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State Officials Urge Vermonters On Pro-Trump Rally Bus To Quarantine, Get Tested For COVID-19

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Some 51 Vermonters rode a charter bus down to Washington, DC and back for a Pro-Trump rally. State officials are asking the riders quarantine and get tested for COVID-19.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the Vermonters who traveled to the pro-Trump rally in Washington, DC, the coronavirus and more for Friday, Jan. 8.

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1. State officials urge Vermonters who rode bus to DC to quarantine, get tested

State officials are urging Vermonters who rode a charter bus to Washington DC to attend a pro-President Trump rally to quarantine and get tested for COVID-19.

The rally turned into a riot Wednesday when some Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Almost none of the rioters wore masks.

That seemed to be the case with the Vermonters who went to DC as well. Video shared on social media shows a bus full of unmasked passengers.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine says those who took part need to follow the state's guidelines.

“This situation is an important reminder that if you do travel out of state — and please don't — that you need to quarantine and get tested, for your safety and out of consideration for your families, Vermonters and you communities,” Levine said.

State officials say the charter bus company was contacted on the trip back to Vermont, and the driver told passengers that they needed to follow state COVID restrictions.

The bus that carried the pro-Trump supporters was almost full, despite state guidelines that say charter buses should operate at 50% capacity to control the spread of COVID-19.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling says the state will respond to this apparent violation of its COVID safety restrictions

“We will reach back out to the bus company and have an educational conversation on that,” Schirling said.

Schirling adds that the state is also cooperating with federal law enforcement agencies as they investigate who was responsible for the destruction at the Capitol building.

Ron Lawrence, the chair of the Essex Republicans who helped organize the bus trip, says none of the Vermonters who went participated in the mob.

Vermonters who traveled to DC with intent to incite violence could be charged

The state's top federal prosecutor says Vermonters could be charged if they traveled to Washington, DC with the intent of committing violence and rioting at the U.S. Capitol this week.

U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan says she cannot confirm or deny any criminal investigation in connection with the DC insurrection. But in a statement, Nolan says that if Vermonters took part, and if they planned their illegal activities in the state, they could face charges in federal court in Vermont.

A busload of 51 Vermonters traveled to DC for the pro-Trump rally. An organizer says they did not engage in any illegal acts.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling says Vermont law enforcement is cooperating with federal authorities as they investigate the violence.

- John Dillon

2. Health Dept. reports 202 new COVID cases, 1 death

The Health Department reported 202 cases of COVID-19 Friday, and one more death, bringing the total number of Vermonters who have died from the disease to 156.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine says some of the increase in cases is due to people getting together over the Christmas holidays. But he says the major factor is that the coronavirus is just more prevalent in the community.

“I wish I could offer new advice, because I hate that the COVID fatigue that many of us are experiencing would take away from its importance,” Levine said. “But the fact is, we really do know how this virus works and what works against it, and that is what you already know: wearing a mask, keeping 6-foot distance, avoiding travel and gatherings and staying home when you're sick.”

Levine says a new, more transmissible strain of the virus first identified in England is likely to show up in Vermont. He says preliminary research shows that the Pfizer vaccine is effective against it.

- John Dillon

Five corrections staff members test positive for COVID-19

Five staff members working in the state's correctional facilities have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says the employees work at four of the state's prisons, and that officials have instituted additional health safety measures.

“These cases prompted modified lockdowns at Northern State Correctional Facility, Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, Northwest Correctional Facility, and Southern State Correctional Facility,” Smith said. “Marble Valley Correctional Facility is in full lockdown pending results from a presumed positive staff member.”

Three of the state's six prisons are tested weekly on a rotating basis, so officials can catch any outbreaks early.

Smith says no prisoners are currently positive for COVID.

- John Dillon

Gov. says 120,000 Vermonters could be vaccinated by spring

Gov. Phil Scott says 120,000 Vermonters could receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of winter.

Scott says hitting that number would allow the state to vaccinate all residents who are at increased risk of dying from the disease.

“This should allow us to reduce restrictions, and work our way back to where we can safely gather, travel without quarantine, and more,” he said.

Scott says as the number of vaccinated Vermonters increases, daily COVID-19 case counts will stabilize. And he says he hopes to roll back restrictions on in-person gatherings and out-of-state travel by summer.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Scott administration clarifies vaccine priority order

The Scott administration has clarified its priority system for Vermonters to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says age will initially be a key factor. The first group consists of Vermonters 75 and older, and frontline health care workers.

The state will then offer vaccinations to people 70 and older, and then folks 65 and older.

At this point, Vermonters under 65 with chronic health conditions will be vaccinated.

Smith says the state is establishing this policy because of the 156 people who have died of COVID-19 in Vermont, only 10 were under 65.

“So therefore, you can see why our primary objective is at those older Vermonters in order to prevent death,” he said.

The state hopes to vaccinate everyone over 70 in the next six weeks.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: UVMMC Administered The First COVID-19 Vaccination In Vermont. Some Answers About What Comes Next

Quebec to go under nightly curfew

Starting Saturday night, the province of Quebec will go under a nightly curfew for the next four weeks, in an attempt to curb the growing number of COVID-19 cases.

The curfew will be in effect nightly from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Montreal Gazette reporter Aaron Derfel explains some of the exceptions for residents:

"Can they walk their dog? Yes. Can they salt their driveway? Yes. If they are a worker and they have to do an evening shift, can they do that, and if they're stopped by police, well in that case they'll have to show a letter from their employer,” Derfel said.

