'Real Patriots... Sacrifice': Gov. Urges Vermonters To Stop Gathering Socially
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the governor's strong appeal for Vermonters to stop socializing and more for Tuesday, Nov. 17.
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The latest coronavirus data:
1. Health Department reports 95 new COVID cases
The Vermont Department of Health reported 95 new COVID-19 infections statewide Tuesday.
That's down from yesterday's record high of 122, but still the third largest number of new cases in a single day since the pandemic began.
Washington County recorded 32 new cases. There were 17 in Chittenden County and 16 in Orange County.
Hospitalizations due to the disease dropped to 17 people, including one in the ICU.
Since March, more than 3,100 Vermonters have been struck by COVID-19.
- Matthew Smith
UVM COVID cases increase
The University of Vermont saw a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 infections over the last week.
Of the more than 10,000 tests administered to students last week, 27 were positive. That's the highest number of weekly cases reported since the semester began. Additionally, one faculty and seven staff members tested positive.
The student cases put the school at a 0.25% positivity rate, compared to the state’s 1.6% positivity rate.
Chittenden County reported nearly 200 COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.
- Karen Anderson
NVU cancels events, sports practices
Northern Vermont University has canceled events and sports practices at both the Johnson and Lyndon campuses after university officials say two people tested positive for COVID-19 and a third was presumed positive.
VTDigger reports NVU announced the changes Friday.
One case was found among a commuting student at the Lyndon campus, which sent four people in close contact with that student into quarantine.
NVU has seen five COVID-19 cases from more than 4,700 tests.
- Matthew Smith
Middlebury College reports first COVID cases
Middlebury College has detected its first instances of COVID-19 on campus.
The college reported Tuesday that two students had tested positive for the virus. Students returned to the college in August, and have been tested regularly.
Last week, Middlebury announced a mandatory campus quarantine in response to rising case numbers in Vermont. Students have to remain on campus until Saturday, Nov. 21, when they leave for Thanksgiving. Students will return in February for the spring semester.
The two students who tested positive are in isolation, and contact tracing is underway.
- Anna Van Dine
Troy School goes remote after detecting three COVID cases
A surge of COVID-19 cases in the Troy area has led to coronavirus infections at the community school and sent students into remote learning this week.
The Caledonian Record reports the decision to go remote came after two students and one staffer tested positive at the school. The school closed Monday for the week.
Troy joins a growing list of schools in the region with virus-related closures. Derby Elementary closed in recent weeks due to positive cases. Some classes continue remotely. And North Country Union Junior High School closed for two days this month.
- Matthew Smith
2. Gov. Scott urges Vermonters to obey new ban on social gatherings
Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday appealed to Vermonters to continue to make personal sacrifices to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Speaking at his regular news briefing, Scott defended restrictions that limit social gatherings. He said that's how the virus has spread – not in schools, restaurants or other businesses.
“In the environment we're in, we've got to prioritize need over want,” he said. “In my view, in-person education, protecting our health care system, and keeping people working as long as we can do it safely, are things we need. Parties and cook-outs, hanging out with people you don't know and just to socialize, may be fun, but they're wants, not needs, and they put a lot of people at risk.”
Scott said he’s frustrated that COVID cases are surging around the country and in Vermont, even as some people say they're ignoring safety restrictions in the name of patriotism and personal freedom.
He used his strongest language yet to urge Vermonters to follow the rules that limit social gatherings in order to protect the public.
“The skeptics are right; they can do want they want,” Scott said. “But please, don't call it patriotic. Don't pretend it's about freedom, because real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not. Patriots also stand up and fight when our nation's health and security is threatened.”
With Thanksgiving approaching, Scott says Vermonters need to continue to sacrifice, even if it means not seeing loved ones for the holiday.
Officials emphasize COVID spike linked to adults socializing
Health Commissioner Mark Levine says 40% of the record-breaking surge in Vermont's COVID-19 cases are from Washington and Orange Counties.
Levine says the outbreak started at a Montpelier skating facility, then spread through large and small social gatherings where food and often alcohol were consumed.
He added that Halloween parties around the region amplified the spread. But he says the department's contact tracers have found the coronavirus takes advantage of any situation to spread.
“We have well-documented dinner parties, baby showers, people in the high single numbers at a deer camp,” Levine said. “The story goes on and on: opportunities for people to gather together from difference households in very modest-sized circumstances.”
