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State Officials Say They're Ready With Freezers For The COVID-19 Vaccine Next Week

Birch tree with a sign that reads Looking Forward To in 2021
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
VPR
In Putney, the town library invites community members to hang a note stating what they are grateful for and looking forward to in 2021.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, Town Meeting Day, a new home for the Rutland Free Library and more for Tuesday, Dec. 8.Want VPR's daily news in podcast form? Get up to speed in under 15 minutes with The Frequency every weekday morning. How about an email newsletter? Add our daily email briefing to your morning routine.

The latest coronavirus data:

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1. Vermont reports 100 new COVID cases, four deaths

Vermont continues to see record numbers of coronavirus infections. The state added 718 new cases in the last week, the highest single-week increase since the start of the pandemic.

More than 5,000 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Vermont since March.

Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, said it took about 88 days to reach the state's first 1,000 cases.

"But as the rate of growth has picked up, we have reached these thresholds more quickly in the recent weeks and months, taking only ten days to move from 4,000 cases to 5,000 cases," Pieciak said.

The state is projecting a 50% increase in cases over the next three weeks, though state officials say they're still waiting to see if there's a surge connected to Thanksgiving.

Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Tuesday the state is investigating 38 outbreaks of COVID-19.

Levine said the state is also tracking 144 smaller "situations" at schools, childcare facilities and worksites where people were potentially exposed to the virus.

He said the list of situations is increasing every day, and that highlights the need for people to follow public health measures.

"When we choose to follow the guidance, we really are protecting this unseen number of people every day," Levine said. "Because when we prevent cases, we prevent situations, and when we prevent situations,  we often prevent outbreaks."

The health department reported 100 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and four additional deaths. Currently, 28 people are hospitalized with the disease in Vermont.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Governor urges patience, adherence to public health measures

Gov. Phil Scott is urging Vermonters to be patient and follow public health measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Almost a month ago, Scott banned all multi-household gatherings, citing a number of outbreaks stemming from parties and social events.

Scott said he needs more data before he will loosen restrictions.

"It's still too early to know the impact of Thanksgiving and what trajectory these holiday events will put us on before we make a decision to reduce or add any additional steps," he said.

But Scott said even if Vermont's case numbers improve, he's concerned about the prevalence of the virus in neighboring states. Officials say the Northeast has seen a 78% increase in cases over the past three weeks.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Contacts of confirmed cases will now receive text alerts

The Vermont Department of Health will use a new text message service to alert close contacts of confirmed coronavirus cases.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the program will allow the health department to quickly reach people who are potentially exposed to the virus. He said people that get a text will receive two messages from the number 89361.

"It will tell them they may be a close contact, that they should expect a call from a contact tracer, that they should quarantine right away and that they should visit our website for more information," Levine said.

Levine said texts will be sent between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The system will use numbers provided to contact tracers by infected individuals.

- Liam Elder-Connors

State identifies cases at Vermont Police Academy

The state has found eight cases of COVID-19 among recruits at the Vermont State Police Academy. There's also one staff member with symptoms who was being tested Tuesday afternoon, according to the academy.

The initial cases were found using a rapid-antigen test and the recruits who were tested were symptomatic.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said all the students and faculty will now get tested.

"Until then, the academy is closed ... and the academy staff is assessing based on, will assess based on those results what the operational posture looks like going forward," Schirling said.

Schirling said the academy has switched to online learning for the week but based on the curriculum, it may not be feasible for all the material.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Winooski schools go remote following positive COVID tests

The Winooski School District is preparing to shift to remote learning for a week after a third positive COVID-19 test was reported within the district.

In a message to the community Monday, Superintendent Sean McMannon said a third positive case is driving the pivot to a week of remote learning, starting Wednesday.

Students are set to return to in-person learning next Thursday.

Today, all pre-K through fifth grade and middle through high school students in "Pod A" are attending school as usual, to prepare for the week of remote learning.

COVID-19 testing is on offer in Winooski for the rest of the month at the city's O'Brien Community Center.

- Matthew Smith

2. UVM Medical Center has now restored 70% of its systems, following cyberattack

The University of Vermont Medical Center says it has restored functions to about 70% of the systems crippled by a cyberattack in late October.

The hack forced the state's largest hospital to adopt a number of low-tech work-arounds, like using paper records and faxing schedules.

The cyberattack also caused delays in critical care for some patients.

UVMMC President and Chief Operating Officer Stephen Leffler said while most systems are back, they're still working to get their radiology department completely online.

