News Roundup: Vermonters 70 & Older Can Sign Up For COVID Vax On Tuesday
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the next vaccine distribution round and more for Friday, Feb 12.
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The latest coronavirus data:
1. State officials report 162 new COVID cases, another death
Health officials reported 162 new cases of COVID-19 today Friday, and one additional death. Now 189 people have died from the coronavirus in Vermont.
The new infections were clustered around Chittenden County, with 44 cases, and Franklin County, with 36. Rutland County had 17 cases.
Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine says case counts in Bennington, Rutland and Franklin counties continue to trend higher than the rest of the state.
“If you’re not consistently wearing a mask or keeping your distance, if you’re gathering with people you don’t live with, if you’re traveling, you may not only be contributing to the spread of the virus, but also holding us all back from the future we’re working towards,” he said.
Secretary of Education Dan French says some schools in Franklin County will move to remote learning next week as a result of higher case counts there.
A total of 47 people are in the hospital with COVID, including 11 in the ICU.
The state reports 12.5% of Vermont’s population have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
- Matthew Smith and Peter Hirschfeld
Vt. Dept. of Corrections: COVID cases on the rise
Cases of COVID-19 are rising among Vermont’s incarcerated population. The Department of Corrections announced Friday that 13 people held at Northwest State Correctional Facility, as well as three staff there, tested positive.
The Franklin County prison has been locked down since Jan. 28 due to an outbreak of COVID-19. A total of 14 incarcerated people are infected. DOC says the cases appear contained to two units at the facility.
The department also announced a staff member at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield tested positive for COVID-19. That facility is not in a full lockdown after widespread testing didn’t find additional cases.
But Northeast Correctional Complex is locked down while they wait for the results of mass testing. One staffer at the St. Johnsbury facility tested positive last week.
- Liam Elder-Connors
More-contagious COVID variant mutation appears in Burlington wastewater
Two mutations of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 have been detected in wastewater samples in Burlington, according to the Health Department.
In a statement on Thursday, the department stressed that this does not definitively mean the variant has been found in Vermont, but it is “most likely present”. There have already been cases detected in New York and Massachusetts.
Burlington's Chief Innovation Officer Brian Lowe says the wastewater monitoring serves as an early warning system.
“That allows us to know that as of today, basically at the limit of our ability to detect that this variant is likely in Burlington, and it allows people to make better informed decisions about what they want to do and the risks that they are taking,” Lowe said.
The variant is known as B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the U.K. According to the CDC, existing COVID-19 vaccines are mostly effective against it.
But because the variant is more transmissible, the Health Department urges Vermonters to continue to take precautions like wearing masks, keeping six feet apart and avoiding crowds.
- Henry Epp
No new public health protocols with variant’s apparent arrival
The apparent arrival of a new variant of COVID-19 won’t lead to any changes in public health protocols in Vermont.
But Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine says Vermonters may want to consider double-masking.
Levine says preliminary data from the CDC has shown that double-masking is more effective at blocking respiratory droplets.
“If you are concerned about the fit of your mask, or want that additional degree of protection from a tighter fit, it may be worth trying, especially if the new enemy is a more transmissible virus variant,” Levine said.
Levine says the state is conducting genomic sequencing tests to confirm whether the variant is in Vermont.
- Peter Hirschfeld
Ed agency to issue guidelines to help schools resume music practices, performances
The sound of live music will soon return to Vermont schools.
Secretary of Education Dan French says that next week, his agency will issue guidelines for resuming music practices and performances.
French says minimizing the risk of coronavirus transmission will require strict adherence to special distancing protocols: “All performers will be required to have a six-by-six foot distance around them when performing at all times, and for trombones, the distance requirement will be six by nine feet.”
French says students who play wind instruments will have to wear masks with slits in them while playing.
School sports competitions resumed on Friday.
- Peter Hirschfeld
2. Vermonters 70 and older can sign up for vaccine beginning Tuesday
Vermonters age 70 and older can begin scheduling their COVID-19 vaccines starting next week.
Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith says registration for Vermonters in that age category will open up on Tuesday morning at 8:15.
People can register by going to healthvermont.gov/myvaccine. Or you can call the vaccine call center at 855-722-7878.
The 70 and older age category is the second age band to open up in Vermont’s vaccine priority system. Vermonters age 75 and over have been eligible for the vaccine since late January.
Nearly 70,000 Vermonters have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine so far.
- Peter Hirschfeld
Walgreen pharmacies opening COVID-19 vaccine clinics
Walgreens pharmacies in Vermont have opened COVID-19 vaccine clinics for eligible residents.
Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith says the federal government has given Walgreens 2,000 doses.
“They are starting clinics today for Vermonters 75 and older,” Smith said. “On Tuesday, they will schedule clinics for those 70 and older.”
The Walgreens clinics are part of a federal pilot program to expedite distribution of the vaccine.
Smith says Walgreens will administer the vaccines at 20 pharmacies across the state.
People age 70 and older, as well as essential health care workers, can schedule an appointment by visiting walgreens.com/schedulevaccine.
- Peter Hirschfeld
Vaccinated Vermonters no longer need to quarantine with COVID contact
Vermonters who’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer have to quarantine after coming into close contact with someone who has the disease.
But for now at least, Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine says travel restrictions still apply to all Vermonters, regardless of their vaccination status.
“We are not yet making any changes to travel-related quarantine for fully vaccinated people, but we are being very thoughtful about it, and exploring its impact,” Levine said. “We hope to have more to say about it next week.”
