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Vermont Sets Yet Another Record With 178 New COVID-19 Cases

A man in a face mask handling a sewer grate cover.
Elodie Reed
/
VPR
Burlington Wastewater Facilities Manager Matt Dow sets up sub-sewershed sampling for COVID-19 in Burlington's New North End on Wednesday. After collecting samples over a 24-hour period, Dow said the samples are sent to a Colorado lab for analysis.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, increasing opioid deaths and more for Thursday, Dec. 3.

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1. Health officials report record-breaking 178 new cases Thursday

Vermont officials reported 178 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a single-day record since the start of the pandemic.

Of the new cases, 64 are in Chittenden County. Washington County saw 29 new infections, and four other Vermont counties had case increases in the teens.

One more Vermonter has died, bringing the statewide death toll to 75.

The Health Department changed its reporting standards this week, and is now including both positive and "presumptive positive" cases in its daily count.

A total of 29 people are currently hospitalized with the disease, including three people who are in the ICU.

The state’s seven-day positivity rate has now risen to 2.3%.

- Abagael Giles

Officials investigating COVID cases linked to St. Albans funeral

Vermont health officials are investigating cases of COVID-19 linked to a St. Albans funeral last month.

The St. Albans Messenger reports health officials saying at least person attended a funeral at Heald Funeral Home and the Holy Angels Church while potentially infectious with the coronavirus.

Officials say they're monitoring the situation closely, but can't say how many people may have contracted COVID-19 as a result of attending the funeral. They didn’t indicate how many people attended the funeral, and declined to name either the deceased or their family.

More than 100 people in Franklin County have tested positive for COVID-19 over the last 14 days.

- Matthew Smith

Delayed, spoiled samples come down to unchecked box

A state employee failed to check a box when shipping nearly 250 COVID-19 test samples taken in Barre last week, delaying their delivery and spoiling the samples.

The Times Argus reports Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith discovered that, when the samples were shipped Friday, an employee at the department’s Barre office ordered next-day delivery with carrier UPS.

Smith says the worker failed to take an additional step and select delivery on Saturday when shipping the samples to a Massachusetts lab.

That led to the tests spoiling while sitting for more than 50 hours in a warehouse. Smith says the state used a courier service to transport new tests performed Tuesday.

The state continues to investigate the incident, as well as how more than 200 Vermonters' email addresses were exposed by the Health Department when they alerted them to the spoiled tests.

- Matthew Smith

UVM cyber attack to blame for unreported cases

Vermont’s largest hospital wasn’t reporting positive coronavirus tests to the state for a week due to a technical malfunction.

The glitch was caused by a cyber attack that hit the University of Vermont Medical Center in October.

Hospital officials say all 50 individuals who tested positive were told by their doctors and should be isolating. But the electronic system, which recently came back online after a cyber attack hit UVMMC in late October, wasn’t sending reports to the state.

State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso says it was an oversight that it took a week for the health department to realize UVMMC wasn’t sending results.

“But it’s not our responsibility to do the reporting,” Kelso said. “It’s our responsibility to follow up. We should have noticed it sooner, but we didn’t.”

Kelso says the state is going through the tests results to determine where to add them to the daily COVID reports, although 16 of the positive tests were added to Thursday's tally.

She says the Health Department has started contact tracing for the unreported tests.

- Liam Elder-Connors

More from VPR: Some Patients See Delays As UVM Medical Center Works To Recover From Cyberattack

Quebec to ban holiday gatherings

Quebec will ban gatherings over the holidays in almost the entire province, due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Premier Francois Legault Thursday backtracked on his plan to allow limited gatherings between Dec. 24 and 27, according to the CBC.

He said "it is not realistic to think that we are going to succeed in reducing the progression of the virus" by Christmas.

The province set a record with more than 1,500 new cases on Wednesday, and Legault said he is worried that hospitals will soon run out of room for patients.

- Mark Davis

Vermont road crews prepare for shortages

Some Vermont road crews are taking steps to deal with both the uncertainty of winter weather and the impact of COVID-19.

The Addison County Independent reports that local highway departments there are pushing to develop mutual aid agreements to help each other out, in case they’re shorthanded due to the coronavirus.

The paper quotes Ferrisburgh road foreman Jason Paquette, who says there have long been informal arrangements between town highway departments.

Paquette says in a recent meeting of road crew heads, there was a feeling that there should be something in writing that could then could be adopted by town select boards. He says he plans to present a proposed agreement to other road foremen later this month.

