I don’t think that’s happening. Running a full-blown football league is just too costly, and it’s too hard to attract an audience to something it views as less than the best—college football has the best 18-21-year-olds, the NFL has the best of the best, and both have audiences passed down through generations.

But if by “success,” you mean a strong league that’s a development engine for the greater NFL machine—bringing along young players, scouts, and coaches—then yes, there can absolutely be a successful spring football league. In many ways, that’s what NFL Europe was, and that’s proven out by the amount of NFL Europe alumni you could find on the field, roaming the sidelines and in war rooms for NFL teams.

As I look at it, NFL Europe is proof of just how driven by profit the NFL is. Here they had a league that had developed fans in Germany to the point where Germany had started to churn out players (Bjorn Werner, Sebastian Vollmer, etc.). The league was also doing the same across Europe, to the point where people travel to London for the International Series. And NFL Europe was a huge asset to teams in coach, player, and scouting development, and even stood as a decent broadcast product in the spring. Yet, the NFL shuttered it.

And it was shuttered for one reason and one reason only: NFL owners can’t stand the idea of losing money on anything. Which is a shame.

From Tom in Texas (@ababiloK): Where do you see Cam going at the end of the year? Can the Pats retool around him for a few years or will they need to blow it up?

Tom, I think Cam Newton’s back in New England in 2021, maybe on a deal, maybe on the franchise tag. I just believe he’s the best answer for the team over the next few years and will be especially after having a full season of institutional knowledge under his belt. That stuff matters everywhere, but even more so in New England, and it’ll be interesting to see what Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio & Co. do with a full offseason to build around him.

Also, my belief was that the Patriots had this earmarked as a year to turn the page financially and with the age of the roster. They’re carrying close to $30 million in dead money. They’re relatively light on young building blocks, which has meant having more 30-somethings around. And so my sense is the idea was always to come out of this year with clean financial sheets and an intact kitty of draft picks.

That’s why I think over the next couple of weeks it’d be tough for them to go all-in on another weapon for Cam Newton—and deplete the capital they have. Ultimately, if Newton’s sticking around for a few years, there’s a good chance that’ll be what’s best for him, too.

From Houston Football (@Houstonfootbal3): Your thoughts on the next HC for Texans. I am thinking of a defense-first HC and a competent OC with the shambles the defense is in (Saleh, Eberflus). Also thoughts on GM?

Houston Football, I don’t see the need to focus on a head coach having a background on one side of the ball or the other here. Right now, my feeling is the Texans first need to find a GM with a strong plan on how to build around Deshaun Watson, and then let that GM have a hand in picking the next head coach—with alignment at a premium.

Along those lines, I’d look to organizations that have created great situations for their young quarterbacks. Kansas City would be one, and their director of football operations, Mike Borgonzi, is the next in the pipeline there to hit the GM level. Baltimore would be another, and their director of player personnel, Joe Hortiz, would be someone there worth taking a look at. And Buffalo would be a third, where guys like assistant GM Joe Schoen and director of player personnel Dan Morgan would merit a look.

The upshot with all those guys is that each would bring a list of coaching candidates with him. And again, having seen their young quarterbacks develop, would have strong ideas on what a young quarterback needs.

From TheTexansPodcast (@HoustonFBpodguy): I would love to hear more about what you have heard about Easterby in the Texans organization along with his past. Will he be the only one negotiating potential trades this season?

I could go pretty deep in on Jack Easterby here, but let’s keep it to what he’s been in Houston over the last 21 months—and that’s sort of the keeper of the culture. From the moment he got to town, he was tasked with grading and assessing the health of football ops, from the war room to the coaches’ offices all the way to the locker room. And some of the change in that organization has been a result of it.

One example was senior VP of football administration/cap chief Chris Olsen. My understanding is that as the Laremy Tunsil trade was happening, he pushed hard for the team to insist that the deal be contingent on Tunsil’s camp and the Texans doing a long-term deal. That obviously didn’t happen, and four months later, Olsen was gone.

It’s one example of how Easterby has prioritized getting everyone on the same page, and so now, looking forward to the trade deadline, he’ll have to practice what he preaches. He’ll have to listen to people like the director of player personnel Matt Bazirgan (an experienced personnel man who’s connected across the league) in assessing offers for Houston’s players, and also project what might be best for the next GM and coach in 2021.

I said this the other day in the MAQB, too: How active Houston is could telegraph how powerful owner Cal McNair plans to make Easterby.

From Gambling Avengers (@GamblingAvenge1): Could Dan Quinn resurface in Seattle this season to help their historically bad defense?

