Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, April 23.
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The latest coronavirus data:
The Vermont Department of Health reported 89 new COVID-19 infections Friday.
Twelve of Vermont's 14 counties reported new cases, with nearly 30 new infections in Chittenden County.
Currently, 26 people are hospitalized with the virus in Vermont, including five people in intensive care.
Nearly 38% of Vermonters 16 and older are fully vaccinated.
The state opens vaccination appointments to out-of-state college students and other part-time Vermont residents next week on Thurs., April 29.
- Karen Anderson
High contact high school sports can resume Friday
High contact sports practices can resume Friday, after more than a year-long pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to NBC5, sports like wrestling and martial arts, which require athletes to come in close proximity with one another, have been at a standstill since the beginning of the pandemic due to research that says the virus spreads more easily through the air.
While standard practice sessions can resume Friday indoor facilities are still limited to 50% capacity, and mask-wearing is still mandatory.
- Karen Anderson
Health commissioner 'cautiously optimistic' COVID-19 vaccines in Vermont will remain effective against variants
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says he is "cautiously optimistic" that the COVID-19 vaccines currently being used in Vermont will also be effective against several variants of the virus that are emerging in different parts of the state.
Levine says preliminary data indicates that caseloads are not rising even though there is positive evidence that several prominent variants have been discovered in Vermont.
“If the B117 and B1429 were able to evade the vaccines to any significant degree, I would expect increased transmission of the virus,” Levine said. “But we are of course seeing the opposite right now, a cause for cautious optimism."
To date, roughly 56% of all Vermonters 16 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
- Howard Weiss-Tisman
Vermont lawmakers are working to update a law passed last year that limits when police officers can use chokeholds.
The legislation was passed following the murder of George Floyd by ex-police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis last May.
Falko Schilling, the advocacy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, says the new legislation will establish exceptions for when chokeholds can be used.
"In a situation where an officer might be in a life-or-death struggle for their life, we're not going to say they can't use something like that when they might otherwise use more deadly force like a gun,” Falko said.
The legislature moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week. It's now before the full Senate.
Bill before the Legislature now would ban school districts from hiring police officers
A bill before the legislature would prohibit school districts in Vermont from hiring armed police officers.
School resource officers can be hired by districts to provide security in schools.
But Falko Schilling, the advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, argues those officers don't necessarily make kids safer.
“We know that when you have armed police in schools, it creates situations where students of color, students of disabilities, are disproportionately referred into the criminal legal system, and it just makes many students feel less safe,” Schilling said.
The bill has not made it out of committee. A competing bill to give state grants to school districts to pay for school resource officers has also stalled in committee.
- Henry Epp
The Vermont House has voted to create a special task force to study the future financial stability of the state employees' and teachers' pension funds.
The two funds have a combined unfunded liability of roughly $3 billion.
A plan proposed by the House Government Operations committee that included longer retirement ages, additional contributions, reduced benefits, and the use of $150 million in federal stimulus money, was pulled after it met with harsh criticism from the unions.
Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Committee chairwoman Sarah Copeland-Hanzas said the task force will consider all feasible options.
"Whether we need to change the contribution rates or whether we need to change benefits, a little bit of both, maybe some different revenues for us to help solve the problem,” she said. “So that's really the duty of the task force."
The Senate is also drafting its own response to this issue.
- Bob Kinzel
Congressman Peter Welch wants the federal government to enforce existing regulations that prohibit non-dairy products from being labeled and marketed as "milk" products.
Welch says the federal Food and Drug Administration has been very slow to take steps in the long-running battle over whether makers of soy milk or almond milk can use the term to describe their drinks.
He's introduced legislation that makes it clear that only dairy products can be identified using the word "milk."
"It's a truth and advertising issue,” Welch said. “You know, the other products are quite popular, obviously – soy milk, almond milk – but they're not milk. And where you're going to have a label that uses the term ‘milk,’ it should apply only to milk products.”
A companion bill has also been introduced in the U.S. Senate.
- Bob Kinzel
The U.S. House voted Thursday to grant statehood to the District of Columbia, a measure strongly supported by Congressman Peter Welch.
The proposal was approved on a party line vote – only Democrats voted for it and only Republicans voted against it.
Welch said the bill is needed because residents of the District currently pay federal taxes and yet have no voting representation in Congress.
“What's our democracy about? It's about representative democracy – citizens having a right to elect their representatives, who have authority to vote on their behalf and that's what the DC Statehood bill is really about,” Welch said. “It's not about whether its Democrats or Republicans who get the new senators."
The legislation faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate.
- Bob Kinzel
The Scott Administration is contemplating lifting several COVID-19 restrictions as the state achieves its vaccination goals.
Gov. Phil Scott says Vermont is on track to reach its goal of having 60% of all adults having received at least one dose of the vaccine by May 1.
The governor says it's likely that one of the first restrictions to be lifted will be the mandate of wearing masks outdoors.
"We are looking at how long of the outdoor masking will be required,” Scott said. “So I think you can expect sometime in the next couple of weeks that we'll have some guidance on that. We're not quite there yet but we are certainly talking about that right now.”
Vermont continues have one of the top adult vaccination rates of any state in the country.
- Bob Kinzel
There hasn’t been a positive COVID-19 case among those tested inside Vermont schools for three weeks.
Under the surveillance testing program, a sample of teachers and staff are tested to help officials make calls about how prevalent the virus is in Vermont's schools.
Education Secretary Dan French said the state will stop the practice after spring break is over.
“With the vaccination of school staff nearly complete, we have decided to end the surveillance testing program for school staff after next week,” French said Friday.
French said the state will now turn its attention toward coming up with a surveillance testing program for the summer.
Vermont will use federal CDC money to pay for the summer testing program, which is being developed in consultation with the health department.
- Howard Weiss-Tisman
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