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Vermont Officials Report 133 New COVID Cases

A woman in a mask behind plexiglass
Abagael Giles
/
VPR
Ripton General Store owner Eva-Marie Hoffman works behind the safety of plexiglass on Jan. 25.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, Jan. 29.

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1. Vermont officials report 133 new COVID cases

Vermont officials reported 133 cases of COVID-19 Friday.

Chittenden County reported the most new cases at 32, while 28 cases were reported in Bennington County and Rutland County reported 17 new cases.

Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine says deaths attributable to COVID-19 in Vermont have declined in recent weeks.

“We believe this has something to do with the fact that there have been less cases of COVID in long-term care facilities in the month January than in the month prior, and hence less opportunity for death in these populations,” Levine said.

The majority of the 172 deaths from COVID-19 in Vermont so far have been tied to long-term care facilities.

While deaths may have slowed, Levine says the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to rise: 57 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Friday, including 11 in the ICU.

- Peter Hirschfeld and Brittany Patterson

Gov. encourages Vermonters 75 and older to sign up for vaccine, still time to do so

More than 32,000 Vermonters aged 75 and older have signed up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

And Gov. Phil Scott is encouraging residents in that age category who have yet to sign up to register with the Department of Health as soon as possible.

“If you haven’t gotten an appointment as yet for the vaccine, there’s still time,” Scott said. “There are still plenty of time slots available.”

Scott says the state hopes to administer the first dose of vaccine to all Vermonters aged 75 and over within the next five weeks.

The vaccine will then become available to people age 70 and older.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Springfield Hospital reviewed 860 vaccine doses, OK despite temperature concern

Officials at Springfield Hospital say they have conducted a review to ensure that they are safely storing the coronavirus vaccine.

This came after the state on Wednesday reported 860 doses of the Moderna vaccine in the hospital may have reached a temperature just above the recommended storage guidelines.

After consulting with the vaccine manufacturer, officials determined that the doses are safe to use.

Pete Peck is director of pharmacy services at Springfield Hospital.

“Several practices have been put in place, not to correct anything that was wrong, but to just give us added confidence that, going forward, this won't happen again,” Peck said. “Because obviously these vaccines are important to get as many out, to as many people as we can, in the coming weeks.”

Peck says all vaccine clinics held by the hospital are moving ahead as scheduled.

Read/hear the full interview.

- Brittany Patterson

Of 4,000+ tested for COVID in Vermont schools in past 2 weeks, only 2 positive results

Secretary of Education Dan French says surveillance testing has indicated a low prevalence of COVID-19 in Vermont schools.

French says that of the more than 4,000 school staff tested for COVID-19 over the past two weeks, only two had positive results.

“I do think these data show that we continue to operate our schools very safely,” French said.
“We have cases of virus in our schools, but the mitigation measures used by school staff show we can contain the spread of the virus when it does occur.”

Despite the low COVID numbers in Vermont schools, state officials on Friday extended the prohibition on winter sports competitions.

Gov. Phil Scott says he hopes to have all students back to full-time, in-person instruction by the beginning of April.

- Peter Hirschfeld

2. Vt. colleges resuming in-person classes as soon as Feb. 1

After nearly two months off, colleges across Vermont are preparing to resume in-person classes — some as early as Feb. 1.

Coronavirus numbers have soared around the country during the break. But state and college leaders say the protocols that worked in the fall, with some tweaks, will work again.

Ted Brady is Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

“We eliminated spring break to reduce the likelihood of people traveling back and forth,” Brady said. “We have these strict quarantine policies in place to make sure if anybody comes here who is sick, we are able identify them, quarantine them and get them better before releasing them back into the general population.”

Among the new rules is one that requires all students get tested after their first week back on campus.

Read/hear the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

3. Man dies in Alburgh house fire

A man has died after a house fire in Alburgh.

