News Roundup: Northern Vermont Sees Record Low Streamflow, Groundwater Levels
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about federal coronavirus relief, the University of Vermont's vaccination policy for the fall, drought and more for Monday, July 19.
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1. The University of Vermont makes COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for returning students
The University of Vermont will require all students get a COVID-19 vaccine before the fall semester.
The school previously said it wouldn't mandate the shot until one of the three vaccines received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Currently the shots are only authorized for emergency use.
UVM Vice-President for Operations and Public Safety Gary Derr said last week the university changed course in part due to concerns over more contagious delta variant.
"Forty-odd states are seeing significant increases in COVID cases ... we just looked at that and said, 'You know, it's time to make that decision'" Derr said.
Derr says students can request a medical and religious exemption to the vaccine requirement.
Unvaccinated students will need to wear masks indoors and get weekly COVID-19 tests.
— Liam Elder-Connors
Burlington's mayor issues statement in support of UVM's new vaccine policy
In a statement, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said he supported the new requirement.
Weinberger says that having the entire student body vaccinated will help keep community infection rates at low levels this upcoming fall. He urged all unvaccinated Vermonters to get a shot as soon as possible.
UVM joins other Vermont Colleges including Middlebury College, Saint Michael’s College and Champlain College, which have announced similar vaccination requirements for students.
— Marlon Hyde
2. COVID-19 vaccines are still available at pop-up clinics across the state
State health officials reported 19 new COVID-19 infections and one new virus-linked death over the weekend, marking Vermont's 259th coronavirus fatality of the pandemic.
The 19 new cases include seven on Saturday and 12 on Sunday.
Two people are hospitalized with the virus, including one person in intensive care.
— Matthew Smith
Walk-in vaccination clinics continue
A handful of Vermonters are getting COVID-19 vaccines at pop clinics across the state nearly every day.
Many of the sites are staffed by National Guard officers, like Seargant Farnsas.
"You meet a lot of people through the state. It’s been one of the best missions I’ve ever done in 27 years of service," Farnsas said. "I’ve had a lot of fun with it."
He helped run a clinic on a warm afternoon in the parking lot of Dan and Whits’ General store in Norwich.
There, 19 people got vaccinated.
That included 12-year-olds who had recently celebrated birthdays and adults who had been on the fence.
Lieutenant Lorenzo Robinson also worked the clinic, and said they’ve been busy.
"It's a pretty good turnout for right now. The last few clinics we’ve only had a few people, but more people turned out today, which is nice," Robinson said.
Travis Bule of Thetford and his daughter got vaccinated that day. He said friends and family convinced him.
"[It was] general peer pressure, to be honest. Parents, neighbors ..." Bule said.
The store provided ice cream for everyone who got a shot.
— Lexi Krupp
Canada could start allowing fully vaccinated Americans into the country by mid-August for non-essential travel
Canada could start allowing fully vaccinated Americans into the country by mid-August for non-essential travel.
And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the country should be in a position to welcome fully vaccinated travelers from all countries by early September.
Trudeau made the announcement while speaking with leaders of Canada's provinces. His office released a readout of the call.
He noted that the border could reopen if Canada's current vaccination rates and public health conditions continue to improve.
To date, about 80% of eligible Canadians have gotten their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and over 50% are fully vaccinated.
— Matthew Smith
3. Northern Vermont is experiencing unprecedented drought conditions
Parts of 11 Vermont counties remain in moderate drought. Recent rainfall has helped, but the state’s climatologist says it could be some time before it makes its way to the state’s aquifers.
Only Bennington and Windham Counties are seeing normal moisture conditions this summer. Portions of those counties received up to four inches of rain last week.
Northern Vermont is currently experiencing its longest drought since at least the year 2000.
Throughout June, Vermont’s State Climatologist, Dr. Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux says streamflow and groundwater levels across the state were at record lows.
“And when we talk about record low value, some of these wells and streamflow records go back anywhere between 40, 60 and 100 years," Dupigny-Giroux said.
Looking at rainfall alone, Dupigny-Giroux says this isn’t the worst drought Vermont has ever seen. But current groundwater levels raise a red flag for climate change.
“So precip-wise, the early 1900s was even more severe. Hydro-wise, we haven’t seen anything like this before.”
She says its hard to say how long it will take for aquifers to recover, as groundwater aquifers and lakes can only re-charge after soils, plants and other features of the groundscape are replenished.
