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Health Department Investigating Three COVID-19 Outbreaks Across Vermont

Dr. Mark Levine stands at a podium next to a screen
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ORCA Media
Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said in a media briefing Friday that the state is investigating several outbreaks of COVID-19.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the state's vaccine distribution plan and more for Friday, Oct. 23.

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1. Health Department investigating three COVID outbreaks

Vermont is seeing new coronavirus cases hit the highest number in weeks.

According to Commissioner of Health Mark Levine, his department reported 28 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday evening. Eleven of the cases are in Chittenden County, and 10 are in Washington County.  New cases were also reported in Windham, Windsor, Lamoille, Caledonia and Orleans counties.

“As of last evening, we have several active investigations, some larger, some limited to one or two people, covering different types of settings and situations,” he said.

Levine says the state is investigating coronavirus outbreaks in central Vermont, Lamoille County and St. Michael’s College in Colchester.

Some 2,016 people have now tested positive for the disease. One person is currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, and 2 people are hospitalized under investigation for the disease.

Central Vermont outbreak

The outbreak in central Vermont, which is tied to a hockey rink in Montpelier,  has now infected 43 people.

And Levine says as many as 240 individuals may have been exposed to the virus.

“This outbreak in central Vermont now involves two colleges, for six cases, seven schools, for a total of 12 cases, seven workplaces, for a total of 12 cases, and two hospitals with two cases.”

Montpelier’s Union Elementary School will moved to remote learning Friday after another positive COVID-19 case was identified. WCAX reports the Montpelier-Roxbury District first reported two positive cases at the elementary school last week.

Four more cases were announced Monday, all stemming from the same classroom. School officials met with the Department of Health Friday to start contact tracing.

Health officials say no one infected in the outbreak has been hospitalized with the disease.

Lamoille County outbreak

The Lamoille County outbreak is linked to a wedding at a Cambridge barn. WCAX reports the Health Department alerted Boyden Farm seven positive cases came from a 77-person wedding hosted on Oct. 10.

The wedding was set to be outside, but a lightning storm brought the event indoors. Health officials say the venue followed proper precautions, like socially-distanced seating and reminders to wear masks. The positive cases were reported about a week after the event.

In addition to the Vermont cases, health officials say there are several out-of-state cases linked to the wedding.

DOC staffer tests positive

The Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury is in lockdown after a Department of Corrections officer tested positive for COVID-19. 

The DOC announced the positive case Thursday, saying the officer was last in the facility on Oct. 12.

The department is working with state health officials on mass testing and contact tracing. Staff identified as having close contact with the positive individual are in quarantine and will be tested on Monday. 

In total, 23 DOC staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

Clinton County, New York on travel restriction list

More than half of the 43 active COVID-19 cases in Clinton County, New York are associated with SUNY Plattsburgh students.

College officials say regular interactions both on and off campus are the source of the school's 28 cases, and not any large parties or social gatherings.

MyChamplainValley.com reports a small COVID cluster at Clinton Correctional is now under control.

The spike in cases has put Clinton County on Vermont's travel restriction list.

- Peter Hirschfeld, Matthew Smith and Karen Anderson

2. State officials announce vaccine distribution plan

The state of Vermont says it’s ready to begin distributing a COVID-19 vaccine that could arrive as soon as the end of the year.

Gov. Phil Scott says his administration submitted its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan to the Centers for Disease Control last week.

“And while the federal government hasn’t given us the quantity of vaccines we’ll receive, please know we’ll be prepared to distribute whatever we get, whether it’s one, or 623,000,” Scott said.

The governor says health care workers, first responders and staff and residents of long-term care facilities will likely be first in line to receive the vaccine. He added the state will rely on hospitals, primary care doctors and pop-up clinics to administer the vaccines.

Read the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

3. Brattleboro Retreat to cut 85 positions, end addiction hub, management programs

The Brattleboro Retreat will cut 85 jobs and end four of its programs by the end of the year, as the mental health facility faces mounting financial challenges.

The Retreat will end its addiction treatment hub, its addiction management program, and two educational programs – a child care center and K-12 school.

CEO Louis Josephson says the Retreat will now focus its resources on its main service: inpatient psychiatric care.

"We are focusing on that as our core mission, which it's been really since our inception 186 years ago, and have to because of financial reasons, not because of the value of other programs, but strictly because of financial pressures,” he said.

Overall, Josephson says the Retreat needs to cut $8 million from its annual budget to be sustainable.

Read/hear the full story.

- Henry Epp

4. Scott responds to Sanders' apparent interest in cabinet position

Bernie Sanders is reportedly interested in serving as Labor Secretary, if Joe Biden wins the presidency next month.

But Sanders’ departure from the Senate could cost Democrats a de-facto member of their caucus. That’s because Gov. Phil Scott, who would appoint Sanders’ replacement, says he would not select a Democrat to succeed Sanders.

“He ran as a Democrat for president, but he’s turned down the nomination in some of his races for the Senate and the House,” Scott said.

The governor says he’d appoint an Independent to replace Sanders, and he’d also choose someone who was not interested in standing for a special election for Sanders’ Senate seat.

- Peter Hirschfeld

5. Clean Water Board reviews next year's water quality projects

A state panel Thursday reviewed how to spend almost $30 million next year on a variety of water quality improvement projects.

The Clean Water Board was set up by the Legislature to oversee projects aimed at cleaning up Lake Champlain and other waterways.

Emily Bird of the Agency of Natural Resources says a top priority is restoring natural systems, such as wetlands, which act as filters to clean surface water.

“By putting the natural infrastructure back in place, whether it be restoration of river channels, flood plains, lakeshore land and wetlands, nature is really the best solution in terms of being able to reduce the water pollutants we're trying to address,” Bird said.

Other projects before the board include proposals from the Agency of Transportation to reduce run-off from roads, and water quality grants to farmers to limit the pollution from agriculture. 

- John Dillon

6. Bennington, Fairfax get new community recreation facilities

Bennington

Bennington has a new downtown attraction – a long-awaited splash pad opened Thursday after a ribbon-cutting ceremony honoring the local businesses and individuals that helped develop the new project. 

The Bennington Banner reports the new pad, located in Merchants Park, is part of the “Grow Bennington Initiative”launched by area businesses and individuals to improve Bennington’s downtown.

Town officials plan to keep the water running this fall, as long as weather permits.  The official grand opening for the public will be held next spring.

Fairfax

Residents in Fairfax will have another recreational option this winter.  After a year of planning, and recent community fundraising efforts, a new outdoor ice rink is coming soon.

According to the St. Albans Messenger, the seasonal rink will be installed in the Fairfax community park, near a recreation path, fields and a pavilion. 

Recreation director Brian LaClair says he hopes the rink will be a place where locals can meet and spend time outdoors, which is even more important now, as communities find creative ways to gather during a pandemic.

- Karen Anderson

Clarification 10:35 p.m.: The headline about the Brattleboro Retreat was updated to reflect that the Retreat's addiction treatment hub and addiction management program would be ending.

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