Gambling, I like the idea of this—I’m just not sure it’s very realistic. Pete Carroll’s pretty attuned to the makeup and chemistry of his staff, and I think it’d be sort of risky to interject someone of Quinn’s stature while Ken Norton is working to make things right, especially since Norton’s been working without big-ticket acquisition Jamal Adams the last few weeks. And don’t get me wrong, I think Quinn would help. I just think adding him would have to be handled carefully.

Also, I think Quinn will probably take a few weeks to reset a little bit. Going through something like that five weeks into the season isn’t easy, and my feeling is getting away for a little bit will do him some good. But maybe later in the year, if the Seahawks are still struggling on defense, even with Adams back in the fold, there’d be something to talk about here.

From Not who you think I am (@DonRidenour): Arthur Smith coaching where next year?

Don, I think Arthur Smith will have a shot to be a head coach somewhere in 2021. Doesn’t mean it’ll happen, because a lot of these things come down to timing and fit. But he’s shown so much the last two years—and the Titans liked him enough before then to consider making him OC in 2019, even before Matt LaFleur got the Packers job—that he almost has to be on shortlists when we get to January.

Start with his work with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The ex-Dolphin, through 17 games and 15 starts as a Titan, is 12-3 as a starter and has completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 4,110 yards, 35 touchdowns, 8 picks, and a 116.0 passer rating. You can keep going with how he’s gotten the most out of MVP candidate Derrick Henry, and how he’s developed young guys like A.J. Brown and Jonnu Smith. And you get the picture.

All this doesn’t mean he’ll be a great head coach. But it does mean he’ll probably get a shot to be one.

From Kyle Pfeffenberger (@kpfeff432): I’ve brought it up the last two weeks so why not go 3 for 3!? With the Browns being competitive at 4-2 in spite of their QB, not because of him, what are the chances they sign or trade for a veteran on a rebuilding team, such as Stafford or Ryan, to be their 2021 opening day QB?

I don’t think they make a decision on that until after the 2020 season, Kyle. The Browns spent the first overall pick on Baker Mayfield. They owe it to themselves to get the most information they possibly can on him, and I expect them to do that—which means playing him the rest of the year. And I think Kevin Stefanski, Alex Van Pelt, and Bill Callahan are going to give Mayfield a pretty good shot at showing what he’s got, in the environment they’ve created for him and around him.

Remember, everything changes once we get to January. At that point, Cleveland will have to make a decision on Mayfield’s fifth-year option, and Mayfield will be eligible for a long-term deal for the first time. Which makes the next 10 games pretty important for everyone involved.



Youth sports have been hit with few coronavirus outbreaks so far. Why is ice hockey so different?

Emily walpole



“Whole hockey teams are getting quarantined,” said Bellemore, a hockey parent, coach and president of the Manchester Youth Regional Hockey Association. “It’s getting very real.”

State officials and other authorities have been scrambling to mitigate the damage: On Nov. 12, seven governors in the Northeast banded together to ban all interstate youth hockey until at least the end of the year. The following week, health officials in Minnesota, where hockey is associated with the most clusters of any youth sport, put all sports on “pause” for four weeks. Many others have imposed new restrictions and safety measures on the game.

Youth sports — soccer, basketball, cross-country, swimming, whether held indoors or out, a source of American pride, prestige and bonding — were among the first gatherings to be allowed post-lockdown. Organizers worked closely with public health officials to make modifications that balance safety with maintaining the spirit of the games. This has worked to some extent.

While public health officials suspect off-field interactions may be contributing to community spread, there’s little hard data. In most areas, there have been few to no documented outbreaks, much less superspreader events.

Ice hockey is an anomaly. Scientists are studying hockey-related outbreaks hoping to find clues about the ideal conditions in which the coronavirus thrives — and how to stop it. Experts speculate that ice rinks may trap the virus around head level in a rink that, by design, restricts airflow, temperature and humidity.

The hockey-related cases have been especially striking, epidemiologists have said, because clubs followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limits on gathering size and had numerous social distancing measures in place. In retrospect, one mistake by some clubs was that until recently masks had been required on ice for only the two players doing the initial faceoff for the puck — although many players wore clear face shields, which theoretically should have a similar effect.

“We’re watching hockey very carefully because it’s the first major sport that’s been played indoors predominantly and also during the winter months,” said Ryan Demmer, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.

Demmer said the cases provide some of the first real-world evidence to support early theories about the importance of how people breathe, ventilation, and the social dimensions of transmission.

