Recount Confirms House Speaker Mitzi Johnson Has Lost Re-Election Bid
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, a recount in the House Speaker's race and more for Friday, Nov. 20.
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The latest coronavirus data:
1. Vermont reports 146 new cases of COVID-19
Today the Vermont Department of Health reported another COVID-19 death, along with 146 new cases of the disease. That's the second-highest total since the start of the pandemic.
There are 39 new cases in Chittenden County, 32 new cases in Washington County and 21 new cases in Orange County.
Eighteen people are currently hospitalized with the disease and 62 people have died.
Vermont could receive first doses of vaccine by Dec. 10
Vermont's top public health official says the state could receive its first doses of COVID-19 vaccine as early as Dec. 10.
Pfizer asked U.S. regulators Friday for emergency use authorization of its vaccine, which appears to be 95% effective.
Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said he doesn't know exactly how much of the vaccine the state will get, but high-risk health care workers will get the shots first, followed by older Vermonters, "who generally will be exceeding the age of 65 and will be having some element of chronic co-morbid disease," Levine said.
The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at extremely cold temperatures, which has raised concerns that some states might not have the right facilities to store it.
But Levine said Vermont has adequate freezer space for the vaccine.
- Liam Elder-Connors
Rutland Regional Medical Center boosts staffing, testing capacity
This week, Rutland Regional Medical Center added more COVID-19 testing capabilities, including hiring more staff.
Hospital CEO Claudio Forte said the rising case counts and three recent nursing home deaths in Rutland have increased concerns and demand for testing.
But Forte said everyone needs to do their part.
"We are very concerned about the Thanksgiving holidays, and the upcoming holidays, and we are putting out a real push from the hospital to try to urge the community to heed the governor's orders and to not gather and congregate for the holidays," he said.
Forte said the hospital was handling about 150 COVID tests per day.
- Nina Keck
Quarantines in effect at two Rutland schools
The worsening coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on Rutland schools.
The Rutland Herald reports the sixth grade at Rutland Intermediate School and one sub-unit at Rutland Middle School were quarantined Thursday due to potential COVID-19 exposure.
One student at Rutland Intermediate and one staffer at Rutland Middle tested positive yesterday.
Two kindergarten classes at Rutland's Northwest Primary School also went remote this week, after a student there tested positive.
Rutland has also seen Vermont's two most recent COVID-19 deaths. Both were residents at Rutland Healthcare and Rehabilitation, which had 39 confirmed cases as of Thursday.
- Matthew Smith
Three Northeast Kingdom schools move to remote learning
Three schools in the Kingdom East School District will move to remote learning in the coming weeks, amid ventilation concerns and the pandemic.
The Caledonian Record reports three pre-K-8 schools in the unified district that serves eight towns will pivot to remote learning at different times.
Students at Lunenburg Elementary and Gilman Middle will go remote for about a week starting Monday.
Students at Concord will learn remotely for several weeks in late December and early January.
The district has also stopped indoor sports for the winter, and will not have basketball as planned.
- Matthew Smith
2. Recount confirms House Speaker Mitzi Johnson has lost re-election bid
A recount Friday confirmed that House Speaker Mitzi Johnson lost her bid for re-election, according to House Democratic leaders.
Johnson, who has served for 18 years, finished third on Election Day, close behind two Republicans in the two-seat Grand Isle-Chittenden District.
Current House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski is poised to replace Johnson as House Speaker, according to the party, after her challengers bowed out of consideration.
- Mark Davis
3. State officials clarify: masked, socially distant walks are allowed
Gov. Phil Scott on Friday changed the state's coronavirus rules to allow limited outdoor activities with people from different households.
Scott banned indoor and outdoor multi-household gatherings last week, as COVID-19 cases in the state started to surge. Previously, the state guidelines prohibited things like walks between two people, but Scott said Friday that's no longer te case.
"Outdoor fitness activities involving no more than two people from different households are allowed," Scott said. "This means you can take a walk with a friend, but you have to maintain your distance and wear a mask."
Scott also updated the order to make clear people in dangerous situations or facing domestic abuse could leave and stay with another household.
Scott implores Vermonters to follow public health measures
Gov. Phil Scott urged Vermonters to follow public health measures to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
The state has seen a record number of new cases this week, including 148 Thursday and another 146 Friday.
The state has also reported four COVID-19 fatalities in the last two weeks, after going months without any.
"What we need from you is to follow the restrictions we announced last week, including avoiding travel as well as social gatherings with other households," Scott said.
- Liam Elder-Connors
4. Vermont ramps up COVID mitigation measures as virus surges across the state
Vermont officials say the state is in a better position to contain COVID-19 than in the spring, but they say people will need to follow public health guidance to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system.
COVID-19 cases are surging in Vermont and new infections are being reported all over the state.
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling says the state's been stockpiling protective equipment, like masks and gowns. For most items, there's enough to stock critical health care facilities for 60 days, but Schirling says the state could burn through supplies faster if the virus isn't contained.