State climatologist says COVID-19 pandemic offers lessons that could inform climate policy
According to the latest estimate from the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 350,000 people in Vermont live in areas currently affected by drought.
Traditionally, southeastern Vermont tends to be drier than the Northeast Kingdom or Champlain Valley. That's not the case this year.
Dupigny-Giroux says there are lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic that could inform climate policy.
“It’s not the pandemic or climate change, it’s the pandemic and climate change," she said. "Because what we’ve realized is, the vulnerabilities are the same, both in terms of peoples, communities, parts of the environment, parts of the landscape."
Dupigny-Giroux says the pandemic offers an opportunity to take a closer look at who in Vermont is most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
— Abagael Giles
4. Members of Vermont National Guard head to Senegal
Members of the Vermont National Guard are traveling to Senegal for two weeks. The trip is part of an ongoing military partnership with the West African nation.
The 18 members of the Guard are all medical professionals. In a press release, the Guard says they will work with “Senegalese counterparts to support and build relationships in both military and civilian environments.”
Vermont has partnered with Senegal since 2008, through the National Guard State Partnership Program.
Senegalese and North Macedonian soldiers have also been training with the Guard here in Vermont this month.
— Anna Van Dine
Sen. Leahy vows to secure safe exit for Afghan translators
Senator Patrick Leahy is vowing to provide funding to help evacuate Afghan nationals who supported the U.S. military and its coalition partners during the 20-year war in that country.
With the U.S. withdrawal of troops nearly complete, thousands of Afghan citizens who served as translators, drivers and in other roles remain in the country. Many have applied for special immigrant visas to the U.S., but have been stymied by administrative delays.
Leahy says it's critical for Congress to act quickly to help these people leave Afghanistan as soon as possible.
"If we don't, we're going to see them being just executed by the Taliban," he said. "We have to get them out. I will get the money to get it done."
Leahy said he's urging the Biden administration to begin an orderly withdrawal of the Afghan translators as soon as possible. NPR reports evacuation flights will begin in the last week of July.
— Bob Kinzel
5. Leahy says he's optimistic Congress will pass two infrastructure bills in the coming weeks
Senator Patrick Leahy says he's optimistic that Congress will pass two infrastructure bills in the coming weeks.
One bill, which has bipartisan support, includes one trillion dollars for road and bridge repairs and an expansion of broadband services.
A second, larger, piece of legislation, has a price tag of three and a half trillion dollars. It expands Medicare, provides additional resources for child care and elder care, and includes measures to address climate change.
President Biden has indicated that he will not sign the smaller bill unless the larger proposal is also adopted.
But Leahy says he doesn't agree with this strategy.
"I would hope that that if only one passes, that the president signs that," he said. "I would much prefer two because I think you can do a short term fix but we have long term fixes [needed] in this country."
The Senate is expected to vote on both bills by the end of the month.
Leahy calls for Congress to pass voting rights bill promptly
Leahy says it's critical for Congress to pass a voting rights bill in the coming weeks.
And Leahy says the debate over this legislation could trigger Democrats to seek an exemption to the filibuster rule.
Leahy says the bill is needed because Republican lawmakers in several states are passing laws aimed at suppressing the turnout of minority and elderly people.
The bill would establish a number of federal standards dealing with early and mail in voting.
Leahy says exempting this bill from the Senate's filibuster rule would ensure its passage but could also set a dangerous precedent.
"It is the one thing that might trigger an exemption to the filibuster rule, but keep in mind you make one exemption, others will follow — especially if Republicans come back in power," he said.
Leahy says he hopes the Senate will consider this legislation before taking its August recess.
— Bob Kinzel
6. Gov. seeks flexibility around COVID-19 funds intended for county governments
Gov. Phil Scott says he spoke to White House officials last week about giving Vermont more flexibility to spend coronavirus relief money meant for county governments.
Millions of dollars are set to go to Vermont counties, despite their limited role in governance. According to the Joint Fiscal Office, many counties could get amounts five-to-26-times the size of their annual budget.
Scott says he told the White House that in Vermont, county governments don't really exist.
"They get it," he said. "We're hoping that they're going to be able to help us out in some way or find a way around it, so we can get the money that they've appropriated to the municipalities who need it."
Scott also met with President Biden, Vice-President Harris and a bipartisan group of governors and mayors to talk about the infrastructure bill that's under consideration in Congress.
— Liam Elder-Connors
Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.
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