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Vermont Reports 124 New COVID Cases, 2 More Deaths

A sign reading bring on the snow, let's go 2021, mask up VT in front of a ski mountain
Abagael Giles
/
VPR
Mad River Glen reminds skiers to mask up (and to hope for snow) on Monday, Jan. 18.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the governor's COVID-19 test and more for Wednesday, Jan. 20.

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1. Gov. Phil Scott tests negative for COVID-19

Gov. Phil Scott has tested negative for COVID-19 after potentially being exposed to the virus. Scott will remain in quarantine until he is tested again next Tuesday.

A contractor at two of the governor’s recent press conferences, including one Tuesday, tested positive for COVID-19.

Several other members of the administration were also exposed to the virus, including Health Commissioner Mark Levine, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith and Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling.

Scott said in a statement that the members of his administration who are quarantining are "feeling good."

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Vt. reports 124 new COVID cases, 2 deaths

The state of Vermont confirmed 124 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, and two additional deaths.

Of the cases, 36 were in Chittenden County, with 25 in Bennington County, 14 in Windsor County and 12 in Rutland County.

The state's death toll from the virus now stands at 165.

Some 42 COVID patients are currently hospitalized, including seven in intensive care.

- Henry Epp

Health official on addressing racial inequities in vaccine rollout

As Vermont moves toward the second phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, concerns over inequities in the health care system that disproportionately affect people of color continue to rise.

Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan tells Vermont Edition it's up to the state to figure out how best to communicate with communities of color about COVID-19, and build the needed trust to increase vaccination rates in those communities.

“And the reality is, in one given moment, in one six week period, we're not going to change decades of racism that's occurred,” Dolan said. “We're not going to change lifetimes of some people feeling that mistrust. That's not going to change overnight."

Dolan says the state needs to keep reinvesting in relationships with Vermont communities of color to find the best methods of outreach and education.

Listen to the full conversation here.

- Emily Aiken

Bennington veterans’ home resident dies after COVID-19 infection

A resident of the Vermont Veterans’ Home in Bennington who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month has died.

The Bennington Banner reports the death was confirmed Wednesday by the facility's CEO Melissa Jackson.

The case was reported on Jan. 8, about a week after eight staff members entered quarantine. The resident initially displayed only mild virus symptoms, the paper reports.

Some 95 residents and 117 staff members have received a COVID-19 vaccination. A second round of shots is scheduled for Saturday.

Some of the approximately 200 staff members declined to have the vaccination. A handful have changed their mind and will receive their first shots Saturday, bringing the total number of staff who have received a vaccination up to 139, Jackson said.

The facility says it conducts daily rapid COVID tests for all staff members, as well as twice-weekly PCR tests.

- Brittany Patterson

Rutland hospital preparing for some COVID patients to recover at home

Rutland Regional Medical Center is developing a plan that would allow COVID-19 patients to recover at home, rather than in the hospital.

The medical center is working with other providers to develop the system as part of discharge planning for patients who are willing, and provided they have support at home.

The Rutland Herald reports the goal is to make sure those who are admitted to the hospital are patients who require care that only a hospital can deliver.

The program could help free up space in the hospital if it’s hit hard by COVID cases. The program will begin in a few weeks.

- Associated Press

N.H. to launch COVID-19 vaccine website

New Hampshire health officials will soon launch the state's website to process COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

The site, vaccines.nh.gov, goes live Friday morning. At first, only Granite State residents 65 and older will be able to schedule vaccinations. They can also be booked by phone by dialing 211.

As many as 250,000 residents will be eligible in the first round of signups. But the website will not keep a waiting list for those who can't schedule an appointment immediately.

New Hampshire expects about 17,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine each week.

- Matthew Smith

2. Gov. willing to consider proposed pension cuts

Gov. Phil Scott says he’s willing to consider significant cuts to pension benefits for teachers and state employees.

State Treasurer Beth Pearce issued a report last week calling for reductions in retirement benefits for public-sector workers.

Scott says he agrees the pension system needs serious reforms.

“We have an unfunded liability of about $4 billion,” he said. “That grows, like this year alone, that’s another $100 million that we don’t have to pay for, so it’s unsustainable.”

The unions that represent teachers and state employees have pushed back against Pearce's proposal. The teachers union is calling on lawmakers to shore up the pension fund by raising taxes on wealthy Vermonters.

- Peter Hirschfeld

3. Sen. Kesha Ram on Vice President Kamala Harris taking second-to-top office: 'Long overdue'

Chittenden County state Senator Kesha Ram says the swearing-in of Kamala Harris as vice president Wednesday is "momentous."

Ram and Harris made history in November: Harris is the first woman and person of color to be elected vice president, and Ram is the first woman of color in the Vermont Senate.

“This is long overdue, and gives a lot of people in America the experience of someone who looks like them ascending in the halls of power,” Ram said.

Ram says she believes the Biden-Harris administration is ready to tackle the multiple issues facing the country, including the pandemic, racial injustice and an economic crisis.

- Liam Elder-Connors

No Vt. National Guard members among those removed by FBI from DC duties

The leader of the Vermont National Guard deployed to Washington for Wednesday’s inauguration says the Jan. 6 insurrection has only affirmed a commitment to securing a peaceful transfer of power.