One critical way hockey differs from other contact team sports is how players do line changes — substitutions of groups of players — and are expected to sprint for nearly the whole time they are on the ice. Experts say it probably leads to heavier breathing, resulting in more particles being exhaled and inhaled.

Jose-Luis Jimenez, an air engineer at the University of Colorado, speculated that the spaces occupied by rinks keep the virus suspended, perhaps six to nine feet, just above the ice. Similar outbreaks have been documented in other chilly venues — meat processing factories and at a curling match earlier in the pandemic.

“I suspect the air is stratified,” he said. “Much like in a cold winter night, you have these inversions where the cold air with the virus which is heavier stays closer to the ground. That gives players many more chances to breathe it in.”

Timothy McDonald, public health director in Needham, Mass., said we should not rule out the way kids socialize — in locker rooms, carpools and postgame gatherings — as potential contributing factors. By late October, his area had seen at least six coronavirus cases related to sports clusters that span a wide range of ages, from fifth-graders to high school sophomores. He said some of those children played on multiple sports teams, including hockey.

“We’ve seen a lot of people mingling after the game or having discussions and parents talking and letting kids play around after the game,” he said. “There’s no way to tell from our perspective whether it’s on the ice — or waiting for 10 or 15 minutes while everyone talks after the game.”

Many unknowns

When schools shut down in March, there was huge confusion about the extent to which could get the virus and transmit it to others. Today, cases among those younger than 18 are soaring. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported last week that more than 1.3 million children had tested positive for coronavirus during the pandemic. Nearly 154,000 children tested positive from Nov. 19 to 26.

Epidemiologists are uncertain where most of these transmissions are occurring, but early reports from the United States, bolstered by more robust data from Europe and Asia, suggest they are unlikely to be related to school. Emily Oster, a professor of economics at Brown University who has been tracking coronavirus outbreaks in schools, and others say they believe informal neighborhood get-togethers, youth sports and other activities may be contributing.

Rhode Island, for example, has reported that virtual-only learners are being infected at similar rates as those attending in-person school. Oster said infection rates seem to be going up nationwide, “whether schools are open or not.”

Joseph Allen, a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said he believes it was a mistake for school sports to shut down, because kids need physical activity, and some for-profit businesses filling the gaps may be operating in a way where “controls may not be as stringent.”

“Not having sports in schools ultimately leads to wider contact networks for many kids,” he explained.

David Rubin, director of the PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said the “disease reservoir was lower” related to children in the early fall, suggesting that sports played at that time — namely, soccer — weren’t contributing much to spread. “We saw very little transmission on the field of play,” he said.

“In winter sports, you now add the indoor element. And I think there’s a fair amount of concern that hockey certainly has transmission around the game,” he said.

A PolicyLab blog post last month recommended that if youth sports leagues want to preserve any opportunity to keep playing, they need to enact mandates that strictly curtail all off-field interaction. Even then, “the potential for on-field spread may be too overwhelming to continue safely with team competition during periods of widespread community transmission, and may need to be sacrificed to preserve in-school learning options, at least until early spring or transmission rates decrease substantially.”

When children’s sports started up again this summer, tensions flared among health officials, sports providers and families over which safety measures were necessary and which were over the top. In the pandemic world, soccer was sometimes played seven-on-seven instead of 11-on-11, and with kick-ins instead of throw-ins; basketball with every other spot in free-throw lineups empty; swim practices with some kids starting in the middle of lanes to ensure adequate spacing; cross-country with runners racing in small flights to minimize interactions.

But these modifications sent some families “jurisdiction shopping” to find places that allowed games to proceed as they had before the virus outbreak, and this was a part of what happened with hockey in New England.

Hockey culture

Ice hockey is part of the culture in this area of the country. Some kids get their first skates almost as soon as they can walk, and family weekends revolve around games. In the aftermath of the first wave of the virus, clubs in numerous states, including Massachusetts, introduced safety measures such as no checking at the younger levels, physical distancing in locker rooms, and masks for the two players doing the faceoffs.

Massachusetts Hockey President Bob Joyce said families who didn’t like those new rules took their children to play in neighboring states with fewer restrictions. And sometimes those players played on multiple teams or had siblings who did and went to school, creating very large social networks.

“It was a wake-up call,” Joyce said. He said state officials estimated that those 108 initial hockey cases amounted to 3,000 to 4,000 others potentially exposed.