"If Vermont were to in some way go in the way of Wisconsin or South Dakota, or North Dakota, with 30-, 40-, 50% of in-patients being COVID patients, those burn rates are going to be in a place we have not projected," he said.
Schirling and other state officials say people need to follow guidelines, like wearing masks and not gathering with those outside your immediate household.
- Liam Elder-Connors
5. Family of Douglas Kilburn sue City of Burlington
The family of a man who died after an altercation with a Burlington police officer is suing the city.
The lawsuit alleges officer Cory Campbell used excessive force during the encounter with Douglas Kilburn.
In March 2019, Kilburn got into a fight with Campbell outside of UVM Medical Center. In video footage, Kilburn seems to try to hit Campbell, who then punches Kilburn in the face several times.
Kilburn was found dead a few days later. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, but could not determine a specific cause of death. The examiner did note skull fractures were a contributing factor.
Attorney General TJ Donovan declined to file charges against Campbell.
But the lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges Campbell's actions, including swearing at Kilburn, escalated the situation, let to an excessive use of force and ultimately, to Kilburn's death.
The plantiffs, Kilburn's wife and stepson, are asking the court to declare Campbell's actions illegal and award them money for physical and emotional injuries.
- Liam Elder-Connors
6. Vermont's unemployment rate falls to 3.2%
Vermont's unemployment rate fell just over 1% in October, according to a report issued Friday by the Department of Labor.
The state's unemployment rate fell to 3.2% in October, according to new data from the Department of Labor. That's down from 4.3% in September, and much better than the country's rate of nearly 7%.
However, Vermont's labor force continues to shrink. Nearly 20,000 people left the workforce in the past year. Those people are not counted in the unemployment rate.
Though COVID-19 cases are on the rise, Commissioner of Labor Michael Harrington said, "There does not seem to be any significant correlation between the spread of the virus and worksite operations at this time."
- Abagael Giles
Scott calls for new stimulus package
Gov. Phil Scott says thousands of Vermonters will face significant financial hardships in the coming months if Congress doesn't pass another stimulus package.
The issue is stuck in Congress because House Democratic leaders and Senate Republican leaders can't agree on the size of the package.
Scott said a program offering extended unemployment benefits is set to run out and special grants to affected businesses are going to be curtailed if Congress doesn't act soon.
"This in particular is going to be crucial, I believe, for many to get through this," Scott said. "Because we don't have the capacity, we don't have the resources to pay out unemployment without their changing the guidelines and rules."
Congress will return to Washington in December to resume negotiations.
- Bob Kinzel
7. 1,300 Vermont businesses apply for federally funded hazard pay for frontline workers
An additional 20,000 frontline workers in Vermont will soon get federal relief through the latest round of Frontline Employee Hazard Pay Grants.
Vermont's Legislature allocated $30.5 million of federal COVID relief for this second round of funding, intended to pay workers in retail, child care and other essential sectors. A prior round of funds reimbursed health care workers.
Michael Pieciak is the Commissioner of Financial Regulation. He said his department expects to have all funds allocated and approved by Monday.
"About $25 million out of the $35 million has already been reviewed, approved, in the process of payment," Pieciak said Thursday.
Businesses had to apply on behalf of their employees, who will receive an application form from the state.
Pieciak said more than 1,300 Vermont businesses applied to the program. Several large retailers submitted applications this week, including Target, Jiffy Mart, Home Depot, Costco, CVS and Staples.
However, one, notable large employer, Dollar General, did not.
Once approved, the funds would go straight to employees, not businesses.
Pieciak said the state made it clear to businesses the program would not cost them financially.
"Once an employer had all that information, most of them decided to apply," he said. "So at the end of the day, it was kind of a head scratcher to think about why a company wouldn't apply."
Some front line workers could receive up to $2,000 for work done during the pandemic.
- Abagael Giles
8. As ski season opens, resorts are empowered to pull passes
The Scott Administration is working with Vermont's major ski areas to crack down on out-of-state skiers who don't comply with quarantine regulations.
Under Scott's executive order, all out-of-state skiers muts quarantine for 14 days before skiing in Vermont.
Scott said the state is ready to impose penalties for skiers who fail to follow the rules. He's making it clear that these rules don't apply to Vermont residents.
"They can lose their privileges to ski in Vermont," he said. "They'll get their passes pulled, so I think there is some incentive for those coming from other states. They need to quarantine; plain and simple."
A number of Vermont's ski areas plan to be open for the Thanksgiving holiday.
- Bob Kinzel
Killington opens first on Friday
Killington became the first Vermont ski area to open for the season on Friday.
Resorts across the state are bracing for a difficult year, as travel restrictions increase and the pandemic worsens.
Killington resort president Mike Solimano said it was important to ensure they had ample terrain open and could manage lift traffic.
"We spent a lot of time working on a model to figure out what the comfortable carrying capacity under these new requirements is," Solimano said. "And the nice thing for today, is that we did not reach those numbers and so we feel really good about the model we put together."
Solimano said only season passholders will be able to ski this weekend, but the resort will open to the general public on Monday.
- Nina Keck
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