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In The U.S. Capitol, Chaos; In Vermont's Statehouse, A Very Quiet Opening Day

A sign telling people to keep social distance in front of the Vermont Statehouse dome
Elodie Reed
/
VPR
Health safety warnings were plentiful and lawmakers were not during the Vermont Legislature's first day of the 2021 session on Wednesday. The quiet scene stood in sharp contrast to the U.S. Capitol, where pro-Trump extremists breached the building.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and more for Wednesday, Jan. 6.

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1. Welch among lawmakers evacuated from the Capitol building during insurrection by pro-Trump extremists

As police in Washington, D.C. locked down the US Capitol building, which was breached by pro-Trump extremists, lawmakers were evacuated from the House chamber.

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch told NPR that while they were leaving the chamber, he heard a “crashing sound” as people tried to force their way into the chambers.

“And then I saw our Capitol police, guns drawn, trying to find things that they could put against the door to hold back the incoming mob,” Welch said. “And then the urgency that they displayed on their faces, again all the guns drawn, telling us to stay low, be on the floor.”

Thousands of right wing and Pro-Trump extremists went to the capitol Wednesday to dispute the results of the presidential election, based on unfounded claims of election tampering.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

2. Vermont reports 106 new COVID-19 cases, 3 new deaths

The Vermont Department of Health on Wednesday reported 106 new cases of COVID-19. Three more Vermonters have died, bringing the pandemic death toll to 152.

Of the new cases announced Wednesday, 32 are in Chittenden County. Windsor County saw 17 new cases, and Rutland County saw 14 new cases.

Currently, 33 people are hospitalized with the disease in Vermont, including six in ICUs.

The seven-day positivity rate for those tested, is at 2.8%. Since March, 8,158 people have contracted the disease in Vermont.

- Abagael Giles

Deputy health commissioner says vaccines should be effective against new strain

Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan says a new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus is concerning, but the newly-developed vaccines should still be effective against it.

Dolan told Vermont Edition the virus' historically slow mutation progress has been helpful for developing those vaccines.

"This new strain does appear to be much more transmissible; however, from what we know of this strain and what we know of our vaccine, we think that the vaccine has enough range to be able to still be effective against this strain,” Dolan said Tuesday. “And it's likely that this strain, because it's more transmissible, will become more dominant as well, over time."

Dolan said that the health department is regularly sending samples to the CDC to monitor for the new strain of the virus in Vermont.

Listen to the full conversation.

- April Qian

Quebec enters eight-week lockdown

Quebec Province will enter a four-week lockdown starting Saturday.

Quebec Premier Fancois Legault announced details at a news conference Wednesday evening.

The Montreal Gazette reports news of the lockdown came hours after the province added more than 25,000 new cases along with 13 deaths in the last 24 hours.

The newspaper reports Quebec will be the first Canadian province to impose a nightly curfew during the pandemic, starting at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Quebecers will need to stay home except for work, school and grocery shopping. The lockdown includes new restrictions for businesses, and fines for those in violation.

Officials said Wednesday they expect to have vaccinated 250,000 residents by February 8.

- Abagael Giles

Health department says voluntary testing following gatherings is key to containment

Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan said Tuesday the Health Department has observed an uptick in the state's COVID-19 cases following the holidays.

Dolan said this may be due to a combination of reasons, including holiday gatherings and an increase in tests following the holiday season, as well as rising numbers in neighboring states.

“Generally, testing went down in the whole region over the holidays. So we've got probably more people coming out for testing. But the other of course big thing that happened was the holidays and Christmas and some gatherings there, and we are seeing that it appears that we have an uptick that is related in at least part to some social gatherings that happened over the Christmas period,” Dolan said. “And so those two things together are contributing to our cases. And then of course, the higher case count across the country and in our region, which of course affects us, when our neighbors' numbers are significantly higher as well."

Dolan said that individuals who participated in gatherings over the holidays should get tested, which she said is a crucial part of the strategy to contain the virus.

Listen to the full conversation.

- April Qian

3. Vermont Legislature sees a quiet start to the session

The 2021 legislative session opened on Wednesday, with the House meeting remotely and the Senate meeting briefly in-person in Montpelier.

The Legislature’s economist, Tom Kavet, projects significantly higher revenue for Vermont than in his report in August had previously anticipated. Kavet credits federal relief for this unexpected increase. 

“That's entirely due to this phenomenal amount of money that has coursed through the state from federal transfer payments,” Kavet said Wednesday. “We'll ultimately probably be north of $7 billion when this next transfer comes through. That is just a staggering amount of money to inject into a relatively small economy.”

Kavet notes that Vermont has gotten a disproportionately large share of the federal aid, receiving more per capita than most other states. His office will continue to assess revenue data from 2020 in the coming weeks.

Among the new lawmakers who started Wednesday is Republican Michael Morgan, who unseated former House Speaker Mitzi Johnson. Morgan said he hopes to be a voice for those constituents who have felt ignored.

“One of the themes that we ran in our campaign this past fall, was to reach out to those that felt like they had been kind of left behind,” Morgan said. “It could be for a multitude at reasons – but especially in the sense of they didn't feel that their voice had been heard at the table for a bit and that appealed to them – that maybe electing differently people to the body would get their voice heard.”

Representing a minority party in the State House, Morgan hopes to reach across party lines to promote dialogue for better legislation.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Ruby Smith

4. Brattleboro Select Board reviews findings of report on racial bias in policing

The Brattleboro Selectboard on Tuesday night got its first look at a report on racial profiling by the police department.

Shea Witzberger worked on the report, and says officials need to recognize that people of color don’t feel safe in town.

“We have to reckon with this or we can’t change it,” Witzberger said. “If we never hear that anybody agrees that this is happening, how can we make change?”

The board commissioned the report after this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests demanded changes to how the police interact with the community.

The report recommends a stronger accountability system, and a reduction in the police presence in Brattleboro.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

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