In an October report, the CDC detailed a large outbreak in Florida among amateur adult hockey players on two teams that played each other but had no other contact. Investigators speculated that the indoor space and close contact increased the infection risk. They also pointed out that ice hockey “involves vigorous physical exertion accompanied by deep, heavy respiration, and during the game, players frequently move from the ice surface to the bench while still breathing heavily.”

Surrounded by plexiglass not only to prevent errant pucks but also to keep the airflow stable so the ice can remain cold, there’s little ventilation and humidity by design in ice rinks. The surface of the ice is kept around 20 degrees Fahrenheit; the ambient air temperature, in the 50s. The Department of Homeland Security has shown in lab experiments that the virus may live at those temperatures up to two times longer in the air. At 86 degrees, for example, 99 percent of the airborne virus is estimated to decay in 52 minutes. But at 50 degrees, it would take 109 minutes.

William Bahnfleth, a professor of architectural engineering at Penn State University, said there is growing evidence that humidity may play an important role. In higher humidity, the virus attaches to bigger droplets that drop faster to the ground, decreasing the chance that someone will inhale them. The drier the air, the faster droplets will evaporate into smaller-size particles that stay in the air, increasing the concentration.

“There are some researchers have come to believe that humidification is the key above all,” he said.

Studies have shown that the virus doesn’t survive as long in the humid air, and that we’re more susceptible to viruses when the air is drier. Separately, epidemiological data from a long-term care facility has shown a correlation between lower humidity and higher infection rates.

Rubin, who is a pediatrician in addition to his public policy research job, said he worries those on the ice may be inhaling larger doses of the virus due to these environmental conditions, making it more likely they will become infected.

“It’s very hard to sort out, but you wonder if increased inoculum of the virus is an extra factor,” he said.

Demming expressed similar thoughts: “It could be infection rates are common across sports, but in a sport like hockey where you are trapping more virus in the breathable air it could result in more severe infections that end up being symptomatic.”

The National Hockey League was able to complete its playoffs after players were put in a bubble where they were tested each day, administered symptom checks and temperature screenings. No cases were reported. But conducting such rigorous screening on the roughly 650,000 amateur players and officials in the United States is an impossible task.

In Vermont, an outbreak at a single ice rink ripped through the center of the state, affecting at least 20 towns in at least four counties, and seeding other outbreaks at several schools. By Oct. 30, when Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) detailed the outbreak at a press briefing, 473 contacts had been associated with it.

“One case,” Scott emphasized, “can turn one event into many.”

For Tyler Amburgey, a 29-year-old coach in Lavon, Texas, north of Dallas, the coronavirus started out like a cold. But then it soon progressed to a headache, fatigue and shortness of breath. Authorities later determined that the outbreak spanned several teams and 30 people. By the third day of his illness, Aug. 29, several of Amburgey’s players had tested positive, and he was so ill that he canceled hockey practice.

Later that day his wife found him in his bed, unresponsive, and called 911. His heart had stopped, relatives told media outlets, and paramedics were unable to revive him.

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Weekly unemployment claims still trending up





by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine Weekly unemployment claims fell last week after the previous week’s spike, but have been trending up consistently the last two months. After being near their lowest levels since the beginning of the pandemic, claims have increased beyond the usual seasonal slowdown. Claims fell 224 to 1,255 last week (up 131 from the same time last year).

As for the week’s ongoing jobless claims, for the week ending November 11, 2020, the Labor Department processed 11,337 claims, down 1,292 from the previous week and 7,237 more than the same time last year.

As for further comparison, initial Vermont claims for the week of March 21, 2020, were 3,784, up 3,125 from the week of March 14.

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said at Governor Scott’s media briefing Friday that he has a lot of concern for the end of CARES Act funding and therefore the pandemic unemployment benefits and extended benefits for UI filers that came with it.

The extra benefits will cease the week after Christmas for nearly all those filers. Like the governor, he is hopeful that Congress will come up with what Scott called “bridge” funding for these programs until the Biden Administration and the new Congress can come up with a new CARES Act type funding plan. There does appear that some level of federal help will be forthcoming.

The governor is also hoping that funding includes budget relief for states, but he is less certain of that.

Harrington added that there are still some appeals and adjudications continuing regarding those pandemic benefits and that otherwise nearly all of the last of the emergency unemployment Lost Wages Assistance money has been distributed. The LWA was the last and smallest of the unemployment benefit programs.

The federal government portion of extra benefits, which is nearly all of the pandemic funding, must meet strict guidelines and there is very little the state can do to mitigate an issue.