Roughly 100 Vermont National Guard soldiers were among the 25,000 Guard personnel providing security at President Biden’s inauguration.

Captain Erik Lahr is the task force commander for the Vermont guard in DC. He says the insurrection was difficult to watch — but only strengthened his resolve.

“It's just tough. It's hard, because those are American citizens. It's a tough situation to see. And it really, again, it just motivates me even more to come down here and keep the peace as an American,” he said.

The FBI removed 12 guard members who were assigned to protect the Capitol due to what officials called “security liabilities”.

Lahr says none of them were members of the Vermont Guard.

Read/listen to the full story.

- Matthew Smith

Vt. Statehouse quiet Wednesday, despite FBI warnings

Despite warnings from the FBI of the potential for armed protests at state capitols across the country — including in Vermont — on Inauguration Day, it was quiet outside the Montpelier Statehouse today.

State police say an elevated level of law enforcement remains in place at the Capitol complex, but State St. remains open, and there have been no reports of any incidents.

One protestor was reported by Seven Days at Vermont’s Capitol building. He was pictured carrying a sign protesting not President Joe Biden, but the telecommunications company AT&T.

- Brittany Patterson

With new presidential administration, Vt. AG doesn’t expect so many lawsuits

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan says he thinks his use of lawsuits against many executive orders by the Trump administration over the last four years has been effective.

Donovan has routinely joined other Democratic state attorneys general in suing the administration over certain policies, such as the travel ban on some Muslim-majority countries back in 2017.

Donovan says the suits have taken up much of his time.

"I joke often that I'm looking to have a little bit more free time because it really, I think, has been unprecedented the number of orders and rules that the Trump administration put out,” Donovan said.

He added that he doesn't expect to sue over policies of the Biden administration, but he reserves the right to do so if he thinks it’s necessary.

Read/listen to the full story.

- Henry Epp

4. Sen. Leahy now third in line for presidential succession

Sen. Patrick Leahy has been sworn in as the next president pro tem of the U.S. Senate.

Leahy was appointed to the position because he's currently the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate, and they're now the majority party in that chamber.

Leahy is now third in the line of presidential succession behind the Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He says he hopes a situation that requires him to serve as president never arises.

"I feel it's my responsibility to be prepared to step in if need be, but I pray every day it won't be, and I don't care who is president pro tem, I think they always feel that way,” Leahy said. “If you have to step in, it means that a catastrophe has hit the United States."

This marks the second time that Leahy has served as Senate president pro tem.

- Bob Kinzel

5. Brattleboro Select Board votes to not fund police training next year

The town of Brattleboro took its first step this week toward reforming its police department.

A recent report to the town suggested about 40 police reforms, including level funding next year’s police training budget.

New statewide data shows Brattleboro has some of the worst racial disparities when it comes to traffic stops in the state.

Select board member Daniel Quipp said past training has not made the community safer for people of color.

“For many people, they’re saying this has not produced the outcomes we would like to see on our streets, and so why throw more money at it,” Quipp said.

The board voted Tuesday to slash the police department’s training budget for next year. The board will now consider additional reforms outlined in the report.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

6. Gun advocates concerned about bill banning firearms in child care centers, hospitals and gov't buildings

Gun rights advocates are raising concerns about a new bill in Montpelier.

Some Vermont lawmakers want to ban the possession of firearms in hospitals, child care centers and government buildings.

Chris Bradley, with the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, says the guns themselves don’t pose any risk.

“And to create the illusion of safety by saying, ‘You can’t do this,’ is an illusion,” Bradley said.

People should not be able to use guns to intimidate or harm people, he says, adding Vermont already has a number of laws prohibiting those behaviors.

Proponents of the bill say given the rise of domestic security threats, it makes sense for some places to be "gun-free zones."

- Peter Hirschfeld

7. Burlington library will no longer charge overdue fees

Burlington's Fletcher Free Library will no longer charge overdue fines.

The library announced Wednesday that it would not charge fines on books, video and audio recordings in an effort to "serve the community equitably and to provide free access for all to materials and information." The library will also wipe out previous fines.

The library will continue to charge overdue fines for some nontraditional items, like snowshoes, and any lost or damaged items will incur a fee.

The Fletcher Free library is one of several libraries across the country to discontinue overdue fines for books.

- Anna Van Dine

8. Montpelier lawyer sues over governor's Act 250 overhaul executive order

A Montpelier lawyer who specializes in the Act 250 land use law has sued to stop Gov. Phil Scott from overhauling the process through an executive order.

Last week, Scott issued an executive order that says major developments will be reviewed by a professional board, not the regional, citizen-based panels that now have that authority.

Attorney David Grayck says Scott's order violates the constitutional separation of powers.

“Whether it's a good idea to authorize the Natural Resources Board members to make decisions or not, that's for the Legislature to decide,” Grayck said. “It's not for the governor through an executive order to usurp the authority of the Legislature.”

Scott's order does build on an Act 250 reorganization that advanced but did not pass last year in the Legislature. The administration says it has the authority to make the change on its own.

- John Dillon

Correction 8:50 a.m. 1/21/2021: A previous version of this story misrepresented the number of staff at the Vermont Veterans' Home that declined to get the COVID-19 vaccine.  The story has been updated with the correct number.

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