"Normally, we have about 100 diagnostic quality radiology imaging stations and we're still working on bringing all those up so we have imaging available everywhere ... We have about half of those done now," Leffler said.

The FBI has been investigating the cyberattack and hospital officials have said they were asked not to give details about the hack, Leffler said next week, the hospital will be able to release new details.

- Liam Elder-Connors

3. Vermont State Police contact officials in Stamford, following public defiance of executive order

The Vermont State Police have contacted officials in Stamford after the town recently hosted a public Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Ted Brady is with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, and said it's the first he's heard of a municipality openly defying Gov. Scott's COVID-19 health guidelines.

"It's concerning. In this case, we've done the educational outreach after learning about it, and made sure that they understood this was in violation of the executive order," Brady said. "And fortunately, it looks like there weren't many people there, so hopefully not a high risk event, but it shouldn't have happened."

Brady said elected officials have a "sacred responsibility" to protect the public and not encourage people to gather during the pandemic.

Listen to the full story.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

4. Vermont lawmakers want to allow universal mail-in voting for Town Meeting

More Vermonters voted by mail in November than in any previous election.

Now lawmakers want to let municipalities adopt universal mail-in voting for Town Meeting as well.

With coronavirus cases on the rise and Town Meeting Day on the horizon, lawmakers are increasingly worried about Vermonters' ability to weigh in on local ballot measures.

So they're drafting legislation that would let municipalities adopt universal mail-in voting for Town Meeting Day.

Chittenden Representative Jim Harrison said mail-in voting worked well for the general election.

"And we should do everything we can to encourage mail-in balloting for this election," Harrison said.

The Scott administration has indicated it's willing to allocate $1 million to help towns cover the cost of mail-in ballots.

Lawmakers say they also plan to give towns the latitude to change the date of Town Meeting Day, which is traditionally held on the first Tuesday in March.

Karen Horn with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns said towns that vote entirely by Australian ballot may be able to proceed with local votes in March.

"But for those towns that want to hold a portion, at least, or maybe all of their meeting in person, they need the discretion to change the date," Horn said.

Horn said some towns want to move town meeting until May, so people can gather outdoors.

- Peter Hirschfeld

5. Scott joins coalition of Republican governors in calling for Congress to pass stimulus

Gov. Phil Scott has joined a group of six Republican governors urging Congress to pass another COVID-19 relief bill in the next few weeks.

Senate Republican leaders and House Democrats disagree on the size and scope of an economic stimulus package.

Scott said he hopes the letter from the governors will encourage Congress to pass a bipartisan plan that extends unemployment benefits, allocates grants to small businesses and provides states with additional financial resources.

"We as Republicans are concerned. We need their support," Scott said. "We need their help in providing for relief for our constituents, so we're hopeful, and again, I am cautiously optimistic, that something will be able to be agreed upon."

Mass. governor Charlie Baker and New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu also signed the letter.

Additional funds for hospitality

Gov. Scott said he's seeking additional federal funds to help Vermont's hospitality industry survive until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.

Scott said the administration has directed $150 million in federal funds to the industry, but he realizes it's not nearly enough to keep most businesses in operation.

He said the state needs to keep strict capacity restrictions in place while the number of cases grows, but he's hoping new federal funds will soon be available.

"I acknowledge it's difficult, but in these times, under these circumstances, it needs to be," Scott said. "We'll continue to focus on the hospitality sector with this next round. Hopefully, there's going to be a next round, and I'm fairly confident there will be."

- Bob Kinzel

6. Rutland Free Library to relocate to former college campus

The former College of St. Joseph in Rutland is suddenly a hub of activity.

On Monday, the Rutland Free Library announced it was going to purchase the former college library and relocate library services there.

Just weeks ago, Rutland voters approved the purchase of the college's former athletic facility to create a new community center for the city.

Rutland Mayor Dave Allaire said the developments will create great synergy.

"You know, a year-and-a-half ago, we were afraid that property was going to follow and just decay," Allaire said. "And now look at everything that's happening. I think that's a real success story for the city."

Meanwhile, Stuart Mills, head of Heartland Communities, said his company is on track to purchase the rest of the college campus and begin construction of a $50 million senior living community.

- Nina Keck

Correction 11:52 a.m. 12/9/2020: Vermont saw 718 new cases of COVID-19 in the last week. A prior version of this post stated incorrectly that the state saw 178 cases of COVID-19 in the last week.

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