The total number of unemployed is about 20,000, including the extra PUA claimants, which is down from the peak last spring of over 80,000 Vermonters getting some type of unemployment insurance.

There is recent discussion in Congress that a plan could be enacted during the “lame duck” session, but more likely after President-elect Biden is inaugurated.

Meanwhile, the state unemployment rate, which was the lowest in the nation before the pandemic, then spiked during the pandemic, has retreated and is now second lowest in the nation.

However, the VDOL points out that the US Census modeling has not caught up with the reality of the pandemic and Vermont’s 3.2 percent unemployment rate likely portrays a rosier economic picture than what actually exists.

Labor Commissioner Harrington said in late November that the real unemployment rate is more in the 5 percent range, and if it included the PUA, the rate is likely more in the 6-8 percent range.

He and Scott said that while the data the US Census collects is not erroneous, they disagree with the methodology the federal government is using given the altered behavior of people during the pandemic.

They said people have left the workforce for reasons related to the pandemic, like for personal safety or childcare, which then lowers the total Labor force, which works as the denominator in the calculations, thus lowering the unemployment rate.

Per federal rule, this ultimately decreases the ability of the state to offer extended UI benefits, as they were able earlier in the year.

Governor Scott said the state has been in contact with Vermont’s congressional delegation on trying to change the formula the US Census Bureau uses to determine the state’s unemployment rate.

There are also over 8,000 Vermonters on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (sole proprietors/self employed etc).

The PUA claims are not included in the unemployment rate calculation.

Harrington also addressed issues faced by the self-employed in collecting benefits.

If SPs did not file their tax returns by a certain time they missed out on some benefits. Harrington said this is a federal government rule. The state was allowed a 21-day grace period, but cases are still being adjudicated.

Also, another issue has been when a self-employed person received even one dollar of regular UI benefits, they are disallowed, again by federal rule Harrington said, from receiving any PUA.

For instance, some people who work for themselves also carry a part-time job. If they got laid off from that job and received any UI payments, then they’re stuck on the UI side and cannot get PUA.

The PUA benefits in some cases are more advantageous; for instance they will last through the end of this year. PUA claimants also can get partial payments even if they have some income.

What a new PUA looks like is unclear until and if one is signed into law. But it appears as of now that it might not include new filers after a certain time.

Scott has also extended his Emergency Order until December 15. He has said that he will continue to extend the Order as long as necessary and that we are “only half-way through” the impact of the novel coronavirus.

Also, the $1.25 billion CARES Act federal funds have all been allocated, though some budgetary shifting could still occur. The money must be spent by the end of December.

Also, the additional $600 in weekly benefits from the federal government for all unemployment programs ended July 25.

The PUA program, which is full funded by the federal government and is intended for non-regular UI workers, will last until the end of the year. They will receive regular benefits (but, again, not the extra $600).

“That $600 is concerning. I know a lot of families are counting on that to cover a lot of their expenses,” Scott said over the summer.

After a spike of claims at the beginning of the pandemic, followed by a steep decline as the economy began to reopen in April, initial unemployment claims fell consistently since the beginning of July before flattening over the last couple months.

Claims hit their peak in early April. At that point, Governor Scott’s “Stay Home” order resulted in the closing of schools, restaurants, construction and more, while many other industries cut back operations.

Over $500 million of federal money has been added to Vermont unemployment checks so far.

Since March 1, over 80,000 new claims have been filed in Vermont when including PUA.

The official Vermont March unemployment rate was 3.1 percent, but the April rate was 15.6 percent, which is the highest on record. The Vermont unemployment rate in May fell to 12.7 percent.

The US rate fell to 7.9 percent in September from 8.4 percent in August from 10.2 percent in July from 11.1 percent in June and in May from 13.3 percent. The US April rate was 14.7 percent, the highest rate since its was first calculated in 1948 and the highest unofficially since the Great Depression of about 25 percent.

Nationwide, according to the US Labor Department for the week ending November 28, initial claims for state unemployment benefits totaled 712,000 last week, which was the lowest since the beginning of the pandemic and down from 787,000 the week before and 742,000 the week before that.

Claims generally have been falling since the early weeks of the pandemic in March. Early on in the pandemic, US claims reached 5.2 million and 6.6 million claims. Just prior to the steep job loss, there were 282,000 claims on March 14.

US GDP had its worst quarter on record as it fell 32.9 percent in the second quarter; the next worst was in 1921.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) has added to the ranks of those receiving benefits, but is not counted in the official unemployment rate. The PUA serves the self-employed who previously did not qualify to receive UI benefits and might still be working to some extent.

