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Vermont Officials Report 132 New COVID-19 Infections

A sign reading face coverings required
Elodie Reed
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VPR
The University of Vermont reminds campus members to wear face coverings on Thursday.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Thursday, Jan. 28.

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1. Vermont officials report 132 new COVID cases

Vermont reported 132 new COVID-19 infections Thursday.

That marks a return to more than 100 cases a day, after the daily total dipped below triple digits Wednesday for the first time in weeks.

Health officials say most of the new cases are in Chittenden County, with 32 infections, and Bennington County, with 28.

A total of 59 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, including 10 in intensive care.

- Matthew Smith

Rutland hospital unit in isolation after five staffers test positive for COVID

The 5th Floor Inpatient Medical Unit at Rutland Regional Medical Center, formerly known as the inpatient medical oncology unit, is in isolation after a fifth staff member tested positive for COVID-19.

The unit is separate from other outpatient services, including the Foley Cancer Center.

The hospital yesterday started to restrict visitor access to the unit. Testing is also being expanded to all staff and patients in the unit and others who may have been exposed to the virus, including patients already discharged.

Infected staff are in quarantine at home. They won't return to work until given medical clearance to do so.

- Matthew Smith

Three inmates test positive at South Burlington facility

Three new COVID-19 cases are being reported at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility.

In a news release Thursday, the Vermont Department of Corrections says the cases were detected after testing ordered by state officials.

This came after six staff at the South Burlington facility tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

The three new cases are among incarcerated people. The individuals are in isolation and close contacts have been quarantined, the agency says.

Both Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility and Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, which has reported one positive case of COVID-19 among staff, are in lockdown until Feb. 1.

- Brittany Patterson

Norwich University COVID outbreak up to 83 cases

Student misconduct is at the heart of a coronavirus outbreak at Norwich University in Northfield.

As of Thursday afternoon, the school has reported 83 cases among nearly 1,600 students on campus.

Norwich President Mark Anarumo, in a video Wednesday, said the recent spike was caused by student behavior.

“We’ve had some significant, egregious and frankly embarrassing incidents of student misconduct that have resulted in the spread of virus on campus and our inability to contain it,” Anarumo said.

The college says a plan is in place to contain the spread of the virus, and students are being given the option of leaving the campus and continuing their studies online.

- Liam Elder-Connors

2. UVM professor: research shows paying people to get vaccinated does work

There’s no shortage of demand for the coronavirus vaccines now, but immunizing up to 90% of the population poses a challenge — and a UVM researcher says simply paying people to get vaccinated could help us get there.

Stephen Higgins is the director of the Vermont Center on Behavior and Health at UVM’s Larner College of Medicine. He studied efforts to boost follow-through for the multiple shots needed to inoculate against hepatitis B, and says compensating people to get each shot has proven effective.

“And so, it increased the odds of completing that regimen seven-fold,” Higgins said. “The baseline rate was 5%, with the incentives, you could get 35%. But you're seven times more likely to get people through the regimen.”

Higgins says the findings are important, given that the coronavirus vaccines require two doses about three weeks apart. He added that insurance providers, and federal and state governments, should shoulder the cost of paying people to get vaccinated.

Read/hear the full story.

- Matthew Smith

3. After Leahy hospitalization, Gov. Scott says he would replace U.S. Senate vacancy with same-party appointee

Gov. Phil Scott says if there were to be a vacancy, he'd replace a member of the Vermont congressional delegation with a person from their own party.

The question came up at the governor's news briefing Wednesday after Sen. Patrick Leahy was briefly hospitalized Tuesday evening. Leahy, who turns 81 in March, is now back at work.

Scott says the question is speculative and premature, but he would stick to his philosophy of maintaining political parity in any appointments.

“I would continue to do what I've done over the last four years, and if there's an opening in any legislative seat or otherwise, that I would appoint someone from the same party,” he said.

The U.S. Senate is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.

Scott made a similar pledge last year when Sen. Bernie Sanders was under consideration for labor secretary in the Biden administration.

- John Dillon

4. Dartmouth community marks 20th anniversary of Zantop murders

Friends and fellow faculty members marked the 20th anniversary of the murder of two popular Dartmouth College professors Wednesday.

