Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, Feb. 19.
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The latest coronavirus data:
The Vermont Health Department reported 97 new cases of COVID-19 Friday – but no new deaths.
In Vermont, 193 people have died from the coronavirus since the pandemic started last year.
There are currently 38 people hospitalized with the virus and 13 of those individuals are in the ICU.
Just over 83,000 people in Vermont have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
- Liam Elder-Connors
Fully vaccinated travelers will not need to quarantine starting Feb. 23
The state is lifting some of its COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Starting next Tuesday, if travelers have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus – meaning they have had both shots and waited another two weeks – they do not have to quarantine after their arrival in Vermont.
Gov. Phil Scott said additional changes will be announced next week.
“This change is very narrow, focusing on travel. And I know there will be a lot of questions and some head scratching about why this is allowed, while other things are not,” Scott said. “But the fact is, every step we make comes with questions, and we're taking it one step at a time to lessen the confusion.”
Scott said despite the relaxation on the travel policy, the ban on multi-family household gatherings still applies. He said the state is taking a close look at that policy now, as more of the population gets vaccinated.
- John Dillon
Health Commissioner says Vermont is seeing a gradual decline in new COVID-19 cases
Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Friday the state is seeing a gradual decline in COVID-19 cases, as the number of Vermonters who are vaccinated steadily increases.
Levine outlined the current virus trends at Friday’s COVID briefing. He said the seven-day average of new cases is declining. And he said the decline is even more pronounced in the 75-and-older age group.
But Levine warned against complacency in the face of a pandemic that has lasted almost a year.
“So even though we are sick of this pandemic, and even though many of us anxiously await a chance to get the vaccine, the virus is still a threat, and we need to stay focused on keeping it from spreading,” Levine said. “Avoid gatherings and crowds, wear your mask, and if you have any reason to get a test, please do it. It's easy and it's free.”
Levine said the state recently helped set up testing centers at two southern Vermont ski areas, and found only three positive results from more than 200 tests.
- John Dillon
Special identification cards will be issued to those who complete vaccine regimen
Gov. Phil Scott says Vermonters who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be issued special identification cards verifying that they have been fully vaccinated.
Currently about 8% of Vermont's adult population has received both doses of the vaccine.
Scott says the vaccination cards will help state and federal officials ensure that a person has been vaccinated especially when they travel.
“There is a vaccination card. All states should have this – it's federally issued, I believe,” Scott said. “Everyone should have the card with them whenever they travel in or out of the state and be prepared to show it when asked.”
Scott says Vermonters who have received both doses will now be allowed to travel out-of-state without quarantining when they come back, beginning two weeks after the date of their second dose.
- Bob Kinzel
State prepares to allow more social activities, salon appointments at nursing homes next Friday
The state is relaxing restrictions on nursing homes now that an increasing number of elderly Vermonters are getting fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Human Services Secretary Mike Smith announced the changes at Friday’s COVID briefing. He said that starting next Friday, nursing home residents who have been fully vaccinated will be able to gather with others residents and see visitors.
“This means eating together and participating in other group activities within guidelines,” Smith said. “On a case by case consideration, [we will allow] safe physical contact, and with full vaccination, having visitors indoors, and participating in non-medical essential services such as salon appointments.”
Smith said 93% of residents in skilled nursing facilities and residential care homes have received their first dose of vaccine.
- John Dillon
House minority leader calls for more COVID relief funds for small businesses
House minority leader Patti McCoy says it's critical for the state to distribute federal COVID stimulus grants to eligible Vermont businesses as soon as possible.
Speaking on Vermont Edition Thursday, McCoy said the goal should be to help as many businesses as possible stay afloat until the impact of the pandemic has been sharply reduced.
She said this could take a number of months.
“It's not to say that we can lift up businesses for years to come, but to keep them in business and prop them up a bit for the next 6-to-12 months of business,” McCoy said. “I believe that's what that money should be used for."
McCoy says she's also encouraged that another major COVID-19 economic stimulus package could win Congressional approval sometime next month.
Vermont is projected to receive over $900 million from that legislation.
Senate Progressive caucus pushes for income tax surcharge on wealthiest Vermonters
The head of Vermont's Senate Progressive caucus is opposed to expanding gambling programs to raise new revenue for the state.
Washington County Senator Anthony Pollina told Vermont Edition it makes more sense to impose an income tax surcharge on wealthy Vermonters, than to legalize sports betting or expand the Vermont Lottery.
"Keep in mind that the wealthiest 5% of Vermonters this year are saving. They're saving $237 million on the federal income tax,” Pollina said. “We could ask those people to pay their fair share and we could find other ways to raise revenue for the state rather than go towards betting and lottery systems, which I think tend to prey upon low- and moderate- income people.”
Legislation authorizing sports betting in Vermont is being reviewed by the Senate Economic Development committee and appears to have some bipartisan support.
Progressives in the House also push for tax reforms
The head of the House Progressive Caucus, Burlington Rep. Selene Colburn, says lawmakers should enact major tax reforms that would place a greater burden on wealthier Vermonters.
Colburn told Vermont Edition the money is needed to fund essential state programs.
She said reforms would begin to address growing economic inequality in the state.
“So we've seen, you know, the top one percent, the top two percent, doing better during the pandemic,” Colburn said. “And we know that folks in the bottom 60% of earners are getting less and even further behind than they were before.”
Colburn is backing an income tax surcharge on the wealthy. She also wants to change the state's education finance system so that all homeowners pay their school tax burden based on their income and not the value of their property.
- Bob Kinzel
Education officials across Vermont are reporting an increase in truancy during the coronavirus pandemic.
Jay Nichols, with the Vermont Principals’ Association, says chronic absenteeism has always been a problem for school districts.
“I think with the pandemic, though, we’ve seen that increase. And every school is talking about how they have a handful of kids that they just can’t get in the building,” Nicholds said.
Nichols say school administrators are devising plans to reconnect with disengaged students.
But he said districts will need financial and logistical assistance from the state in order to successfully reengage lost students.
- Peter Hirschfeld
A 2018 law that banned the possession of high-capacity magazines in Vermont has withstood a constitutional challenge.
In a 4-0 decision announced on Friday afternoon, the Vermont Supreme Court said the restriction on magazines could reduce the lethality of mass shootings.
And the justices said the prohibition on magazines that carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition does not unduly infringe on Vermonters’ right to bear arms.
The court rejected plaintiffs' claims that the ban could compromise Vermonters' ability to defend themselves.
Gov. Phil Scott signed the magazine ban into law after an averted mass shooting in Fair Haven in February of 2018.
- Peter Hirschfeld
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