This surge during the Great Recession for the entire year in 2009 spiked at 38,081 claims.

The claims back in 2009 pushed the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund into deficit and required the state to borrow money from the federal government to cover claims.

Right now (see data below), Vermont has $252.2 million in its Trust Fund and saw the fund decrease by a net of $3.3 million last week. Payments lag claims typically by a week. Balance as of March 1 was $506,157,247.

Vermont at the beginning of the pandemic had more than double the UI Trust Fund it did when the economy started to slide in 2007. It went into deficit and the state had to borrow money from the federal government to pay claims. Some states like California are already in UI deficit because of the COVID crisis.

Scott said the UI fund is not expected to run out under current projections.

“We are in a much healthier position than many other states,” Labor Commissioner Harrington has said.

Given the Trust Fund’s strong performance and the burden of unemployment taxes on employers, Governor Scott reduced the UI tax on businesses. He also announced that starting the first week of July, the maximum unemployment benefit to workers will increase about $20 a week.

While the UI Trust Fund will not fall into deficit under current trends, the governor has acknowledged that they simply cannot predict it given how economic conditions could swing if there is a second surge of COVID-19.

Still, he’s moving forward with the UI changes now because the burden on employers and employees is now.


Vermont’s unemployment rate falls to 3.2 percent in October

Over $100 million in recovery grants awarded, still more available

Businesses to see double-digit rate decrease in workers’ comp insurance in 2020

Tax revenues finish year nearly $60 million above targets

UI tax rates for employers fell again on July 1, 2018, as claims continue to be lower than previous projections. Individual employers’ reduced taxable wage rates will vary according to their experience rating; however, the rate reduction will lower the highest UI tax rate from 7.7 percent to 6.5 percent. The lowest UI tax rate will see a reduction from 1.1 percent to 0.8 percent.

Also effective July 1, 2018, the maximum weekly unemployment benefit will be indexed upwards to 57% of the average weekly wage. The current maximum weekly benefit amount is $466, which will increase to $498. Both changes are directly tied to the change in the Tax Rate Schedule.

The Vermont Department of Labor announced Thursday, October 1, 2020 an increase to the State’s minimum wage. Beginning January 1, 2021, the State’s minimum wage will increase $0.79, from $10.96 to $11.75 per hour. The calculation for this increase is in accordance with Act 86 of the 2019 Vermont General Assembly.

This adjustment also impacts the minimum wage of “tipped employees.” The Basic Tipped Wage Rate for service or tipped employees equals 50% of the full minimum wage or $5.88 per hour starting January 1, 2021.

The Vermont Department of Labor has announced that the state is set to trigger off of the High Extended Benefits program, as of October 10, 2020. This determination by the US Department of Labor follows the recent announcement of Vermont’s unemployment rate decreasing from 8.3% in July to 4.8% in August.

Vermont’s minimum wage rose to $10.78 on January 1, 2019.

The Unemployment Weekly Report can be found at: Previously released Unemployment Weekly Reports and other UI reports can be found at:

NOTE: Employment (nonfarm payroll) – A count of all persons who worked full- or part-time or received pay from a nonagricultural employer for any part of the pay period which included the 12th of the month. Because this count comes from a survey of employers, persons who work for two different companies would be counted twice. Therefore, nonfarm payroll employment is really a count of the number of jobs, rather than the number of persons employed. Persons may receive pay from a job if they are temporarily absent due to illness, bad weather, vacation, or labor-management dispute. This count is based on where the jobs are located, regardless of where the workers reside, and is therefore sometimes referred to as employment “by place of work.” Nonfarm payroll employment data are collected and compiled based on the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, conducted by the Vermont Department of Labor. This count was formerly referred to as nonagricultural wage and salary employment.

UI claims by industry last week in Vermont are similar in percentage to those from a year ago, though of course much higher in number in each industrial category.

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Live updates: Walz urges Minnesotans to apply for COVID-19 housing assistance before Monday deadline

Emily walpole



Here are the latest updates on COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Thursday, Dec. 3

  • MDH reported 92 COVID deaths on Thursday, the second highest in a single day
  • Minnesotans have until Dec. 7 at 11:59 p.m. to request housing assistance
  • MSHSL sets tentative schedule for winter sports, depending on Gov. Tim Walz order
  • Hospital bed use down across Minnesota
  • Officials say we are at the endgame of the pandemic with upcoming vaccines
  • Experts concerned about possible surge after Thanksgiving travel, gatherings

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan are urging Minnesotans to draw upon state aid for their end-of-year housing bills.

