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News Roundup: Scott Administration To Unveil Plan Tuesday To Get Students Learning In-Person Again

A school building with snow on the ground against a blue sky
Abagael Giles
/
VPR
Gov. Phil Scott's administration is expected to unveil a plan Tuesday for how to get students safely back in the classrooms of Vermont schools, such as Weybridge Elementary School pictured above, for full-time in-person learning in another month.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Monday, March 1.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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1. Health Department reports 85 new COVID cases, 1 additional death

Health officials reported 85 new COVID-19 infections statewide Monday, as Vermont's vaccination rate edged over 18%.

A total of 24 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, including eight in the ICU.

Vermont also saw one more virus-related death, bringing the state's total to 205.

Vermont hit two pandemic milestones over the weekend: The total number of COVID-19 cases in Vermont passed 15,000, and more than 100,000 people have now received at least one vaccine dose.

- Karen Anderson

Quebec ramping up public vaccination

Public vaccination in Quebec will ramp up this week, as the province reports more than 100 cases of COVID-19 variants.

The increase in COVID variants comes as the province marked one year from the first detected case of COVID-19 Saturday.

CBC News reports over the past year, more than 10,000 Quebec residents have died of the illness, and the total number of people known to have been infected is nearing 300,000.

So far, more than 432,000 vaccine doses have been administered to Quebecers. The province plans to administer 175,000 doses a week through the end of March.

- Karen Anderson

Central Vermont Medical Center to use empty mall storefront as vax hub

An empty store in the Berlin Mall will become a COVID-19 vaccine hub for the Central Vermont Medical Center.

The hospital will set up shop in a vacant portion of the storefront in an effort to increase the daily number of vaccinations administered.

Central Vermont Medical Center has vaccinated about 50 Vermonters a day, but hopes to increase that number to 200 with the opening of this additional vaccination site, and eventually increasing that number to 400 a day by April.

The clinic will be staffed five days a week by roughly three dozen medical professionals.

- Associated Press

2. State to unveil plan Tuesday for schools to return to full-time, in-person in April

State officials want all Vermont schools to go back to full-time, in-person learning in April.

Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrell says the pandemic is having a significant impact on the mental health of children in Vermont.

And Squirrell says it’s important to get kids back in school full time to begin to address the crisis.

“The two most important factors in helping children cope with anxiety are communication and connection,” Squirrel said. “And children are missing that connection right now. With less access to resources, less access to protective factors, leads to increased vulnerability and risk."

She says students need the academic, as well as the social and emotional support that school provides.

One way of getting students back into classrooms on a full-time, in-person basis this spring could be modifying social distancing rules in schools, which currently space out elementary students 3 feet apart and high school students 6 feet apart.

That's according to Education Secretary Dan French. He says the Scott administration is considering reducing the high school rules, because the overall COVID-19 risk to students and staff has dropped in recent weeks.

“We expect conditions to improve particularly with the advent of vaccines, so we will definitely modify our guidance accordingly, but it will be in conjunction with an assessment of the safety of the conditions,” he said.

French says he will unveil the components of his return-to-school strategy on Tuesday.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Gov. expects to set summer wedding guidelines in April

Gov. Scott says he’s not ready yet to set guidelines that would permit large gatherings such as weddings for this summer.

Scott says he hopes to have those rules in place in April, though he knows event planners are eager to begin booking large venues and banquet facilities.

“I certainly have a lot of appreciation for what they’re going through as a former business owner myself, and they see this challenge ahead of them,” Scott said. “But we’re just not there yet.”

Massachusetts eased its COVID restrictions this week, including issuing new guidelines that permit summer weddings and gatherings.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Prom, too, expected to be decided on in April

Education Secretary Dan French says he wants high school seniors to have some kind of closure at the end of the school year.

“We should endeavor to end the year on a celebratory note, because it’s been a tough year for everyone, and proms, graduations, and all those things that we normally see at the end of the school year, it would be great to see those back up and running,” he said.

French says it’s too early to say if in-person proms or graduations will happen this year, but he promised to make decisions about end of year celebrations some time in April.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

3. Endangered species committee worried about bat population, votes to ask mosquito control district to get permit

The state endangered species committee says Vermont's fragile bat population needs to be protected from pesticides used in a large-scale mosquito control program in western Vermont.

The five bat species have been decimated by a fungal disease known as white nose syndrome. The committee says they need more protection from the airborne insecticides used to kill mosquitos in five towns in Addison and Rutland counties.

The committee says the state should require the mosquito control district to get an endangered species permit for the spraying program.

Allen Strong is the panel's chairman and a wildlife biologist at UVM. He spoke in favor of the permit before the unanimous vote.

“To me, it seems like a really straightforward step to think about ways we can use this process to help populations of these threatened and endangered bat species,” Strong said.

The committee's vote is advisory. It's now up to the natural resources secretary to decide whether a permit is required.

- John Dillon

4. Fish and Wildlife to hold lake zone waterfowl hunting public hearings

Wildlife officials will hold virtual public hearings this month on lake zone waterfowl hunting in Vermont and New York.

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board will hold the hearings over Zoom, on March 9 and 11 at 6:30 pm.

The waterfowl seasons, bag limits and shooting hours must be the same in the Vermont and New York zones under federal regulations.

The proposed seasons and information about how to participate in the meetings are available online on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department website.

- Associated Press

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