Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, a request for the Vermont Humans Rights Commission to investigate the Bennington Select Board and more for Wednesday, April 7.
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The latest coronavirus data:
Vermont reported just 42 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday. It's the first time daily case counts have dropped below 100 in more than a week.
One more person has died, bringing Vermont's virus-related deaths to 230 since the start of the pandemic.
A total of 26 people are in the hospital due to the virus, six of whom are in intensive care.
So far more than 42% of adult Vermonters — about 231-thousand people — have started their vaccination process with at least one shot.
- Matthew Smith
Veteran spouses, caregivers now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine
Coronavirus vaccines through the VA aren't just for veterans anymore.
WCAX reports new federal guidelines now allow any veteran, as well as their spouse or a caregiver of a veteran, to get a COVID-19 inoculation through the VA.
The White River Junction VA Medical Center has so far administered more than 14,000 shots, including doses to spouses and caregivers as of this week.
- Matthew Smith
Health Commissioner says those who’ve had COVID should still get vaccine
As Vermont's COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, the state's top health official is urging everyone, even those who have been previously infected with the virus, to get a vaccine when they can.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine told Vermont Edition Wednesday that even those who have had the virus can benefit from the immunity boost that comes from getting vaccinated.
“If you've had COVID already and think you have sufficient immunity because you've had the infection, you should still get the vaccine,” Levine said.
He says that with the rare exception of those who might have an anaphylactic reaction to the vaccine, everyone should get vaccinated. The state says everyone over the age of 16 should be eligible to sign up for a shot by April 19.
- Emily Aiken
The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is asking the state's Human Rights Commission to investigate the Bennington Select Board.
The ACLU says board members illegally disclosed the identities of two people who filed complaints about discriminatory policing in Bennington.
Mia Schultz, president of the Rutland area branch of the NAACP, says the couple fled town after being publicly identified.
“The select board literally ran this family out of town,” Schultz said. “They put their lives at risk, including their small child, all to set the example to the rest of the community not to complain.”
Town officials in Bennington declined comment on Wednesday.
The ACLU is asking the Vermont Human Rights Commission to determine whether the town violated the law by disclosing the complainants’ identities.
- Peter Hirschfeld
The Scott administration unveiled its proposal for using the $1 billion Vermont received from the latest coronavirus stimulus package.
The plan puts millions of dollars into five areas: economic development, climate change mitigation, water and sewer infrastructure, housing and broadband.
Under the proposal, $250 million would go toward expanding access to broadband.
June Tierney, Commissioner of the Department of Public Service, says it’s an opportunity to get all households high-speed internet.
“It is enough money to deliver on a very fundamental inequity that the state needs to address — that not everyone in the state has access to high-quality broadband,” Tierney said.
The proposed spending plan also allocates $249 million for building 5,000 new housing units over the next five years.
Josh Hanford, Commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development, says the money would be used for a variety of projects, including one proposal to create an incentive program for private housing developers.
"The costs of home ownership have just skyrocketed, and it’s leaving many working Vermonters behind,” Hanford said. “If we don’t invest in a new private home builder program focused on creating missing middle housing, we could be decades behind in having the housing Vermont needs."
The Legislature will ultimately decide where the federal relief money goes. The state has until December 2024 to allocate the funds.
- Liam Elder-Connors
Funds now available for unpaid rent
About half of the 76,000 people who rent in Vermont can now apply for money to help cover unpaid rent.
A new program run by the Vermont State Housing Authority has $110 million available. The funds can be used for unpaid rent going back to April 2020 or payments up to 15 months in the future.
The money came from the federal stimulus package passed by Congress in December.
VSHA Executive Director Richard Wells says people are eligible for the funds if they meet certain requirements.
“If one or more individuals with the household has qualified for unemployment benefits, or experienced a reduction in household income, has incurred significant costs or experienced other financial hardships directly or indirect to the COVID-19 outbreaks,” Wells said.
People can apply for the funds at VSHA.org or by calling 833-488-3727.
- Liam Elder-Connors
The Burlington School District eliminated one of the district's two in-school officer positions at their board meeting on Tuesday.
The decision also scales back the presence of the district's sole remaining officer. Starting in the fall semester, that officer will be stationed off-campus and visit only during scheduled trainings and active shooter drills. Barring an emergency, the officer won't be armed or in uniform.
VTDigger reports the decision was made some nine months after the Burlington City Council resolved to end the program that stationed police officers in city schools.
- Matthew Smith
Applications to the Vermont State Colleges, the state's public college system, have remained relatively steady through the pandemic.
That's in contrast to a trend being seen nationwide. While applications went up at many elite institutions around the country, they plummeted at smaller colleges and universities, the New York Times reported in February.
But as of April 1, overall applications to Castleton University, Northern Vermont University, and Vermont Technical College were up from the same time last year, according to data provided by the state college system.
Much of the increase was from out-of-state applicants, which matches pre-pandemic trends.
- Anna Van Dine
Advocates of medical marijuana say patients that have been using medicinal pot need to be considered as the state rolls out a new retail cannabis industry.
Vermont legalized medical marijuana in 2004, and last year, about 5,000 people were registered to legally purchase pot in the state.
Jim Romanoff is the chair of the Marijuana for Symptom Relief Oversight Committee, and he says as the new rules are developed, the medical program needs to be preserved.
“The medical program is different, it’s successful, and there’s a lot of patients out there who are depending on it,” Romanoff said. “So don’t leave it behind.”
Romanoff wants a medicinal marijuana advisory group to work with the new Cannabis Control Board, as it develops rules for the legal cannabis marketplace.
- Howard Weiss-Tisman
A former Vermont state senator has been appointed to serve as deputy state auditor.
Former Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe will take over in the position for Andrew Stein.
Stein served for almost five years and is taking a new position in the Department of Taxes.
In addition to his legislative experience, Ashe developed affordable housing, and worked for then-Congressman Bernie Sanders, among other positions.
Last year, Ashe lost the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor to political newcomer Molly Gray.
- Brittany Patterson
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