- Steve Zind

2. Opioid deaths high amid COVID pandemic

While Vermont deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, the state also continues to see an increase in opioid deaths.

The Bennington Banner reports that at the current rate, Vermont will likely eclipse the number of deaths seen in previous years.

According to state data, as of the end of September there were 109 opioid-related "accidental or undetermined" deaths in Vermont.

Another 23 pending death certificates will add to that number, along with any other opioid fatalities that occur in the last three months of this year.

The highest annual number of deaths was 130, in 2018, but numbers declined last year for the first time since 2014.

The paper says the Health Department believes one factor in the increase is the stress of living with the pandemic, including social isolation and job and income losses.

- Steve Zind

3. Attorney general asks lawmakers to reconsider good time statute

Earlier this year, lawmakers approved a bill that allows criminal offenders to earn time off their prison sentences for good behavior. But the state’s top law enforcement officer is now asking the Legislature to rescind a portion of the law.

Act 148 created a path for even the most serious offenders to earn time off their minimum and maximum sentences. Attorney General TJ Donovan supported the legislation when it passed through the Statehouse back in June, however the earned good time provision has drawn pushback from crime victims and their families.

Donovan is now asking lawmakers to reconsider the statute.

“And I’ll take responsibility for this, that I didn’t perhaps think as deeply about this part of the bill as I should have, because it comes back to victims,” he said. “And I think when we talk about good time, and I support good time, I just don’t support good time for all crimes.”

Donovan says people convicted of murder and sexual assault should not be eligible for good time. Victims’ advocacy groups are also urging lawmakers to revise the law.

Supporters of the good time provision say it will provide inmates with an incentive to participate in rehabilitation programs while they’re behind bars.

- Peter Hirschfeld

4. UVM to cut academic programs

Earlier this week, the University of Vermont announced plans to cut several programs in the College of Arts and Sciences.

In an email Wednesday, college Dean Bill Falls said he's beginning a process to terminate 12 majors, 11 minors, and four masters programs. The plan would completely eliminate classics and geology from the university.

Julie Roberts is a linguistics professor and the president of the faculty union. She says she was blindsided by the proposal.

“As were the chairs of the departments, even the departments that were affected by the decisions, or will be affected by the decisions, the faculty senate was blindsided, the union was blindsided, there was nothing,” Roberts said. “There was no sharing of this ahead of time.”

In his email, Dean Falls said there would be "ample opportunity for faculty to provide input on the plan" when it goes to the faculty senate for review.

The cuts come as the College of Arts and Sciences faces an $8.6 million budget deficit and declining enrollment. Other schools and colleges within the university are also reviewing their programs.

- Anna Van Dine

5. Vermont House, Senate make COVID plans for upcoming session

Because of health concerns, House leaders have decided to hold the first two days of the 2021 session at the Barre Auditorium.

The pandemic made it unsafe to bring all 150 members to the Statehouse for the largely ceremonial events at the start of a session.

After the first week, the House will hold remote sessions for the rest of January.

Speaking at a Joint Rules Committee meeting, outgoing House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said plans are being developed for members who are unable to come to Barre.

"We are also going to make provisions for people to be able to vote remotely on day one,” Johnson said. “At this point, we are still moving forward with having a physical presence in Barre."

The 30 members of the Vermont Senate will meet at the Statehouse for the first two days and then hold remote sessions for the rest of the month.

- Bob Kinzel

6. Two arrested for alleged involvement in Swanton baby's death

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The parents of a 1-month-old who died in August have been arrested after the child's death was deemed a homicide.

Vermont State Police say an autopsy of the child, Leo Cushing, showed injuries that indicated homicide. After four-month investigation, officers arrested a Swanton couple Wednesday.

Investigators say the mother, 28-year-old Stephanie Gero, caused those injuries and the father, 36-year-old Matthew Cushing, was aware the mother was prohibited from being alone with the child.

Gero faces multiple charges, including aggravated assault and cruelty to a child. Cushing faces lesser charges and was released on bail.

Gero was jailed on $25,000 dollars bail pending arraignment.

- Associated Press

7. Possible meteor over Vermont, New York

Just after noon Wednesday, a loud boom heard in New York and Vermont may have been a meteor.

MyChamplainValley reports the American Meteor Society says the sound and shaking reported in New York and portions of Vermont came at the same time witnesses reported seeing a meteor streaking across the sky.

The loud booms happen when a meteor rips through the atmosphere.

The Meteor Society says they had more than 40 reports of the fireball in the sky, but many didn't see the meteor due to cloudy skies across much of the region.

- Matthew Smith

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