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News Roundup: Vermonters 55 And Older With Select Conditions Can Sign Up For Vaccines Monday

A theater marquee in Randolph advises people to wear a mask.
Sarah Priestap
/
For VPR
In lieu of a list of movie showings, the currently closed Playhouse Theater uses its sign for advice to passers-by in Randolph.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, March 5.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:

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1. Health department reports 126 new COVID-19 cases

State health officials reported 126 new COVID-19 infections across Vermont Friday.

Most of those cases – 35 in all – were in Chittenden County, with another 22 reported in Franklin County. There were about a dozen new cases in Rutland and Addison Counties.

There are 26 people hospitalized with the disease, including four in intensive care.

As of today nearly 21% of eligible Vermonters – about 114,000 people – have gotten at last one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

Scott loosens multi-household gathering ban for vaccinated individuals

Vermonters who’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can now gather indoors with friends and family who have also been fully immunized.

Gov. Phil Scott announced the new guidance at his COVID-19 media briefing earlier today.

“For example, if eight fully vaccinated individuals wanted to get together at someone’s house for dinner, they’re now able to do so,” Scott said.

Scott said fully vaccinated Vermonters can also gather indoors with a single household that has not been vaccinated.

The ban on gatherings between members of different households remains in place for people who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Dartmouth College says campus outbreak may be linked to virus variant

Dartmouth College officials say it’s likely a new COVID-19 variant is responsible for a campus outbreak.

The Valley News reports while it hasn’t been detected in any of the testing the college has done, officials believe a variant that originated in the United Kingdom is probably responsible for the fast spreading outbreak.

The paper says the outbreak has slowed in recent days. The university reports there are currently 142 cases, with nearly 300 people in isolation or quarantine.

- Steve Zind

Just 39% of staff at Bennington veterans' home have accepted vaccines

Only 39% of the direct care staff at the Vermont Veterans' Home has volunteered to be vaccinated for COVID-19, according to The Bennington Banner.

The paper says two residents of the home have died from the virus and as recently as Monday, two staff members tested positive for COVID. Tests are administered daily.

Because of the positive tests, visits to residents of the veteran’s home are not permitted.

Employees at the home are state workers. The paper quotes Vermont State Employees Executive Director Steve Howard, who says some other facilities are providing incentives and additional reassurances to their staff to improve vaccine rates. 

Nationally, vaccine hesitancy has been common among nursing home employees.

The Veterans' Home says that including all staff, 60% of the home’s employees have been vaccinated.

- Steve Zind

Ontario premier criticizes U.S. stance on sharing vaccines produced domestically

The leader of Canada's most populous province is expressing irritation with the U.S. refusal to ship vaccines north of the border.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Thursday he'd hoped for a change of stance with a new American president, but he says it remains "every person for themselves."

The U.S. so far isn't allowing locally-made vaccines to be exported, so Canada has been forced to get vaccines from Europe and Asia.

The administration of President Joe Biden so far has rejected requests from Canada and Mexico for vaccine shipments, with Biden saying he needs to cover U.S. needs first.

- The Associated Press

Lyndon Institute pivots to remote learning following positive COVID-19 cases

Nearly 100 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were wasted at Central Vermont Medical Center last month because the hospital had no wait list or method to deliver extra doses.

VT Digger reports Anna Noonan, the hospital's chief operating officer, says the hospital lost 99 doses because it "lacked a process to quickly fill appointments for no-shows and cancellations.”

Noonan said the hospital stopped keeping a wait list after pivoting to vaccinations for the public, starting with Vermonters 75 and older. She said when a person with an appointment didn’t show up, health care workers threw out extra doses.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith tells VTDigger that, statewide, providers have discarded just 0.3% of doses to date.

- Matthew Smith

2. Hundreds of homeland security employees and veterans received vaccines Friday

Hundreds of veterans and Homeland Security employees received COVID-19 vaccine shots at the Champlain Valley Expo Friday.

The clinic run by the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System was first-come, first-serve.

By noon, 500 people had received a shot, including Vietnam veteran Jeff Hard of Richmond. He was there to get his second dose of the Moderna vaccine.

"I feel a lot safer, and I think it's gonna work well," he said. "So we'll see how it goes. Sometimes they say you have some side effects, but I don't know. I probably won't; we'll see."

Army veteran Anne Zetterstrom of Duxbury received her first shot of the Moderna vaccine Friday. She said the process was smooth.

"They give you your card and then they give you your shot, and then they take the card and they give you an appointment for the second shot,” Zetterstrom said. “It's kind of a good way to do it, because then you have to stay because they have your card. So, they're kind of guaranteeing the 15 minutes you have to have after your shot is done."