The governor said at his Friday briefing that he'll provide additional updates on the recent restrictions on social gatherings.
- John Dillon
3. State to set up testing sites open seven days a week
The state will set up many new coronavirus test sites around Vermont over the next few weeks.
Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says five new sites will be established by the end of the week – in Burlington, Middlebury, Waterbury, Rutland and Brattleboro – and the goal is to have 14 sites operating by the end of the month.
Smith says the testing is free, and the sites will operate at times that are most accessible for the public.
“We have robust capacity. We're going through the roof in making sure we increase that capacity for testing,” he said. “The one thing I just want to say: It's going to be seven days a week. It's going to be open at hours that are convenient for Vermonters.”
Smith says the goal is to do 30,000 COVID tests a week.
- John Dillon
4. Scott administration to clarify newest executive order
Gov. Phil Scott said at his press conference Tuesday that his administration will soon be releasing clarifications to his most recent executive order, which includes a temporary ban on multi-household gatherings.
However, Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan told Vermont Edition that educational-based gatherings are still allowed.
“If you are home-based and you are home schooled and that group is still coming together, in the same way that you have really clear regulations at the school, I believe those regulations also apply to a homeschool environment,” she said. “And as far as I know, that is still allowed.”
Dolan says the governor's order also does not apply to child care situations.
- Emily Aiken
5. State lawmakers approve $75 million in aid for state hospitality industry
Vermont lawmakers have approved $75 million in additional aid for the state's hospitality industry, amid dim winter business prospects as the coronavirus pandemic worsens.
Seven Days reports the relief funds will go exclusively to the restaurants, bars and lodging businesses by way of grants of up to $300,000. That's for losses incurred through September.
The Legislature dedicated the funds to hospitality organizations, rather than split them among multiple industries, due to concerns for the sector as it faces new restrictions and an uncertain holiday season.
Lawmakers say additional funding will be needed to help other businesses in the state survive.
- Matthew Smith
6. Controversial Rutland High School mascot won't be on Town Meeting ballot
The Rutland High School's nickname will stay off the Town Meeting Day ballot.
A motion to vote on whether or not the school should keep the "Raiders" name failed at a Board of Alderman meeting Monday.
The Rutland Herald reports the Board of School Commissioners voted last month to retire the nickname at the request of a group of students and alumni who said it was offensive and racist. But dropping the name drew opposition from some residents and RHS alumni.
Putting the question on the ballot needed seven "yes" votes, but it was nixed when the board split in a five-to-five vote.
- Matthew Smith
7. Jury trials will not resume next month
The state will not resume jury trials next month due the rising number of coronovirus cases in Vermont.
State Court Administrator Patricia Gabel said the state’s first jury trial since the start of the pandemic was supposed to begin in the Windham County courthouse in Brattleboro on Dec. 7. That trial is now postponed.
“We want very much to begin jury trials again,” Gabel said. “But we also need to bow to the reality of public health and the danger that’s posed by bringing people together if you can’t assure their safety.”
Gabel says a ventilation system had been upgraded and other changes made to the courthouse in preparation for the resumption of jury trials.
- Howard Weiss-Tisman
8. Central Vermont Medical Center says it's prepared for more COVID patients
The head of Central Vermont Medical Center says the hospital has the capacity to handle more COVID-19 patients, as Washington County sees a spike in cases.
The county has recorded 265 new cases in the last two weeks, the highest of any county in the state.
Anna Noonan, president of Central Vermont Medical Center, says the hospital is ready to add more beds for COVID-19 patients if needed.
“So we have a lot of planning that we've done around this,” Noonan said. “So we can increase our capacity, or bring it down as required by the need of the community, so we flex up and down as needed, to meet that demand.”
Noonan says the hospital is currently caring for five people with COVID-19, including one in the ICU.
- Henry Epp
9. Londonderry joins Southern Vermont Communications Union District
Londonderry has joined the Southern Vermont Communications Union District, the organization trying to bring high-speed internet to undeserved parts of the region.
It's the first time a Windham County town has joined the district since a dozen Bennington County towns opted to create the broadband entity with Town Meeting Day votes back in March.
The Bennington Banner reports the Southern Vermont district, since its creation just months ago, has already gotten $170,000 in grants and inked a deal to assess utility poles in the region for potential build-out of the network.
- Matthew Smith
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