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Vermont Reports 101 New COVID-19 Cases, 3 New Deaths

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, Town Meeting Day and more for Thursday, Jan. 21.

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1. Vermont reports 101 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

State health officials reported 101 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, and three new deaths.

To date, the state has seen 168 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began.

Of the new cases announced Thursday, 22 were in Chittenden County, 19 were in Bennington County and 14 were in Rutland County.

45 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, including five people in the ICU.

- Matthew Smith

Petition calling for teachers, school staff to be prioritized for vaccines gains traction

Thousands of Vermont teachers want to be included in the state's next phase of COVID-19 vaccinations.

More than 3,800 teachers and school staffers have signed an online petition calling on Governor Scott to prioritize inoculations for K-12 teachers and school staff.

The petitioners say doing so would align Vermont with CDC and Federal guidelines for the shot.

The Scott administration says teachers don't need to be prioritized for the vaccine, because there's no evidence of community spread in Vermont's schools. But petitioners say the state's opt-in surveillance testing of teachers doesn’t give a complete picture of the coronavirus' impact on schools.

- The Associated Press

More information about vaccinations for the public expected Friday

Vermont officials are expected to release more plans about how people age 75 and over can get vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19. On Monday the state will begin taking reservations for older Vermont.

On Friday, officials are expected to announce details of how people can make those reservations.

The next age group will be 70-and-up and then 65-and-older. After older Vermonters are vaccinated, the focus will shift to people between 18 and 64 who have underlying conditions that make them more susceptible to complications from the virus.

It's unclear how long that will take because officials don't know how much vaccine the state will be receiving.

More from Vermont Edition: Is Vermont Doing Enough To Address Racial Inequities In Its Vaccine Program?

- Matthew Smith

2. Health Commissioner Mark Levine tests negative for COVID-19, will be tested again Tuesday

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine has tested negative for the coronavirus, after being potentially exposed during the Scott administration's last two COVID-19 media briefings.

Levine is now quarantining, as are Gov. Phil Scott and other administration officials. Levine says he was tested on Wednesday – after his potential exposure this Tuesday and last Friday.

“And I'm happy to say my test was negative, which bodes well for the Friday exposure, since it was about five days after that. And I'm feeling fine,” Levine said.

Gov. Scott has also tested negative. The administration is going ahead with it's press conference Friday, with officials who are in quarantine joining by video.

- Henry Epp

Gov. Scott says he's sticking with decision not to receive COVID-19 vaccine ahead of schedule

Gov. Phil Scott will not receive a COVID 19 vaccine ahead of schedule even though he was potentially exposed to the virus in the last few days.

Scott and several members of his cabinet attended press briefings recently where a person contracted by the state tested positive for the virus.

Scott and the other officials are currently in quarantine for at least a week. The governor received a negative test result Wednesday night.

Jason Maulucci is Scott's new press secretary. He said the governor turned down an opportunity for an early vaccine and he's sticking by that decision.

“And as he said he wouldn't want to take a vaccine away from somebody who is more vulnerable, elderly or with certain chronic conditions that he's talked about so he is still planning to receive his vaccine when he otherwise would be eligible under the roll out plan." 

Scott is 62-years-old and won't be eligible for a vaccination for several months based on the state's current policy.

Governor's office says operations of state government are unaffected by quarantine

The Scott Administration says the operations of state government won't be affected by Gov. Phil Scott's decision to quarantine himself for at least a week.

The governor and several members of his Cabinet were potentially exposed to COVID-19 recently. Scott received a negative test result Wednesday evening.

Jason Maulucci is Scott's new press secretary. He says state officials have become familiar with remote meetings and the Administration will draw upon that experience in the coming days.

“The governor has become very tech savvy,” Malucci said. “He's been doing almost every single one of his meetings remotely for months now, so operationally, there aren't many changes really at all and we're still moving forward with day-to-day operations as we have for several months."  

For the time being, the governor will live in a small apartment attached to his office in the Pavilion Office Building in Montpelier.

More from VPR: Gov. Scott Tests Negative For COVID-19, Will Be Tested Again Tuesday

- Bob Kinzel

3. Vermont's tax revenues projected to be $254 million higher this year than forecast in August

A massive infusion of federal funds has flowed through the Vermont economy and boosted state tax revenues.

That was the word on Wednesday from Tom Kavet, the Legislature's economist.

Kavet said federal aid money transformed the local economy, resulting in revenues projected to be $254 million dollars higher this year than was forecast in August.

“So this money poured in and, sort of like as if the whole water table of the state rose, springs that were flowing a little bit started gushing, and springs that nobody knew were there started popping up,” Kavet said. “And some of that economic flow of money ends up being taxable and gives rise to revenues that we started seeing in the first six months of fiscal ‘21.”

Kavet says Vermont got about $5 billion dollars in COVID money, including direct appropriations to the state, stimulus checks sent to taxpayers, and various programs to help businesses.

- John Dillon

4. Secretary of State says new Town Meeting Day law could boost voter turnout

Secretary of State Jim Condos says a new Town Meeting Day law should boost voter participation and protect the health and safety of local citizens and election officials.

The legislation is designed to give towns a number of options during this pandemic period.

Towns can delay their Town Meeting date or they can send ballots out to all registered voters.

And towns that normally hold votes at in-person meetings, can switch to Australian balloting for this year.

Condos is a strong supporter of the proposal.

“That would allow them to make the decisions that they need to make, in order to one: protect their citizens' voting rights, but also protect the health and safety of not only the voters, but town clerks and poll workers,” Condos said. “We want to make sure we provide options, not necessarily mandates."

The new law also allows towns to include drive by voting as one of their options.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Bob Kinzel

5. Sen. Leahy says impeachment trial should start next week

Sen. Patrick Leahy says he'd like to see the Senate start the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump as soon as possible.

And Leahy said taking this approach could help decrease partisan tensions in the Senate.

Some Republicans argue that holding an impeachment trial will hurt efforts to unify the Senate.

But Leahy says it will be hard to bring members of the Senate together until there's some accountability for the riot at the Capitol building two weeks ago.

“We have to show that nobody's above the law, and when you incite a riot and five people die, you don't say, ‘Oh, we might cause partisanship if we say anything about it,’ you just can't do that,” Leahy said.

It's possible that the Senate trial could begin as early as next week.

Leahy voices support for proposed $2 trillion stimulus package

Leahy said he strongly supports President Joe Biden's plan to allocate nearly $2 trillion for a COVID 19 stimulus package.

Leahy's support is important because he's the new chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee.

Leahy says the country is facing a number of major challenges caused by the pandemic and he believes a bold package is needed at this time.

“I think if we're going to turn this economy around, put people back to work, open up our small businesses, get our schools going, get our hospitals back on footing, it has to be a big package,” Leahy said.

Leahy says the passage of the president's stimulus package will be one of the top initial priorities of the Appropriations committee.

- Bob Kinzel

6. Hartford will not hold a Town Meeting Day vote over cannabis businesses

The Hartford selectboard has decided not to hold a Town Meeting Day vote on allowing cannabis businesses in town.

At a special selectboard meeting this week Hartford resident Lannie Collins said there was still too much unknown about how a marijuana retail store would affect the town.

“It seems that just putting this item on the ballot for the voters without any information is a little hasty,” Collins said. “There’s a lot of questions I think that you folks should get the answer to, or decide on.”

Under Vermont’s new marijuana retail law, municipalities have to opt in through a town-wide referendum.

Middlebury, Vergennes, Burlington and Brattleboro have all decided to hold a vote in March.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

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