News Roundup: 10 New COVID Cases Identified At Franklin County Prison
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Wednesday, Feb 24.
Want VPR's daily news in podcast form? Get up to speed in under 15 minutes with The Frequency every weekday morning. How about an email newsletter? Add our daily email briefing to your morning routine.
The latest coronavirus data:
1. State officials report 78 new COVID cases, 2 additional deaths
The Vermont Health Department reported 78 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday.
Two more Vermonters have died from the coronavirus, bringing the state death toll to 201 since the start of the pandemic.
There are currently 28 people hospitalized with the virus, and 10 of those individuals are in the ICU.
More than 92,000 people in Vermont have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
- Karen Anderson
New COVID cases at Franklin County prison
State officials are reporting new COVID-19 cases inside a correctional facility in St. Albans.
The Department of Corrections says one staff member and nine incarcerated individuals have tested positive for the virus at the Northwest State Correctional Facility.
The 10 cases were identified last week, and contact tracing has been completed, according to the department. The facility remains in full lockdown.
In addition, last week, a staff member at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport also tested positive for COVID.
Since March, a total of 275 incarcerated individuals — including those being held at Vermont facilities and out of state — have tested positive, as well as 66 staff members.
- Brittany Patterson
UVM COVID cases this semester surpass fall semester total
The University of Vermont continues to see rising COVID-19 case numbers as the University has now exceeded the number of positive cases seen the entire fall semester.
Some 64 new cases were reported Monday evening, bringing the total number of cases this month to 144.
VTDigger reports of the 64 cases, 41 were on-campus students and 21 were off-campus, with two staff members testing positive.
School officials say they expected positive cases to rise this semester, and their policies and mitigation strategy will remain the same.
Earlier this week, the university announced plans for additional quarantine housing to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
- Karen Anderson
2. Gov.: Federal gov't to increase state's vax allocation by 1,000 per week
Gov. Phil Scott says a boost in the federal government's vaccine allocation means Vermont will see about 1,000 more doses weekly.
Scott and other governors talked with White House officials Tuesday. He says he was told more vaccines could be on the way soon if a shot by Johnson & Johnson is approved for emergency use later this week.
“If they're approved, the first week we could expect about 2 million doses to be distributed, which will be split with the same per capita strategy as current vaccines,” Scott said. “This would mean, again, about 2,000 more doses per week from Johnson & Johnson out of the gate for Vermont.”
Scott says there are some questions about whether Johnson & Johnson will be able to maintain that high level of production initially. But he says the White House thinks the company will be able to make 20 million doses by the end of March.
- John Dillon
State considering how to distribute vaccines next
The Scott administration is trying to decide how to open up the state's COVID-19 vaccination program after individuals between the ages of 16 and 64 with chronic health conditions have received their shots.
Gov. Phil Scott says he's being lobbied heavily to include essential workers in the next group, regardless of their age.
But he says several states that have taken this approach have dropped it because of disagreements over who is considered an essential worker.
Scott says age might still be the major factor in determining the administration's next phase of the vaccine priority list.
"Every state's different, and we're learning as we go along, and we'll learn from other states, and other states will learn from us as well, but ours is working pretty well thus far,” Scott said.
Individuals between the ages of 65 and older will be able to register for vaccinations beginning next Monday.
- Bob Kinzel
3. Court orders former UPS store owner to comply with mask mandate
A superior court judge has issued a temporary restraining order compelling the owner of a former UPS store in Newport to comply with the state's mask mandate.
Judge Mary Miles Teachout granted the order on Tuesday against the store and its owner, Mike Desautel. In her ruling, Teachout said the public will suffer "immediate and irreparable harm" if the store continues to flout the state's requirement that employees wear masks.
Attorney General TJ Donovan filed a complaint against Desautel last week. In a statement, his office says the store has continued to violate mask rules since the complaint was filed.
A court hearing on the state's motion for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for March 5.