Quebec reported close to 2,600 new cases on Friday, along with 45 new deaths. Some 1,400 residents of the province are hospitalized with COVID-19.

- Henry Epp

3. In inaugural address, Gov. emphasizes getting kids back in classrooms

Gov. Phil Scott says he wants all Vermont students back in the classroom full-time before the end of the school year.

Scott made the announcement during his inaugural address Thursday night. And he says he’s working with the Agency of Education, Department of Health and school districts to finalize a plan for in-person learning.

“For our children and their future, we must reestablish full in-person instruction, routines and relationships as soon as possible,” Scott said.

Scott says Vermont’s comparatively low rates of coronavirus transmission mean students can safely return to in-person learning. Most Vermont school districts currently have a mix of in-person and remote instruction.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Gov. calls for child care providers to get property tax exemption

Licensed child care providers may be in line for a significant tax cut.

Gov. Phil Scott used his inaugural address Thursday to call for a property tax exemption for all licensed childcare programs in Vermont.

Scott says the proposal would help address unequal access to childcare across geographic lines in the Green Mountain State.

“And not all kids get off to the same start,” he said. “To me, this is the most glaring example of inequity that exists in our state, and it cuts directly across regional, economic and racial lines.”

The Scott administration has allocated more than $40 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to the state’s child care system. And he says his budget proposal later this month will include additional funds for child care programs.

Don Tinney is president of the Vermont NEA, and he says teachers share the governor’s goal of getting kids back in the classroom as soon as possible. But Tinney says educators can’t safely transition to full-time in-person learning until they’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Our educators are in close proximity with their students for six to seven hours a day, so the proximity and the duration of time are key elements there when deciding who’s at risk,” he said.

Tinney says the teachers union has asked for clarity from the Scott administration on when teachers will become eligible for the vaccine. But he says it’s still unclear where educators will rank on the vaccine priority list.

Vermonters may receive health insurance rebates for 2020

Gov. Phil Scott says health insurance companies may owe policyholders in Vermont some money.

He said Vermonters appear to have spent less on health care in 2020 than insurers had anticipated when they set last year’s premiums.

“I’ve directed the Department of Financial Regulation to review health insurance premiums and rates for 2020, report back to me by March 1, and determine where rebates are appropriate,” Scott said.

Scott made the announcement during his inaugural address on Thursday.He says administration officials are estimating that rebates could total more than $10 million.

Scott says he’ll also propose a hard cap on annual increases in hospital budgets and other health care expenditures.

- Peter Hirschfeld

More from VPR: Speech Audio, Video & Text: Gov. Phil Scott's 2021 Inaugural Address

4. Vermont lawmakers pass resolution calling for Trump's removal from office

Vermont lawmakers are formally calling for the removal of President Donald Trump from office.

The House and Senate approved a joint resolution Thursday that says Trump should either resign, or be removed from office by his cabinet members.

Lawmakers say the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday was instigated by the president.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott called for Trump’s removal shortly after the insurrection began on Wednesday.

- Peter Hirschfeld

5. Formal Gov. Jim Douglas hopes Republicans don't leave party over Trump

Former Republican Gov. Jim Douglas says he hopes that Republicans will not leave the party over the actions of President Trump.

Douglas told VPR's Mitch Wertlieb that it weakens the party when centrists decide to leave.

“Everybody says that the president defines the party, and as I indicated, he is its titular head,” Douglas said. “But... I've been a Republican for 70 years, Donald Trump's been a Republican for five. I don't accept the notion that he defines our party. So I think it's more important than ever that people who have been Republicans, and those we can attract to our ranks continue to grow the Republican Party so we can have a strong two-party system in our country.”

It was in May of 2001 when Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, a lifetime Republican, left the GOP, becoming an Independent.

Read/hear the full story.

- Sam Gale Rosen

6. Vt. racial equity director: Take time to include marginalized communities in state climate action plan

Vermont's director of racial equity is urging the state's climate council to step up efforts to reach marginalized communities as it develops a statewide climate action plan.

The 23-member council will write the roadmap for how the state will reach its greenhouse gas reduction mandates. Its report is due next December, and a draft will be released next fall.

But racial equity director Xusana Davis told the council it should extend that deadline if the extra time means their work will reach all communities in Vermont.

“If we're really wanting to do something right and do it equitably, then we don't have to remain beholden to a timeframe that we ourselves made up and that we ourselves can change,” Davis said. “So I do urge you to consider, if slowing down the process to perfect it will lead to equitable policies, then do that.”

The legislature set the timetable for the council's work. But Davis says the council should not shy away from asking lawmakers for a deadline extension if it means a better outcome.

- John Dillon

7. 2020 a boom year for Vermont architectural firms

Some Vermont architectural firms say they saw a boom in business in 2020.

David Cotton of Cotton Design Associates in Newfane says that last year, business doubled.

“The floodgates just opened up, right in March, April, May, where we were getting calls constantly,” Cotton said. “Even some — which we don’t usually do — turning down work.”

The increase in demand coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic, when more people have been working remotely.

Cotton says much of the work has been modifying second homes, which make up almost a fifth of the homes in Vermont according to a 2019 study.

- Anna Van Dine

Correction 8:40 a.m. 1/9/2021: This post has been updated to reflect the correct age ranges for vaccine priority.

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