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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

State Officials Identify Several COVID-19 Cases Among Golf Tournament Attendees

Health Commissioner Mark Levine speaks at a podium
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ORCA Media
At the governor's twice-weekly press conference Friday, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the state has linked five cases of COVID-19 to a recent golf tournament.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about coronavirus, the debate for Vermont's sole U.S. House seat and more for Friday, October 2.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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1. Five cases of COVID-19 associated with golf tournament

Vermont continues to see low numbers of COVID-19 cases.

But Health Commissioner Mark Levine says that 5 recent cases in Bennington County associated with a golf tournament show that people must still be on guard, especially in large gatherings.

"The bottom line is: whenever anyone is planning to go out or attend an event, take a moment to think about where you're going and assess your own level of risk and you're comfort with that level," Levine said. "It's important to know if you'll be able to maintain six-foot spacing, if everyone will indeed be wearing a mask."

A spokesperson for the health department said health officials are investigating a number of cases of COVID-19 among people who attended the tournament.

As of Friday morning, Vermont has seen 1,768 cases and 58 deaths. No new deaths from COVID-19 have been recorded in 66 days.

On Friday, the state announced it had identified 13 new cases of COVID-19, with five occurring in Chittenden County and six in Bennington County. Windsor and Windham Counties each saw one new case.

So far, 164,859 people have been tested for active cases in Vermont.

Levine said Friday that antigen testing also has a role to play, as public health officials try to suppress COVID-19. However, Levine also said the test is generally less reliable than the technology the state of Vermont relies on.

At the governor's press briefing Friday, Levine gave a mini lecture about the differences between the antigen test, which detects the virus proteins, and the more reliable PCR test, which finds evidence of the virus' genetic material.

He said the antigen test has a relatively high rate of false positives and false negatives.

"I still think use of the test on a one-time basis, in a person with no symptoms, in a place where the prevalence is very low, is fraught with challenge, both from a false negative and false positive aspect," Levine said.

The commissioner said the antigen test is better used as a screening tool, in places that are seeing outbreaks of the disease.

- John Dillon

2. Vt. Department of Corrections extends CoreCivic contract for one year

Vermont has signed a one-year contract extension with a private prison company to house inmates in Mississippi.

211 Vermonters are now incarcerated at CoreCivic's Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility.

Interim Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker said the roughly $6 million dollar contract has an update that includes the state's testing protocol for COVID-19. Baker outlined other key points of the contract extension during a news briefing with reporters.

“It clarifies Vermont's inmates must be kept separate from the other population housed at the facility in Mississippi and that we have control and access over three areas, three units, that contain 120 beds per unit,” Baker said.

This summer, the Mississippi facility experienced a major COVID-19 outbreak. Baker said all of the Vermont inmates who contracted the virus have now recovered.

- John Dillon

3. Candidates face off over Vermont's U.S. House Seat in VPR-Vermont PBS debate

The candidates for Vermont’s only seat in the U.S House offered contrasting views for the future of American health care in Thursday’s VPR-Vermont PBS debate.

Incumbent Democrat Peter Welch, seeking an eighth term in office, said he supports expanding Medicare to create a national healthcare system.

“The private sector model is failing. If COVID has shown us anything it’s the absolute essential role that healthcare plays in all our lives,” Welch said.

But Republican challenger Miriam Berry—a registered nurse—called for cutting waste and using more preventative medicine to reduce health care costs.

“I am opposed to universal health care as it’s been proposed. People should be given the choice for their insurance,” Berry said.

Both Berry and Welch praised the veteran health care system and agreed no veteran should have to pay for medical care.

The candidates also sparred over reproductive rights.

A Supreme Court vacancy after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has made the future of landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade a campaign issue.

Berry, a registered nurse, said Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

"Those of us who believe that a child is a human from conception, we say there's more than one person involved: that there's the woman, the father and the child," Berry said. "That should be considered for their rights."

Welch disagreed, saying "I think it'd be a disaster, a real catastrophe if Roe v. Wade were overturned."

In light of threats to reproductive rights at the federal level, an amendment to the state constitution protecting those rights is currently under consideration. If it is passed by two consecutive Legislatures, it will go before Vermont voters in 2020."

To watch or listen to the full debate, head here.

- Matthew Smith

More from VPR: Four Takeaways From The Debate For Vermont’s U.S. House Seat

4. Sen. Leahy to speak with Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett

Senator Patrick Leahy said he plans to talk with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett sometime this weekend.

Leahy is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A number of his colleagues on the committee have announced that they will refuse to meet with Barrett as a way to protest President Trump's decision to make this nomination so close to the election.

Leahy said he's talked with every Court nominee in the last four decades.

“I'm not going to go do the dog and pony show that Mitch McConnell and others want to do they've got these cameras all staked out and nothing comes of those. Certainly I'll talk with her I have a number of things I want to ask her," Leahy.

Leahy said he's very concerned that the Court will overturn the Affordable Care Act if Barrett is confirmed to fill the vacancy left by the recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

- Bob Kinzel

More from Vermont Edition: Former Secretary Of State Reflects On Her Work With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

5. Vermont's health commissioner calls Pres. Trump's diagnosis a 'teachable moment'

Vermont's top health official said he hopes the public will learn something from President Trump's positive coronavirus results.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine used Friday’s coronavirus news briefing to underscore his frequent messages about preventing and containing the disease.

“And it is a teachable moment, that's really all I can say, but again reinforces my message about [how] testing is not prevention,” Levine said. “So embracing all of the preventive guidelines that we talk about many times each press conference is truly prevention.”

Levine said wearing facial coverings, keeping physically distant from others and frequent hand washing are all important steps to control the virus.

Gov. Phil Scott also said Friday that he was disappointed and embarrassed by Tuesday’s raucous debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“It was a low moment in our history, in so many different respects; disappointing. And again, I was a bit embarrassed to be an American at that point,” Scott said. “I think we can do so much better. We expected so much more.”

The governor is a Republican who does not support Trump.

He also had a word of advice for those feeling the day-to-day strain of dealing with current events, and the COVID-19 pandemic: He’s urging people to slow down, get outside and enjoy one last creemee of the season.

At Friday’s press briefing, Scott told Vermonters that their continued vigilance has given the state the country’s lowest positivity rate for the coronavirus. But, he said he recognizes the stress that comes with this success.

“Fortunately, we all live in Vermont, and it’s one of the most beautiful times of year for us. So I hope many of you can take some time this weekend, before it comes to an end, which will be all too soon. Maybe get yourself a maple creemee, enjoy the foliage, visit a state park, climb one of our beautiful mountains – whatever you need to do to take care of yourselves,” Scott said. “Because your mental health is important as well.”

- John Dillon

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