On Monday, more than a dozen demonstrators gathered outside a former UPS store in Newport Monday to show their support. WCAX reports protestors carried signs that read "Don't drink the kool-aid,” "People for freedom," and "Dictator Scott.”
- Henry Epp and Karen Anderson
4. State providing identity theft protection to all Vermonters who received unemployment benefits in 2020
The Scott administration is moving ahead with its plan to offer identity theft protection policies to all Vermonters who received unemployment benefits in 2020.
It's taking this step because last month, the Department of Labor sent thousands of 1099 tax forms to the wrong addresses, creating a data breach that included the Social Security numbers of other individuals.
Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington says these protection policies are one way that the state can protect individuals from being victims of fraud.
"By now, all 2020 unemployment claimants have been mailed a letter with details and instructions on how to enroll in ID theft protection services being offered by the state, and at no additional cost to the individual,” Harrington said.
Harrington says individuals have until the middle of May to sign up for the protection services. The benefits will be retroactive to Jan. 29.
In the meantime, Department of Labor is set to mail out new 1099 tax forms to anyone who received an unemployment benefit during 2020.
Harrington says his department administers nine different unemployment programs and that some people have qualified for more than one, which means they may receive multiple tax forms.
"We know there's likely going to be some confusion given that most claimants will receive multiple 1099 documents from the department,” Harrington said. “This is intentional and is not a mistake or error."
Harrington says the new tax forms should arrive by the end of next week, giving individuals more than a month to fill out their 2020 income tax forms.
- Bob Kinzel
5. Burlington City Council votes to move ahead with CityPlace project
The Burlington City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the CityPlace project.
In a special meeting Tuesday evening, council members voted to resolve litigation and approve the newly negotiated development agreement with the developer of CityPlace Burlington.
The agreement was amended earlier this month after union organizers raised concerns that the project was not required to use unionized labor.
Additional amendments include an agreement by developers to pay the Vermont prevailing wage for the Burlington area, among other new labor commitments.
Failure of the city council to approve the settlement agreement would have meant a return to court, and potentially years of further delay on the CityPlace project.
- Karen Anderson
6. Pownal postpones town elections after annual report mailing error
Pownal will postpone town elections due to an addressing error on hundreds of mailed annual reports.
Approximately 1,100 reports were returned by the post office and had to be re-mailed with corrected address labels.
The state requires reports to be delivered to voters 10 days prior to an election. About a third of town voters were affected by the mistake.
According to the Bennington Banner, the select board met in an emergency session Tuesday to discuss the problem, and voted to delay the annual election until March 30.
- Karen Anderson
7. Spring sugarhouse visits will have to wait one more year
A treasured Vermont tradition has again been canceled due to the ongoing risk of COVID-19.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine said at Tuesday's COVID briefing that Vermonters who celebrate early spring with a visit to their local maple sugarhouse will have to wait another year.
“Folks can still enjoy and support our maple producers by buying Vermont maple syrup at a farm stand or grocery near you, or find a local producer online through the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association website,” Levine said. “And in the post-vaccine era we will look forward to visiting again next year.”
The Scott administration says it will gradually lift restrictions as cases decline and more and more of the population is vaccinated.
- John Dillon
8. Sen. Bernie Sanders announces winners of 11th annual student essay contest
Sen. Bernie Sanders has announced the Vermont student winners of his annual State of the Union essay contest.
His office says the 11th annual contest was an opportunity for high school students around the state to describe pressing issues that they would prioritize as president of the United States.
First place went to William Taggard, a junior at Brattleboro Union High School, who wrote about changing the presidential election process.
Emilia De Jounge, a sophomore at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, won second place, and third place went to Simon Rosenbaum, a junior at the Vermont Commons School in South Burlington.
- Karen Anderson
Correction 5:00 p.m.: This post has been updated with the correct name for the owner of the former UPS store in Newport.
We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.