State Officials Report 78 New COVID Cases, 4 Additional Deaths
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the Burlington mayor's veto of proposed police oversight board and more for Monday, Jan. 4.
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The latest coronavirus data:
1. State officials report 78 new COVID cases, four additional deaths
Vermont health officials reported 78 new COVID-19 infections on Monday and four new deaths. That brings the state’s case total since March to 7,873, and the number of deaths to 144.
The new cases were in 11 of Vermont's 14 counties, with 21 cases in Chittenden County and 17 in Bennington County. There were also 11 in Addison County, and 10 each in Rutland and Washington counties.
There are 36 people in the hospital with COVID-19, including four in the ICU.
- Matthew Smith
Social gathering ban in place again
A temporary loosening of state health guidelines to allow holiday gatherings expired over the weekend.
Multi-household gatherings are again prohibited, following a modification to state health guidelines that allowed up to two households to gather, safely, during the holidays.
The Health Department encourages anyone who did gather with others to get a COVID test.
- Anna Van Dine
Ski towns reporting higher COVID case numbers
Some Vermont ski towns are among those seeing the highest number of new COVID-19 cases.
VTDigger reports state health data shows the town of Burke now has 18 cases, and Dover has 30. Both are roughly triple the cases from the week before in the two ski mountain towns.
Bennington saw the biggest spike in cases, a 68% jump with a total of 84 new cases in the past week. That includes an outbreak involving six members of the Bennington Police Department.
Other large COVID spikes were in Winooski, with 111 new cases over the last two weeks, and St. Albans, with 60 new cases.
- Matthew Smith
More than 1,200 hospitalized for COVID in Quebec
The coronavirus continues to rage in Quebec, as the province reported more than 7,600 new cases since Friday.
Quebec recorded more than 2,800 cases Sunday. There were nearly 2,000 new cases Saturday and another 2,800 cases Friday.
Provincial health officials tallied 64 deaths since the New Year. More than 1,200 Quebecois are hospitalized with COVID, the highest number seen in the province's second wave.
- Matthew Smith
Health commissioner reminds Vermonters to look after mental health
- COVID Support VT: 866-652-4636
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
- Vermont Suicide Prevention Center: Text VT to 741741
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE
- Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
Health Commissioner Mark Levine says as Vermonters work to stay safe and healthy in the New Year, they should focus on their mental health as well.
Levine offered these basic tips:
“Exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep,” he said. “Reach out for support whether you are struggling with anxiety, depression or just need to talk to someone. If you have children, talk with them, ask them about their concerns and listen to them. Engage with your community in any ways that are possible and safe. Helping others can actually counteract stress.”
Levine says a huge lesson from the past 10 months of the pandemic is that people and communities have found the strength to persevere.
- John Dillon
Food assistance program runs out of federal COVID funds
One of Vermont's federally-funded food assistance programs started during the pandemic has been put on hold until more funding can be found.
Jean Hamilton, Everyone Eats statewide coordinator, says even with a new COVID relief bill passed by Congress, the money that got "Everyone Eats" going was used up by the end of 2020.
The program worked with more than 170 Vermont farms and food producers, and more than 150 restaurants, to serve more than half a million meals to Vermonters across all 14 counties.
- Matthew Smith
2. Burlington City Council to try to overturn mayor's veto on police oversight board
The Burlington City Council on Monday night will try to overturn Mayor Miro Weinberger’s veto of a proposal to create a new police oversight board.
VTDigger reports that seven councilors – six Progressives and one Independent – voted to create the new board. That group would need one of the five Democrats to flip in order to overturn the veto.
But if Progressives can override, the proposal would go to Burlington voters in March.
The new oversight commission would have sweeping investigative and disciplinary powers, including the ability to fire the chief. Weinberger, a Democrat, vetoed the measure last week saying it would "compromise the City’s ability to ensure public safety."
The Burlington Police Department has seen its ranks decrease by 20% since this summer, and in his letter, Weinberger said more officers will leave if the city moves forward with the new oversight board.
Weinberger, who’s up for re-election in March, says he’ll rescind his veto if he and Progressives can reach a compromise.
City Council President Max Tracy, the Progressive mayoral candidate, told VTDigger that’s unlikely because the two sides have “fundamentally different approaches.”
- Liam Elder-Connors
3. 2020 second-warmest year on record in Burlington
The year 2020 was the second warmest on record in Burlington, according to the National Weather Service.
The agency’s records, which stretch to the 1800s, show six of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred in the past decade.
Burlington had a mean temperature of 49.5 degrees last year, just below the all-time high of 50 degrees in 2012.
- Mark Davis
4. If Democrats win in Georgia Senate runoff, Leahy, Sanders move to leadership positions
If the Democrats win both U.S. Senate elections in Georgia on Tuesday, Vermont's two senators will move into top leadership positions.
The two victories would give the Democrats control of the Senate for the first time since 2014.
If this happens, Sen. Patrick Leahy would serve as the president pro tem of the Senate and would be in line to chair the Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Bernie Sanders says he's also expecting an important leadership role if the Democrats are in the majority.
“On a personal level, it would make me chairman of the Budget Committee, chairman of a subcommittee on health, but it would give progressive voices in the Senate an opportunity to start moving legislation which McConnell and the Republican leadership here has refused to even look at,” Sanders said.
Recent polls indicate that both races are too close to call at this time.