In a media call at 1 p.m. Gov. Walz highlighted efforts to “ensure Minnesotans can afford to stay in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Minnesotans can apply for housing assistance through the United Way by calling 211. The deadline is Monday. Dec. 7 at 11:59 p.m.

Walz pointed out that Minnesota is still in the heart of the pandemic, with the second-highest daily death toll of 92 announced on Thursday.

“Throughout this entire epidemic we’ve asked Minnesotans to sacrifice,” Walz said. “We’ve asked them to do things that put their own financial security somewhat at risk, to help protect others.”

The governor said he understands that some people don’t have a safe place to go, or they’re in danger of losing that safe place, when they’re asked to stay home.

“A lot of folks are in a situation where housing security is a real concern through no fault of their own,” Walz said.

Lt. Gov. Flanagan said she is a renter and paid her rent on Tuesday. But she knows that some Minnesotans are deciding between paying their rent or mortgage, and buying groceries.

“I want folks to know that there are still resources available to help you and your family,” she said.

Flanagan said home owners should ask their lenders if they can defer payment for up to a year. And anyone can apply for housing assistance via, or by calling 211, before the deadline of Monday, Dec. 7 at 11:59 p.m.

Those who don’t need assistance should consider giving to the nonprofits that are helping others, Flanagan said, and telling their friends and family about the assistance that’s available.

“We cannot stop until all Minnesotans have a safe and affordable place to live,” Flanagan said.

Emily Bastian, vice president of ending homelessness at Minnesota nonprofit Avivo, spoke about efforts to support the people living in homeless encampments in the Twin Cities.

“There is no one path from homelessness to permanent housing,” she said.

Bastian emphasized the importance of state and local governments partnering with the nonprofit sector to make that support possible.

Gov. Walz said it’s important to recognize the humanity in those experiencing homelessness, “not seeing it as a problem that we wish would just go away.”

The governor also said that the last week has given him hope that there will be a federal COVID-19 relief package.

There’s $100 million available in Minnesota’s Housing Assistance Program, which was announced in July. Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho said there are currently requests for $67 million in assistance as of the end of November. That means there’s a little over $30 million left to dole out, and she hopes many people will still request assistance with December rent.

“We’ve got room for one more big push here to pay December bills,” she said.

Ho said that the reason the program is closing on Dec. 7 is so that state officials have time to go through all the applications, allocate funds, and then potentially reallocate any leftover money.

COVID-19 is continuing to take a significant number of lives in Minnesota, with 92 new fatalities reported by state health officials on Thursday

Those deaths are the second highest single-day total since the pandemic began, only behind the 101 deaths reported the Friday after Thanksgiving. The total number of lives lost in the state now sits at 3,784. Thursday’s near-record comes just one day after the third-highest daily death toll of 77.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says 6,166 new coronavirus cases were reported Thursday, based on results from 50,718 tests (45,885 PCR, 4,833 antigen) processed in private and state labs.

A positive PCR test is considered a confirmed case, while a positive antigen test is considered probable.

Minnesota now reports 333,626 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations due to the coronavirus in Minnesota are continuing a downward trend. COVID-19 patients are currently using 1,394 non-ICU beds across the state – 29 fewer than the day prior, and 376 ICU beds – nine fewer than the previous day. Metro bed availability has improved from 1.9% to 2.3%, and ICU bed availability in the metro has grown from 4.5% to 5.7%.

The total number of patients hospitalized since COVID hit Minnesota is 17,623, with 3,911 of those requiring treatment in the ICU.

COVID-19 case rates now put 86 of 87 Minnesota counties under full distance learning recommendations from MDH, although community spread is only one factor of many schools are instructed to use to determine their learning model.

Leading causes of exposure for those who have tested positive include community exposure with no known contact (62,312 cases) followed by a known contact (55,953 cases) and exposure through a congregate care setting (26,100 cases).

Young people 20 to 24 make up the largest group of cases with 35,289 and two deaths, followed by those 25 to 29 with 30,360 and four deaths. The greatest number of fatalities involves people 85 to 89 with 712 in 4,244 confirmed cases.

Hennepin County has the most recorded COVID activity with 70,069 cases and 1,145 deaths, followed by Ramsey County with 29,459 cases and 521 deaths, Dakota County with 23,564 cases and 198 deaths and Anoka County with 23,541 cases and 236 fatalities.

Cook County in northeastern Minnesota has the least amount of COVID activity with 80 cases and no deaths.

