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More Than 145,000 Vermonters Have Already Voted By Mail

Woman wearing mask, apron weighs squash behind Plexiglass
Abagael Giles
/
VPR
At Happy Valley Orchards in Middlebury, employee J'Amy Allen weighs a butternut squash behind Plexiglass in the farm store.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, how one local restaurant is preparing for the winter and more for Thursday, Oct. 22.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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1. Department of Health reports 15 new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. So far, 1,987 people have tested positive for the disease in Vermont.

No one is currently hospitalized in the state with a confirmed case, but three people are hospitalized under investigation due to having COVID-like symptoms or a connection to a confirmed case.

The health department is currently monitoring 82 people as close contacts of confirmed cases. The state has now tested 181,677 people for active cases.

- Abagael Giles

St. Michael's College to go remote following eight positive COVID-19 tests

St. Michael's College announced a transition to all remote classes Thursday, after several students tested positive for COVID-19.

Two students tested positive earlier in the week, and the college received six more positive test results Thursday morning, all asymptomatic.

Previously, only one other positive case had been identified since the college began regular testing mid-September.

Classes will be remote for the rest of the week, while the Health Department traces contacts of the positive cases. All other in-person activities are suspended through the weekend.

- Anna Van Dine

Barton bank closes due to positive COVID-19 test

A bank in Barton is closed after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Barton Chronicle reports a worker at Community National Bank's Barton office tested positive for the coronavirus over the weekend.

The bank's CEO said the bank will remain closed until further notice.

- Matthew Smith

Rutland hospital restricts visitation

Rutland Regional Medical Center is tightening restrictions on visitors due to the flu and COVID-19.

The Rutland Herald reports the hospital is going back to policies from the spring, limiting all patients to one essential support visitor, with some exceptions for younger patients or end-of-life care.

The policy change takes effect Nov. 2. Hospital officials say the change is not due to any COVID-19 transmission and is being done out of an abundance of caution.

- Matthew Smith

114 SUNY Plattsburg students in quarantine

Two more SUNY Plattsburg students and a university employee have tested positive for the coronavirus. The number of students in quarantine is now up to 114.

According to WCAX, Clinton County New York health officials are expected to give an update Thursday on the increase in COVID-19 cases in the county.

- Karen Anderson

2. Vermont case prompts CDC to redefine 'close contact'

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cited a Vermont case in its updated guidance on limiting contact with people infected with COVID-19.

The CDC and the Vermont Department of Health teamed up to research the case of a 20-year-old male Vermont prison guard who caught COVID-19 in August after multiple brief instances of exposure to inmates who had the disease.

The guard never spent more than 15 minutes at a time with the inmates. But he was within six feet of them at least 22 times during one eight-hour shift. The two health agencies say the case demonstrates that repeated contact shorter than 15 minutes in length can lead to infections. As a result, the CDC has expanded its warnings about the risks of close contact.

The CDC says the guard was wearing a mask and had eye protection, but the inmates were not always wearing masks. So the agency says the study highlights again the importance of wearing face masks to limit infections.

- John Dillon

More from Vermont Edition: UVM Researcher: Antibody Response To COVID-19 'Bodes Well' For Eventual Vaccine

3. 145,000 Vermonters have already voted

With about 12 days left until Election Day, more Vermonters have cast ballots by mail than in any previous election.

Secretary of State Jim Condos said that, as of Thursday morning, 145,000 people had sent mail-in ballots to local town clerks. He said it's possible overall voter turnout for the Nov. 3 election will be the highest on record.

"I'm not in the prediction business to say we're going to set a new record, because I don't know that we will, but I would just say that the signs are there that we may," Condos said.

Vermont's highest voter turnout occurred in 2008, when 326,000 people voted.

Several Townshend residents receive the wrong ballot

The Secretary of State’s office has confirmed to VPR that several registered voters in Townshend received the wrong ballots in the mail.

But Secretary of State Jim Condos said the situation is not symptomatic of widespread errors in the new vote-by-mail system.

