Vermont Reports 92 New COVID-19 Cases, Reaches 120 Deaths
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Thursday, Dec. 24.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:
1. Vermont reports 92 new COVID-19 cases
The Vermont Department of Health reported 92 new COVID-19 cases Thursday and three new deaths.
Of the new cases, 27 are in Chittenden County, and 15 are in Bennington County.
There are 22 people who are hospitalized, including six in ICUs.
In total, 120 people have now died in the pandemic in Vermont, and nearly 6,800 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
The health department is also now reporting weekly vaccination data. As of Thursday, more than 4,000 have received the first dose of a COVID vaccine.
- Abagael Giles
Health commissioner says Vermont is trending positively
Health Commissioner Mark Levine says health officials are currently tracking 43 outbreaks and 253 smaller situations.
But Levine says the state is seeing new cases of the coronavirus level off – and he says Vermont is doing well compared to other states.
“We’re nearing the end of what has been an exceedingly tough year,” Levine said. “… I do hope Vermonters take some solace in knowing Vermont still enjoys the lowest number of new cases, the lowest positivity rate and death rate in the continental U.S.”
Levine said people need to keep following measures to slow the spread of coronavirus – that means wearing masks, physically distancing and avoiding gatherings.
- Liam Elder-Connors
Gathering for Christmas? Health officials say 'Get tested'
On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott eased COVID-19 restrictions to allow people to gather with one trusted household over the holidays.
In spite of that, the governor says he won’t be having any family visiting him for Christmas this year.
“It’ll just be my wife and I,” he said Thursday. “My mom was planning this was back during the summer. She lives in Florida, was planning to come up … but after we saw the increased numbers in September, October, she made the tough decision not to come.”
After Jan. 2, multi-household gatherings will again be prohibited.
Public health officials say anyone who decides to gather during the next week should get tested afterwards.
- Liam Elder-Connors
About 6,300 frontline health care workers, long-term care residents have gotten vaccines
Vermont’s top health official says the state is on track to get about 34,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine said about 6,300 frontline healthcare workers and residents at long-term care facilities have gotten their first shot. Both vaccines approved for use require two doses to be effective.
“We are now solidly on the road to protecting Vermonters and Americans, but please remember though: We have only just started what is a long road. My message is be patient — this is going to take some time,” Levine said.
Levine said the state’s vaccine advisory panel met this week to discuss who should be next in line for the vaccine. He said he expects their recommendation next week.
- Liam Elder-Connors
State officials urge patience when it comes to vaccine availability for the general public
The state's top health officials are urging Vermonters not to call their doctor's office to try to schedule a COVID vaccination.
Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says vaccines that are available in January will be used for people in a category known as 1A.
These are high risk health workers and people in nursing homes.
Levine said the state is still working out how to make vaccines available to the general public.
“Because for the majority of people, vaccination is not in their immediate future,” Levine said. “We anticipate getting through Priority Group 1A through the month of January, and then whatever Priority Group 1B looks like – which will almost certainly have an age stratification to it, from the older ages down.”
Levine said the state is considering setting up "pop-up" vaccination sites when the time comes to distribute the vaccine to the general public.
2. Warm, wet and windy storm could leave some without power over Christmas
A warm, wet and windy winter storm could leave some Vermonters without power during the Christmas holiday.
The National Weather Service is warning widespread rain is likely to begin Thursday afternoon, with areas of southern Vermont seeing up to two inches.
At the same time, expect gusty winds coming from the south to southeast.
Central and Southern parts of the state could see up to three inches of rain in the next 24 hours, with temperatures well into the 50s.
Erica Bornemann, the state's director of emergency management, said some power outages are possible, but the main safety concern is flooding.
"Which is forecast to be minor-to-moderate in the northern areas, and actually reaching to major stages in the Otter Creek area around Rutland, as well as down in Bennington and Windham County," Bonneman said. She said some roads could flood too, and urged Vermonters to avoid unnecessary travel.
Peter Rossi, COO of Vermont Electric Co-op says Vermonters should take steps to prepare, such as checking backup generators and emergency food supplies.
“But most importantly if you were planning on say Christmas dinner, you may want to plan on holding that on Christmas eve or potentially a day or two later, because if you were planning on cooking on Christmas you may suffer a power outage,” Rossi said.
The National Weather Service says winds are expected to be the strongest along the northern Adirondacks, portions of the Champlain Valley and western slopes of the Green Mountains.
Officials are encouraging Vermonters to prepare for the possibility of scattered power outages and flooding, especially near waterways.
"We want customers to pay attention to the changing weather around them. Be alert to the forecast and to think about safety. And if there is a line down, stay away from it," said Kristin Kelly, a spokesperson for Green Mountain Power.
- Henry Epp
3. Scott Administration discontinues practice of asking kids about multi-household gatherings
The Scott Administration has decided to discontinue a controversial policy involving public school students.
As part of their daily health check, the students were asked if any members of their household had recently gathered with anyone else.
Critics of the plan said it put some students in a position of having to lie to protect their parents.
Scott said the policy is no longer needed because most Vermonters now understand the risks involved in multi-family and group gatherings.
“Vermonters understand and got the message and so with our contact tracing, we're just not seeing the gatherings that we saw previous to this restriction being put into place,” Scott said. “So it's somewhat unnecessary. The guidance speaks for itself."
When schools reopen in January, they will continue to conduct their regular health checks on students.
- Bob Kinzel
4. Gov. Scott says he's disappointed in the president's threats to veto for COVID stimulus package
Gov. Phil Scott says he's disappointed by President Trump's threat to veto a new COVID-19 Relief package.
Both the House and the Senate gave their approval to the bill this week.
However, after the bill passed, the President complained that the direct payments to most individuals were too small. He wants them increased from $600 to $2,000 per person.
Scott is concerned about any delay in passing the bill because it includes an extension in unemployment benefits for thousands of Vermonters.
"This is a dangerous game the President is playing and it would have been my hope that if he had concerns about what he wanted to see in the package, that he would have been at the table long before now and not just sit idly by watching the action taken place," Scott said.
If the issue isn't resolved in the coming days, the federal government will be forced to shut down on Monday at midnight
- Bob Kinzel
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