On Wednesday, Governor Tim Walz, Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and several first responders spoke to Minnesotans to address the way the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted public safety and emergency response.

Walz said that he hopes to highlight aspects of everyday life that are impacted by the pandemic that many Minnesotans may not typically  consider. According to Walz, the workforce of firefighters, police officers and paramedics in Minnesota has been affected by COVID-19, which can impact their ability to respond to emergencies.

Harrington emphasized that this is a statewide issue, and that he is hearing every day from fire departments and police departments that are having staffing issues due to COVID-19.

He added that fire departments have been hit particularly hard.

“Ninety-nine out of the 500 fire departments in the state of Minnesota have had major COVID outbreaks,” he said. “That’s 20%.”

He stressed that the state has worked to rearrange resources and take precautions to keep departments staffed, but it won’t take much to take those departments out of service if communities do not wear masks, avoid gatherings and social distance.

Eagan Police Chief Roger New said that his department has followed CDC guidelines since the pandemic began, but he has still seen 20% of his staff take time off due to COVID-19 quarantines at some point since March, including one staff member who was hospitalized and took two months to fully recover.

Jay Wood, a firefighter in Plato, said that the Plato Fire Department has also carefully followed guidelines, but an outbreak that affected over three quarters of the department forced them to take the department out of service for a time.

“We are not alone as a small department of dealing with the virus and the staffing issues it has presented to us,” he said. “Minnesota fire services are always here to help the public, and people always ask how they can help us. The biggest thing you can do is follow the guidelines the governor and the Department of Health have set for us.”

Paramedic Ross Chavez echoed this, urging Minnesotans to follow advice from health experts to help keep first responders in the community healthy so they can continue providing fast and effective emergency services.

“Please, help my colleagues and me be there for those who need us, especially this holiday season during these trying times,” Chavez said.

Walz said that for Minnesotans frustrated by other community members not following these guidelines, he does not want to shame anyone, but it is a “moral hazard” to not wear a mask and go to large gatherings.

“We’re not going to be able to arrest everybody, that was certainly never our intention,” he said. “You don’t have to follow these rules because I said so, you don’t have to follow them because you don’t like government. You should follow them because they’re the right thing to do, they protect lives.”

Walz added that by next Tuesday, he hopes he and state health officials will have a clear timeline for a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm said she expects the FDA will issue an emergency use authorization on Dec. 11, and that the first wave of vaccinations could begin as soon as a week or so later.

Walz said he understands concerns around safety of the vaccine, but his assessment has been that the federal government has done a “fantastic job” of the vaccine development.

However, he stressed that though the excitement around the vaccine may indicate that the pandemic is over, we are still “in the teeth of it.”

“Let’s make sure we get all of our neighbors there, and protect those folks that make a difference,” he said.

The resurgence of COVID-19 in Minnesota is proving deadly, as underscored by 77 new fatalities reported by state health officials Wednesday.

Those deaths are the second highest single-day total since the pandemic came to Minnesota, only behind the 101 deaths reported the Friday after Thanksgiving. The total number of lives lost in the state now sits at 3,692.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says 5,192 new coronavirus cases were reported Wednesday, based on results from 42,737 tests (39,912 PCR, 2,825 Antigen) processed in private and state labs.

A positive PCR test is considered a confirmed case, while a positive Antigen test is considered probable.

Minnesota now reports 327,477 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.

In a bit of positive news, hospital bed use is down after a surge in recent days. Coronavirus patients are currently using 1,350 non-ICU beds, down 104 from Tuesday, and 354 ICU beds across the state are being used for COVID patients, down 40 from a day ago.

The total number of patients hospitalized since COVID hit Minnesota is 17,378, with 3,873 of those requiring treatment in the ICU.

Leading causes of exposure for those who have tested positive include community exposure with no known contact (60,808 cases) followed by a known contact (54,554 cases) and exposure through a congregate care setting (25,695 cases).

Young people 20 to 24 make up the largest group of cases by a significant margin with 34,806 and two deaths, followed by those 25 to 29 with 29,876 and four deaths. The greatest number of fatalities involves people 85 to 89 with 691 in 4,156 confirmed cases.

Hennepin County has the most recorded COVID activity with 68,898 cases and 1,130 deaths, followed by Ramsey County with 28,948 cases and 512 deaths, Anoka County with 23,196 cases and 232 fatalities, and Dakota County with 23,102 cases and 194 deaths.

Cook County in northeastern Minnesota has the least amount of COVID activity with 79 cases and no deaths.

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