“We sent out 440,000 ballots, and if there’s three or four that are wrong, it’s a pretty massive undertaking, that number of ballots,” Condos said.

Condos said the town clerk in Townshend is working with affected voters to ensure they receive a correct ballot.

Condos said that as of this Thursday morning, 145,000 Vermonters had already cast ballots by mail.

However, Vermont's top election officials say they are very pleased with the initial performance of the state's new voting system.

Because of health and safety concerns associated with the coronavirus pandemic, for the first time ever, all "active" registered voters in the state were sent a General Election ballot this fall.

Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters said over 400,000 ballots were sent out, and for the most part, he's pleased by how well things are going.

"There will be a few errors here and there but people are being really great about calling up their town clerks and those hard-working town clerks are straightening out those issues on their end, so I would say, overall we're seeing a very successful early voting period here in the state of Vermont,” Winters said.

Winters reminded voters that it's best to mail in ballots by Saturday to ensure that they're counted in time.

Secretary of State’s office says voter intimidation will not be tolerated

The Secretary of State's office says there will be zero tolerance for voter intimidation at polling places on Election Day.

President Trump has encouraged his supporters to monitor polling sites.

Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters said, under state law, each Vermont polling place has a neutral zone where voters cannot be impeded in any way.

His said office is ready assist any Town Clerks who feel they need help enforcing this law.

"And if that cannot be resolved by the Town Clerk, we've been working with our law enforcement partners to be prepared in the eventuality that a town clerk needs a little help from law enforcement to make sure we keep that polling place the neutral zone that it is supposed to be," Winters said. 

Winters said all voters must remove any campaign paraphernalia, like buttons, t-shirts or hats, before entering the neutral zone.

- Peter Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel

Have questions about how to vote in the 2020 General Election? Check out our voter guide.

4. Morrisville restaurateur looks ahead to a challenging winter

A restaurant owner in Morrisville says she's concerned about the coming winter months, as she and other restaurant owners continue to deal with COVID-19 restrictions.

Jennifer Isabell, the owner of El Toro, said while her sales in the spring were far below normal, they went up to about 80% of normal over the summer. But in the last month, as the weather has gotten colder, they've slipped back down.

"Now, in October, our sales are back down to about 60% of what they were last year. So it's been a significant drop over the month of October,” Isabell said.

Isabell said she's hopeful some state and local assistance programs may help her business in the months ahead.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Henry Epp

5. Head of Vermont's teachers' union renews calls for statewide COVID-19 safety requirements

The head of Vermont's teachers' union says he'd like to see the state's recommendations for COVID-19 safety protocols in schools become requirements.

Vermont NEA President Don Tinney says too much has been left up to interpretation by individual districts, particularly around physical distancing in classrooms.

"It was initially, the requirement was six feet to physically distance properly, and now we know that there are some students are two-and-a-half-to-three feet. That's not what the intention was, so I think we need to be really clear about what the requirements are," Tinney said.

So far, just 13 COVID-19 cases have been connected to K-12 schools in Vermont. Transmission of the virus within a school building has been detected in only one location – Union Elementary School in Montpelier.

- Henry Epp

6. Sen. Leahy boycotts vote over Supreme Court confirmation

Senator Patrick Leahy says Republicans are rushing to confirm Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett to support President Trump if he challenges the outcome of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

All 12 Republican members of the Senate Judiciary committee voted for Barrett's nomination, while all 10 Democrats boycotted the vote.

Speaking on the steps of the capital, Leahy said he's very concerned that Barrett didn't answer his question about the need to ensure a peaceful transfer of power after the election.

“Make no mistake, President Trump was listening and he sees this as a green light to do whatever he wants,” Leahy said. “No matter the odds, we need to keep fighting this nomination. We need to do everything we can to protect our democracy. "    

The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the Barrett nomination as early as Monday.

More from VPR: A Cartoon Guide To Voting In Vermont’s General Election

- Bob Kinzel

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