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Vermont Sets Another Single-Day Record With 109 New COVID Cases

A sign reading showing support with a mask
Elodie Reed
/
VPR
A sign asks people to wear masks at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, a hazard pay program and more for Thursday, Nov. 12.

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1. Vermont sets single-day new COVID case record, again

Updated 10:39 a.m. 11/13/2020

State officials looking for Milton Halloween partygoers, Colchester bowlers

The state is stepping up its contact tracing efforts as the number of people with the coronavirus continues to surge across Vermont.

The Health Department is looking for people who attended Halloween parties in Marshfield or Milton, as well as members of the bowling league that played at Spare Time lanes in Colchester on Nov. 4 and 5.

The state says its ability to contain the virus relies heavily on the cooperation of Vermonters who are infected.

Contact tracers have not been getting the information they need, and people who are infected could be transmitting it to others.

The state is asking anyone who went to the Halloween parties, or bowled on the days in question, to contact the Department of Heath immediately.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Vermont health officials reported a record 109 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

It's the second straight day that the state has set a new record for coronavirus cases — on Wednesday, the Health Department reported 72 new cases. It comes as state officials are discussing more restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

Of the new cases, Washington County saw 46 – the largest jump of any county in the state.

Each of Vermont's 14 counties are reporting new cases, with Chittenden County seeing 16 and Orange County reporting 11.

Nineteen people are hospitalized with the disease, and five are in intensive care units.

- Abagael Giles

Harwood Unified, Barre schools go remote

Middle and high school students in the Harwood Unified Union School District are learning remotely through the end of the week after an adult in the school community tested positive for COVID-19.

School officials say there's one confirmed case as of Wednesday and as many as 40 close contacts.

In a letter to parents, the district superintendent says the move to remote learning for grades 7-12 is out of an abundance of caution, and to allow contact tracers time to do their work.

Athletic events are canceled through Saturday. All other campuses remain open.

And in Barre, schools are shifting to online learning for the rest of the week due to coronavirus concerns.

The Times Argus reports new COVID-19 cases in Barre City and Barre Town led to the announcement on Wednesday.

A letter from the superintendent says "several members" of the district tested positive for the disease, but did not reveal a specific number of cases or which grades or classrooms were affected.

- Matthew Smith

Pop-up testing in Burlington’s New North End

Vermont’s largest city is offering free COVID-19 testing to residents in an area where wastewater monitoring has detected high levels of the virus.

The pop-up test site opened Thursday at the Robert Miller Community Center in Burlington’s New North End. The site will be open again Friday, and reservations are required.

The testing will be conducted by Garnet, a local health care company that is also providing COVID-19 testing at the Burlington International Airport. The city is paying for the testing using emergency funds set aside in March to address the pandemic.

- Liam Elder-Connors

2. Lawmakers worry state's biggest retail employers aren't applying for hazard pay program

Vermont lawmakers are worried that many low-wage employees will miss out on a hazard pay program for essential workers.

The Legislature has allocated more than $50 million in federal coronavirus relief funds for the hazard pay program. It’ll award grants of up to $2,000 to essential workers who continued to report to their jobs during the height of the pandemic.

But Chittenden County Sen. Chris Pearson says many of Vermont’s largest retailers have yet to apply for the grants.

“It’s a chance to make a real difference for thousands of Vermonters, and we’re concerned that we’re not seeing several multi-state employers apply,” Pearson said.

The hazard pay program requires companies to apply for grants on their employees’ behalf. But companies including Home Depot, Dollar General and Target have yet to submit an application.

According to the Scott administration, Walmart, Lowe’s and Costco have all said they intend to submit applications before Friday’s deadline.

- Peter Hirschfeld

3. Ski areas expected to enforce COVID rules

New regulations announced last week require Vermont’s ski areas play an active role in enforcing state travel guidelines among their guests.

Among the rules, resorts will have to reduce the volume of skiers and riders on lifts and in lodges by 50%.

Some ski area managers and owners are arguing that the $1.6 billion industry should be a top priority for COVID relief – following a shortened spring season and challenging summer.

Last season, Jay Peak had about 1,800 employees going into the pandemic. By St. Patrick’s Day, the resort employed just 32 people. General Manager Steve Wright tells Vermont Edition the ski area is aiming for half the normal winter level this year.

“The tea leaves that we’re reading are showing that, you know, resort reservations at this point are off by anywhere from 50-60%, and that seems to be pretty consistent with lodging-based reservations across the state,” Wright said. “So we’re going to staff to whatever that number ends up being.”