Alburgh Fire Department responded to the fire around 3 o'clock Thursday afternoon. WCAX reports firefighters were fighting the blaze when they learned someone was inside. They entered the home and found the man deceased inside.

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation. The deceased man was taken to the Medical Examiner's office for an autopsy.

Police say there's no indication of foul play.

- Matthew Smith

4. Canada announces sweeping new travel restrictions to prevent COVID spread

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced sweeping new travel restrictions for citizens Friday in response to more contagious variants of COVID-19.

Canada has suspended airline service to Mexico and the Caribbean until April 30. And it is forcing travelers to quarantine in a government approved hotel, at their own expense, when they arrive in the country.

The government is also introducing mandatory PCR testing for travelers retuning to Canada.

- Mark Davis

Northern Border Caucus asks Biden to reopen U.S.-Canada border

In the meantime, the Congressional Northern Border Caucus is calling on President Joe Biden to safely reopen the U.S.-Canada border.

ABC News 10 in Albany reports the bipartisan group of 24 lawmakers in the Senate and House sent a letter to Biden this week.

The letter calls on the administration to establish a bilateral plan for restoring travel, prioritize vaccinations for customs and border patrol staff, and set up a framework for families to safely reunite.

The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to non-essential travel since March of last year.

- Matthew Smith

5. Senate committee reject's Gov.'s Act 250 executive order

A key Senate committee Friday rejected Gov. Phil Scott's executive order to overhaul Act 250, the state's development review law.

Scott's order calls for a three member professional board to review development projects. That's a change from the current process in which the reviews are done by nine regional, citizen-based commissions.

Under state law, the executive order goes into effect unless the House or Senate objects. But many lawmakers have raised questions, and now the Senate Natural Resources Committee has unanimously said no.

Orange County Democratic Senator Mark MacDonald told the panel that executive orders should be used only when there is agreement between the Legislature and the governor.

“That's why this is a take it or leave it vote, and I would vote to leave it, and hope the next time the governor proposes an executive order, it's because a consensus has been reached,” MacDonald said.

The resolution rejecting the order could be voted on by the full Senate next week.

- John Dillon

More from VPR: Reporter Debrief: On Act 250, Gov. Says It's A 'Problem,' Others Say It's 'Settled'

6. Sanders: Budget Committee to focus on lowering Rx costs

Sen. Bernie Sanders says substantially lowering the cost of most prescription drugs will be a top priority of the Senate Budget committee.

Earlier this month, Sanders was appointed as the new chairman of this committee.

He says there are a number of ways to achieve this goal, including allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies and to streamline the process to permit individual states to purchase drugs from Canada.

"There is no rational reason why we pay 10 times more than people in other countries for insulin and for other prescription drugs,” Sanders said. “So we hope to accomplish that as well."

The Scott administration is currently seeking permission from the federal government to allow the state to purchase drugs from Canadian sources.

- Bob Kinzel

7. Petition calls for Phil Scott to leave GOP

A petition calling on Gov. Phil Scott to leave the Republican Party has garnered more than a thousand signatures.

But Scott says he has no plans to leave the GOP.

“At the end of the day, if the Republican Party decides they don’t want to be a member of their club, that’s one thing,” Scott said. “But I’m still going to be a Republican at the end of the day. I still believe in the core values that I’ve brought to the table.”

The petition calling for Scott’s ouster from the party was started by supporters of Donald Trump.

Scott has been a vocal critic of the former president. But he says his strong showing in the GOP primary last summer shows he still has majority support among Republican voters in Vermont.

- Peter Hirschfeld

8. Missing Underhill woman found, safe, in another state

Vermont State Police say a missing young Underhill woman has been found safe out of state.

Police say 18-year-old Leydi Lopez talked with investigators and said she left Vermont voluntarily and wanted to remain out of state.

Police say members of the federal Homeland Security Investigations located her and that no criminal behavior is associated with her disappearance.

- Brittany Patterson

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