Vermont Reports Another Person Has Died Amid Surge In COVID-19 Cases
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, Burlington High School's plans for in-person learning and more for Wednesday, Nov. 18.
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The latest coronavirus data:
1. State officials report another person has died after contracting COVID-19
The Health Department reported one new death and 51 new cases of COVID-19 in Vermont on Wednesday.
Vermont's now seen 60 deaths from the coronavirus since the pandemic began. A total of 3,161 people have tested positive for the disease.
Washington and Chittenden Counties saw the bulk of new cases, with 15 new infections each. Every other Vermont county except Essex and Windham counties experienced at least one new case.
Some 17 people are hospitalized with the disease, including two in the ICU.
- Matthew Smith and Elodie Reed
Scott administration details sped-up case growth in Vermont
The Scott administration's point person on COVID-19 trends says Vermont faces an unprecedented surge in case numbers.
Michael Pieciak is Commissioner of Financial Regulation and oversees the state's coronavirus modeling efforts.
At the governor's news briefing Tuesday, Pieciak said he didn't have much optimistic news to deliver. He noted that the United States added 1 million cases in just six days.
“Unfortunately though, Vermont is not immune, and case growth is speeding up here in Vermont as well,” Pieciak said. “Yesterday, Vermont crossed the threshold of 3,000 reported cases. It took us about 88 days to report our first 1,000 cases; it took about 142 days to report our next 1,000 cases, and then a mere 22 days to report the most recent 1,000 cases.”
The surge in cases means it's going to be a very different Thanksgiving for many Vermonters. Gov. Phil Scott says people should not get together with anyone outside their immediate household.
- John Dillon
State and local officials coordinating response in Washington, Orange counties
Washington and Orange counties have become the epicenters of the coronavirus surge in Vermont. And Health Commissioner Mark Levine is enlisting local leaders to combat the spike.
Barre City Fire Chief Doug Brent says he was on a conference call with Levine on Monday.
“One of things that they were most worried about is that their information that they’ve been handing out at the state level seems to be falling on deaf ears, or people are just become immune to hearing it," Brent said. “I have to say that meeting last night, in my years of emergency services in Vermont, was probably the most somber meeting and dire situation that I’ve ever sat through. It was very eye-opening.”
He says Levine is asking local officials to amplify Gov. Phil Scott’s COVID-safety messages.
- Peter Hirschfeld
Rutland elementary school goes remote
Students and head start attendees at Rutland Northwest Primary School are learned from home on Wednesday after a student tested positive for COVID-19.
School officials say one student contracted the virus "outside of the school setting." That student hasn't been at school for several days.
At the request of state health officials, two kindergarten classes will quarantine and remain remote through Thanksgiving.
Students at Pierpoint Primary Learning Center and all other district schools had class as usual.
- Matthew Smith
Cases rising in New York's North Country
The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic continues to hit New York's North Country hard. The region’s counties reported 91 new cases Tuesday, which is on top of 120 new cases on Monday.
Some 23 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in St. Lawrence, Lewis, and Jefferson counties alone.
North Country Public Radio reports all counties are experiencing community spread of the virus.
- Matthew Smith
2. State brings back hospital visit restrictions as COVID-19 cases rise
Vermont hospitals are being ordered to reimpose strict limits on visitors to combat the rising number of coronavirus infections.
Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says restrictions that were relaxed in August must return as cases climb statewide:
"It means this, no visitors are permitted at this time, and until further notice, with some limited exceptions,” he said.
Smith says those exceptions will allow one support-person for births, pediatric patients, and for certain procedures. Patients with language or cognitive challenges can also have support escorts.
All hospital volunteer programs were also ordered suspended, except for certified birth doulas.
Officials seeking to limit visitation at nursing homes
Vermont health officials are also seeking a federal waiver to limit visitation to nursing homes.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services currently allows visits to skilled nursing facilities, unless a staffer or resident is COVID-positive, or if the county the facility is in has a positivity rate beyond 10%.
Smith says that's too high:
“You have significant chance of introducing coronavirus to the facility at that level,” he said.
Vermont has nearly 40 such skilled nursing facilities for which it's seeking a waiver.
In the meantime, Smith says the state is addressing an outbreak at the Rutland Health and Rehab Center, now connected to 38 cases, and 20 cases at a residential care facility in Washington County.
- Matthew Smith
3. Burlington High School to rent vacant Macy's for in-person learning
Burlington High School students will learn in-person early next year in the now-vacant Macy's department store building in the city's downtown.
Seven Days reports nine school commissioners voted Tuesday night to lease the building for the next three years as the district decides how it'll deal with the cancer-causing PCB chemicals found on the campus.
The rental will cost the district $1.2 million the first year, plus more than $3 million in renovations.
The arrangement gets students back into classrooms for the first time since the pandemic sent students to learn remotely back in March.
Plans to return to in-person learning at the end of the summer were scrapped in September when the PCB issues were identified.
- Matthew Smith
4. Leahy urging vote on stimulus package; criticizes Trump administration's response to Biden team
Sen. Patrick Leahy says he is cautiously optimistic that Congress will pass a meaningful COVID-19 stimulus bill in the current lame-duck session.
Leahy chairs the Senate Appropriations committee, and he's been urging Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to support a $2 trillion economic stimulus package.
The proposal would provide money to individual states, extend emergency unemployment benefits, and allocate new grants to businesses hard hit by the coronavirus.
As the number of pandemic cases increases across the country, Leahy says many of his Republican colleagues want McConnell to act on the legislation.
“I think now he's facing some pressure from a lot of people, including those in his own party, that things are spinning out of control and you've got to give us relief,” Leahy said.
Leahy is calling on McConnell to hold a vote on the Democratic stimulus package in the coming weeks.
Leahy criticizes Trump administration's "immature" response to Biden team
Sen. Patrick Leahy says he's disappointed that president Donald Trump isn't making vital information available to President-elect Joe Biden during this period of government transition.
Leahy says the Trump administration has refused to provide the Biden team with critically important foreign intelligence and updates concerning the spread of the coronavirus.
Leahy says there's no excuse for it.
“It's immature, it's petulant but it also endangers our country in a time of very, very serious threats – serious threats we face overseas, and serious threats that we face right here in this country,” he said.
Leahy says it would be a national disgrace if the situation affects the timetable for developing and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Bob Kinzel
5. 10 Vermont counties get disaster declaration for drought
Ten Vermont counties have been declared locations of a natural disaster due to the 2020 drought.
Seven Days reports federal officials made the declaration, which allows farmers who lost crops from a lack of rainfall to apply for disaster aid.
Federal law allows adjoining counties to also seek help, meaning farmers in all of Vermont and in certain New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts counties will also qualify.
Vermont farmers saw an estimated $27 million in crop losses due to this year's drought, with corn and hay yields down by as much as 75%.
- Matthew Smith
6. Barre city councilors approve Black Lives Matter, Thin Blue Line flags to fly on city property
City councilors in Barre have approved a proposal to fly the Black Lives Matter flag on city property.
But it wasn’t the victory that supporters of the measure had in mind.That’s because the resolution passed on Tuesday night also authorizes the raising of the Thin Blue Line flag, which represents police officers.
Ellen Kaye was among the Barre residents advocating for the Black Lives Matter flag.
“There are many people who are going to feel anxious and frightened and diminished and dismissed, because to compare police lives to the lives of an entire population of people of color – it’s not equivalent,” Kaye said.
The resolution will allow 22 different flags to fly at City Hall Park, each for a month at a time. The Black Lives Matter flag will be the first, starting in December.
- Peter Hirschfeld
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