In a normal winter, Wright says about 50% of Jay Peak’s clientele comes from Canada. But the border has been closed since March, and is expected to remain closed until at least summer.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Abagael Giles

4. Sanders repeats interest in labor secretary position

Sen. Bernie Sanders says he'd like to serve in the cabinet of President-elect Joe Biden if he could pursue an agenda to improve the lives of working people.

Sanders says he'd be willing to give up his seat in the U.S. Senate if Biden named him as the new secretary of labor.

Speaking to CNN, Sanders said it would be an opportunity that he couldn't turn down.

“I want to do everything I can to protect the working families of this country who are under tremendous duress right now, whether that's in the Senate, whether that's in the Biden administration, who knows,” he said. “If I had a portfolio that allowed me to stand up and fight for working families, would I do it? Yes I would."  

Sanders’ appointment would have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

It's possible that Republican leaders could attempt to block this appointment if they retain control of the Senate after two special elections in Georgia in early January.

Congressman Peter Welch says Sanders would do an excellent job as the Secretary of Labor.

“He'd be good,” Welch said. “I mean, he's made it clear that he's interested in it – his whole life has been committed to trying to advance the rights and opportunities for folks in the labor movement, so I think it's a job that fits him. Whether that works out for Bernie, time will tell."  

Welch says it's much too early to tell if he would be interested in running for Sanders' senate seat if it does become vacant.

- Bob Kinzel

5. State treasurer: Vermont's bond rating future not bright

State Treasurer Beth Pearce says it will be difficult for Vermont to maintain its current AA bond rating without addressing the state's growing pension liabilities and its aging population.

The state was able to keep the rating for the short term, but she says the outlook for the future has been downgraded.

More from VPR: Aging Population, Slow Economic Growth Cost Vermont Its Triple-A Bond Rating

For the past few years, the state has met its annual financial obligations to pay into funds to support teacher and state employee retirements. But it's falling behind, because so many people are retiring as the population ages.

“Certainly the current environment with COVID has exacerbated them,” Pearce said. “Again, we need to redouble our efforts and continue to address these so that we can maintain our rating and move forward to improve them in the future."     

Pearce says it's an issue that lawmakers and the Scott administration will need to address during the 2021 session.

State to launch Green Mountain Retirement Plan program

The state is getting ready to launch a public plan for small businesses that currently don't offer retirement benefits to their employees.

The program is known as the Green Mountain Retirement Plan, and it’s available to businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

The plan would be administered by the state and participation is voluntary for both businesses and employees.

Pearce says the program helps the economy by insuring that workers don't have to rely on social services, and they have retirement savings that can be spent in their communities.

“I consider it a win-win,” she said. "It helps the individual, and it certainly helps the economy."    

Pearce says her office will soon begin an outreach effort to alert small businesses to the opportunities available through the program.

- Bob Kinzel

6. Fanny Allen closing operating rooms again due to odor, dizziness, nausea

The University of Vermont Medical Center is closing its operating rooms on the Fanny Allen campus to investigate a mysterious odor. Several employees have also reported feeling dizzy and nauseous.

Most surgeries scheduled to take place at Fanny Allen will be moved to the medical center's main hospital in Burlington – but there could be some delays as the surgery schedule has been scaled back due COVID-19 and a cyberattack that’s disrupted a number of systems at the hospital.

This isn’t the first time UVMMC has shut down the Fanny Allen operating rooms due to this problem.

About a year ago, the medical center closed the operating rooms to investigate reports of a mysterious odor.

While a source of the smell was never found, UVMMC did upgrade ventilation systems and install carbon monoxide detectors.

- Liam Elder-Connors

7. Lodging reservations, meals and alcohol down by as much as 98% in Lamoille County

Revenue from inn and hotel reservations, as well as meals and alcohol, fell as much as 98% this spring in Lamoille County. That’s according to information compiled by the Stowe Reporter and Morrisville’s News & Citizen.

Stowe is one of the state’s most popular tourist destinations, and it was hardest hit among Lamoille County communities in both the hospitality and meals sectors.

The papers quote Stowe inn owners who say their current bookings are a fraction of what is normal for this time of year. One says many guests cancel their reservations when staff outline Vermont’s travel and quarantine restrictions.

- Steve Zind

8. Connecticut River bridge between Brattleboro and Hinsdale, N.H. expected to begin in spring

If all goes according to plan, construction on a new bridge across the Connecticut River between Brattleboro and Hinsdale, New Hampshire will begin in the spring.

According to the Brattleboro Reformer, the bridge has been in the works for more than 20 years. It would replace two aging spans.

Because New Hampshire owns the river to the Vermont side, the paper says the Granite State will pay 85% of the cost. Vermont will fund the remaining 15% from grants and federal highway funds.

The bridge is scheduled to open for traffic in late 2023.

- Steve Zind

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