- Bob Kinzel
5. Committee examining how cows, clean lake can coexist
A citizens committee that advises the Legislature on Lake Champlain is looking at the future of dairy farming in Vermont and its impact on water quality. Farming contributes about 40% of the lake's phosphorus pollution.
The committee's work comes as the state lost 58 dairies in 2020.
But committee member David Mears says losing more farms is not the solution to a cleaner lake. He notes that acre for acre, paved-over developed land contributes more phosphorus runoff than farm fields.
"So figuring out how we can take the existing landscape, and the existing economy, and the existing people and communities that have grown up around this really vital sector of our economy, and working with those groups to figure out what the solutions are, is the work of a generation," he said. "And we’ve got that work right in front of us."
Later this month, the committee will look at herbicide use on Vermont farms.
- John Dillon
6. Judge approves sale of airplane hangar from former Jay Peak developer
A federal judge approved Monday the sale of an airplane hangar owned by former Jay Peak developer Ariel Quiros, one the men accused four years ago of running a "Ponzi-like" investment scheme.
A Canadian company will buy the property for $90,000. Valain Inc., a private Canadian company, has already put down a $10,000 deposit for the 3,000-square-foot hangar, according to court documents. Corporate filings in Canada don’t say what Valain does.
Court papers say the hangar at the Northeast Kingdom International Airport in Coventry was built by Quiros to house “several experimental aircrafts.” A court-appointed receiver took over the property in 2016 after Quiros and his business partner Bill Stenger were accused of defrauding foreign investors using the federal EB-5 program.
In August, Quiros pleaded guilty to three federal fraud charges. Stenger, who has pleaded not guilty, is scheduled to go on trial this year.
- Liam Elder-Connors
7. House minority leader: Child care "number one issue" for families
The need for child care during the pandemic is once again putting the issue of state-funded child care in front of lawmakers.
A recent poll from the advocacy group Let's Grow Kids found roughly three out of four Vermonters favor more state spending on child care programs
As lawmakers return for the new legislative session this week, House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy says they need to focus on the issue.
"I haven't really put everything in a basket to figure out what should be funded and what should not be funded,” she said. “I do know that child care is probably the number one issue for families throughout the state, and it's a difference sometimes of whether both parents can actually work outside of the household. So I think we should take a look at it.”
McCoy says any child care programs must be balanced with affordability concerns.
- Matthew Smith
8. Incoming House Speaker: Child care, broadband and housing top issues
Incoming House Speaker Jill Krowinski says her top legislative priorities this session will be broadband access, child care and housing.
Krowinski, a Democrat from Burlington, says these aren't new areas of need in Vermont.
"These were policy areas that we were working on before COVID hit, but when COVID came, it just made all these things much more challenging and hard for Vermonters,” she said.
She says another area of concern this session will be funding the Vermont State Colleges System.
Krowinski is set to become Speaker this week, after outgoing Speaker Mitzi Johnson narrowly lost her re-election bid in November.
- Henry Epp
9. In Rutland, federal relief dollars turbo-charge efforts combating homelessness
Vermont homeless advocates say there may be some good news associated with the pandemic.
Angus Chaney directs the Homeless Prevention Center in Rutland, and says federal coronavirus relief funds have turbo-charged their efforts to house needy families.
This fall, VPR reported on a program aimed at helping landlords create more safe and affordable rental properties. Chaney says it worked, and four families in need signed leases last month.
“There’s not only a high number of people who are homeless right now, but some have been homeless for a long time,” Chaney said. “So people can get habituated to living in emergency housing or living in a motel. And when you open the door on a beautifully redone apartment and it's clean and it hasn't been used, and it's not hand-me-down, people are pretty moved. And you know, they’ve got another chance.”
Chaney says five more families will move into new housing in January.
Conicia Jackson, the rental rehab coordinator for NeighborWorks of Western Vermont, says the program was so successful, they’re producing a video about it to encourage continued funding.
“We’d like to send this message to local leaders, to Congress, to citizens,to anyone who’s willing to pay attention to the lack of housing stock within Vermont,” Jackson said.
Jackson added that the program brought 20 new affordable rental properties online in Rutland County alone.
- Nina Keck
10. Distillers no longer need to pay fee for emergency hand sanitizer production
Distillers that pivoted to making hand sanitizer this year will no longer have to pay an additional fee to the federal government.
With shortages last March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lifted regulations to allow distilleries to produce alcohol-based hand sanitizers. More than 800 distillers across the country stepped up, including some in Vermont.
But last week, distillers found out they faced a surprise $14,000 fee.
Ryan Christiansen, president of Montpelier-based Caledonia Spirits, says they made 35,000 gallons of hand sanitizer this year and felt blindsided. He says it came at the end of a difficult year when regular sales were down.
But federal officials took note, and Thursday night, an official with the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services tweeted that the administration told the FDA to cease enforcement of the "arbitrary, surprise user fees."
- Nina Keck
11. Green Mountain Transit begins on-demand ride-sharing service in Montpelier and Barre
Green Mountain Transit launched a new on-demand ride-sharing service Monday to help commuters get around Montpelier.
The service, called "My Ride," lets users schedule rides from a smartphone app, or with a call to a GMT call center.
The service then takes multiple riders to their destination in one vehicle, in what GMT calls "curb-to-curb" service.
GMT says its algorithms offer journey times with public transit that are comparable to a taxi.
The two-year pilot project only operates around Montpelier and Barre. The service replaces the Montpelier Hospital Hill, Montpelier Circulator, and the Capitol Shuttle.
- Matthew Smith
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