The Valley News reports those attending the memorial for Half and Susanne Zantop remembered the couple as vibrant and generous members of the college community.

The Zantops were murdered in their home on Jan. 27, 2001, in a crime that attracted national attention. Two teenagers from Chelsea, Vermont were arrested after a nationwide manhunt and subsequently pleaded guilty to the murders.

A garden at Dartmouth College, where the memorial took place, is named in memory of the Zantops.

- Steve Zind

5. Burlington's proposed charter change would implement ranked-choice voting for city council races

Backers of a proposed charter change in Burlington designed to implement ranked-choice voting say the plan would ensure that winning candidates always receive a majority of votes.

Under the system, voters can rank candidates in order of preference and, if their first choice is eliminated, their second choice can still be counted. It's used only in cases where no candidate receives 50% of the vote in the initial tally.

VPIRG executive director Paul Burns strongly supports the plan.

"It eliminates the so-called ‘spoiler’ effect, which is when people worry that by voting for the candidate that they really like, they may end up throwing that vote away if that candidate turns out not to be viable, and then helping to elect their least favorite candidate in a race,” Burns said.

But opponents of the charter change proposal say the plan is too hard for voters to understand. Former Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright argues that holding a real runoff between the top two candidates is a much better solution.

"If you get a runoff election where everybody is mailed a ballot back again, you're going to have much, much higher turnout,” Wright said. “They now know who the candidates are when they vote in a real runoff, and they get to take another look at the two candidates now head to head."

The proposed charter change would initially only affect races for the Burlington City Council. If it passes, it will still need to be approved by the Legislature.

- Bob Kinzel

6. Sanders meme raises nearly $2 million for charity

Remember those wooly mittens Sen. Bernie Sanders wore to the presidential inauguration?

Images of Bernie wearing the Vermont-made mittens sparked quirky memes across social media.

Now Sanders says they've helped to raise $1.8 million in the last five days for Vermont charitable organizations.

That's because Sanders slapped the much-memed image of himself, arms and legs crossed while wearing his now-iconic jacket and mittens, on T-shirts, sweatshirts and stickers.

Sales of the clothing will go to Meals on Wheels Vermont, among other community groups.

Getty Images will also donate proceeds as part of a licensing agreement.

- Associated Press

7. Report: Legally, Vermont could create its own wholesale milk pricing system

A new report says Vermont does have the legal authority to set wholesale milk prices as a way to help struggling dairy farmers.

Last year, the Legislature directed the state Department of Financial Regulation to study the concept of regulating milk that is produced and processed in Vermont.

Jill Rickard is director of policy at the department. She briefed lawmakers Thursday on the report's findings, that a state system is possible.

“If structured correctly, we don't believe there are any legal impediments to doing so,” Rickard said. “It's a matter of what the practical issues are, and whether the cost-benefit analysis ultimately tells us that it's a good idea for Vermont.”

The report notes that over the last decade, Vermont lost 405 dairy farms, bringing the present total to about 600. The Legislature is now considering whether to appoint a task force to look at a state-based system of price regulation.

- John Dillon

8. Burlington could have train service by end of year

The Burlington City Council has inched closer to bringing Amtrak passenger train service back to the city.

The Burlington Free Press reports at their Monday meeting, the council passed a package of agreements to move the project forward.

Among them are deals with the state and city stakeholders along Lake Champlain. They range from agreements on railroad signals and right-of-ways, to giving the mayor authority to strike deals to finish the project.

If all goes to plan, passenger service on the Ethan Allen Express in Burlington will begin by the end of the year, or early in 2022.

Trains would head north from Rutland to Burlington, stopping in Middlebury and Vergennes.

- Matthew Smith

Springfield approves self-driving car tests on local roads

Springfield is the first town in Vermont to give the green light to testing self-driving cars on local roads.

The Eagle Times reports the Springfield select board on Monday passed a resolution to permit autonomous vehicle testing on town highways.

The Agency of Transportation has been recruiting towns and cities to host such testing, and has drafted state guidelines that outlines requirements to test self-driving cars.

Select board members say actual vehicle testing could be years away, but they say they want the town to be a leader in the new technology.

- Matthew Smith

Clarification 10:30 a.m. 1/29/21: This story has been updated with the accurate name for the Rutland Regional Medical Center's fifth floor inpatient medical unit.

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