The CDC says fully-vaccinated individuals don’t pose a high risk of transmitting the virus, even if they’ve come into close contact with an infected person.
- Peter Hirschfeld
3. Labor Department re-mailing 1099 tax forms
Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington says the state plans to mail revised 1099 tax forms to more than 100,000 Vermonters who received unemployment benefits during 2020.
The department is taking this step because it initially sent out tax forms to roughly 45,000 people that contained the personal financial information and Social Security numbers of other individuals.
The commissioner says that new, updated tax forms will be sent out by the end of the month.
"So I would say over the next two weeks, we will work to get new 1099s out before Feb. 26," Harrington said.
Most of the costs associated with the data breach are being covered by the state's cyber insurance policy.
- Bob Kinzel
Scott administration seeking short-term computer upgrade for Labor Department
Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington says it will take roughly $40 million to upgrade the department's antiquated computer system.
Harrington says the mainframe of the system is 40 years old and has great difficulty integrating with dozens of new federal unemployment programs.
The commissioner says the shortcomings of the system have been magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That's why the administration is initially seeking a roughly $4 million short-term upgrade.
"It's not something that's quick, it is extremely challenging given how long unemployment insurance has been around and the number of changes that have happened over the years so we are venturing out on that journey of modernizing again."
Harrington says the state also hopes to receive federal funds to complete the computer upgrade in the next few years.
- Bob Kinzel
4. Gov. Phil Scott calls for GOP senators to convict Trump
Gov. Phil Scott is calling on Republican members of the U.S. Senate to convict former President Donald Trump in the impeachment trial.
Scott says Trump incited the riot that led to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last month. And he says Congress needs to hold him accountable.
“It’s not about, as much about, President Trump, former President Trump, as it is about the precedent it sets,” Scott says. “And if this is okay to do, I guarantee it will be done again in the future.”
Scott made the comments during his COVID-19 media briefing on Friday.
- Peter Hirschfeld
Gov. Scott makes cameo in impeachment proceedings
Gov. Phil Scott made a cameo Thursday in the ongoing impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
While making the case that Trump was responsible for inciting the Jan. 6 violence at the national Capitol, House impeachment manager Rep. Ted Lieu of California cited Trump's fellow Republicans who blame him for the insurrection.
"People in his own party, state officials, former officials, current officials, members of Congress, have unambiguously and passionately said what Donald Trump did was ‘disgraceful,’ Lieu said. “Let's hear what some of these officials had to say."
Lieu then played clips of Republican governors blaming Trump from states like Ohio, Utah, and Maryland. The final clip was from Vermont's Gov. Scott.
"Seeing our Capitol, a symbol of democracy around the world, stormed by an angry mob was heartbreaking,” Scott said. “And let me be clear, these actions were not patriotic, and these people were not patriots. The fact that these flames of hate and insurrection were lit by the president of the United States will be remembered as one of the darkest chapters in American history."
The day of the Capitol insurrection, Gov. Scott tweeted "President Trump should resign, or be removed from office."
- Matthew Smith
5. Legislative resolution would issue formal apology for state's role in eugenics movement
Lawmakers say it’s time to issue a formal apology for Vermont’s role in the eugenics movement.
South Burlington Rep. John Killacky says a bill approved by the Vermont Legislature in 1931 led to a state-sanctioned forced sterilization program.
Killacky says the eugenics movement had a disproportionate effect on marginalized communities.
“It really over time targeted our Abenaki bands, people who are mixed race, French Canadians, the poor, and people with disabilities,” Killacky said.
A resolution introduced by Killacky would issue an apology to Vermonters who were affected by the eugenics movement.
The University of Vermont formally apologized for its role in the movement in 2019.
- Peter Hirschfeld
6. Middlebury artist chosen to paint portrait of Alexander Twilight
A Middlebury artist has been picked to paint a portrait for the Vermont Statehouse of Alexander Twilight.
She will paint a large-scale portrait of the early Vermont educator and minister. Twilight had been on a short list of possible portrait commissions for several years as part of a larger plan to broaden the representation in the Statehouse of women and people of color.
The National Life Group of Vermont is covering the cost of the portrait.
- Associated Press
7. Middlebury College to include Abenaki land acknowledgement in all events, ceremonies
Events and ceremonies at Middlebury College will now include a land acknowledgement to Western Abenaki as the traditional stewards on the land.
Vermont Business Magazine reports a letter from college president Laurie Patton says the college will now offer a statement aloud to acknowledge the Western Abenaki as the traditional caretakers of Vermont's lands and waters, land the Abenaki call Ndakinna.
The letter notes the college worked with local Abenaki leaders to develop the acknowledgement practice.
- Matthew Smith
8. Pilot program for humans and deer to coexist in CC Putnam State Forest
State park managers are hoping a new pilot program in the CC Putnam State Forest will allow outdoor enthusiasts to co-exist with the area’s wintering deer.
Perry Hill, near Waterbury, is a favorite of both deer and the public. For deer, areas of evergreen canopy cover provide shelter, helping them conserve energy during the lean winter months.
In recent years, state wildlife managers say a growing number of Vermonters are using Perry Hill for winter outdoor activities.
The pilot program will try to allow both to happen safely.
With help from the town of Waterbury and the Waterbury Area Trails Alliance, new groomed trails will be maintained for use by snowshoers, skiers, fatbikers and hikers.
Signs will be posted asking visitors to steer clear of deer wintering zones.
- Brittany Patterson
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