All follow-up shots for those that received a first shot Friday are scheduled for April 2. The VA had over 1,000 doses on hand, and expected to administer all of them.

- Henry Epp

3. Outbreak at Northern State Correctional Facility grows to 138 Thursday

The Vermont Department of Corrections is working to contain a large outbreak of COVID-19 at a state prison in Newport.

As of Thursday, 128 incarcerated people and 10 staffers at Northern State Correctional Facility have tested positive for the virus. DOC says none of the inmates have symptoms.

Commissioner Jim Baker said Thursday the contact tracing is underway, but that at the time, the department still did not know how the outbreak started. He said that the effort will include a review to see if all coronavirus mitigation measures were followed.

“We have an auditing person who’s been auditing protocols over the last several months to make sure we were following protocols, so that will all be part of the contact tracing as we move forward,” Baker said.

Baker said all inmates who tested negative earlier this week were retested Thursday. As of Friday afternoon, the results of those tests had not yet been reported.

Listen to the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

4. Gov. Scott says he voted against retail cannabis in Berlin on Town Meeting Day

Gov. Phil Scott is overseeing the creation of a retail cannabis market in Vermont.

But he’d prefer not to see a pot shop in his own town of Berlin.

During his COVID-19 media briefing Friday, Scott revealed that he voted against a Town Meeting Day ballot measure on whether to allow retail cannabis outlets in Berlin.

“If I had a choice of locating a vape shop in Berlin, I would feel the same,” Scott said. “It’s just my personal choice.”

Scott was in the minority on that vote. The measure passed in Berlin by a vote of 400 to 375.

Residents of nearly 20 other Vermont towns also voted to approve retail cannabis stores in their communities.

- Peter Hirschfeld

5. Sen. Leahy says he'll support efforts to raise the federal minimum wage as part of new COVID stimulus bill

Leahy says he's disappointed Senate Republican leaders have turned the passage of a big COVID stimulus package into a partisan debate.

The Senate is expected to pass the bill in the next few days after considering hundreds of amendments.

Leahy says recent polls show a large number of Republicans across the country support the $1.9 trillion spending plan.

But he notes virtually all members of the Senate Republican caucus plan to vote against it.

"I wish those who are opposed to it would go in their own towns and talk to people who are wondering when are our children going back to school,” Leahy said. “We've got to react fast now, or it will be a decade or more before our country comes back together.”

A House plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $15-a-hour over a four-year period has been removed from the Senate bill.

The Senate Parliamentarian has ruled the wage issue doesn't qualify for inclusion in the $1.9 trillion bill.

Leahy says he'll back an effort by Senator Bernie Sanders to grant an exemption in this case.

"And that's been done in the past and I think an attempt will be made to do that,” Leahy said. “I suspect it will not pass, but I support Sen. Sanders on the $15 [federal minimum wage]. If we don't have it here, then we're just going to have to find something else.”

The Senate is expected to consider at least 100 amendments to the COVID stimulus bill in the next few days.

Current bill would mean $1.25 billion for Vermont

Sen. Leahy says Vermont is set to receive an additional $400 million in COVID stimulus money under a bill being considered by the Senate.

Under legislation that passed the House late last month, Vermont was expected to receive roughly $850 million in COVID recovery funds.

Leahy, who chairs the Senate Appropriations committee, was able to boost this figure to $1.25 billion by attaching a "small state" minimum requirement to the bill.

“We said before it came up we wanted to add more money and we have done that,” Leahy said. “We set aside $100 million specifically for Vermont to be able to spend on infrastructure like broadband.”

The Senate legislation must still be approved by the House.

Leahy hopes for a return to normalcy

Sen. Patrick Leahy says the Capitol Building in Washington looks "like a war zone" because of all the security measures put into place following the attack on the Capitol in early January.

Right now, Leahy says anyone coming to the Capitol, including lawmakers, must pass through three sets of check points surrounded by huge wire fences.

Leahy hopes that some of these measures can be relaxed in the coming months to give people greater access to House and Senate.

“Having these fences topped with barbed wire surrounding the Capitol at a cost of millions of dollars a week – there's got to be some change in that,” Leahy said.

As the President Pro Tem of the Senate, Leahy has his own security team with him at all times.

Leahy says he's disappointed Senate Republican leaders have turned the passage of a big COVID stimulus package into a partisan debate.

The Senate is expected to pass the bill in the next few days after considering hundreds of amendments.

Leahy says recent polls show a large number of Republicans across the country support the $1.9 trillion spending plan.

But he notes virtually all members of the Senate Republican caucus plan to vote against it.

"I wish those who are opposed to it would go in their own towns and talk to people who are wondering when are our children going back to school,” Leahy said. “We've got to react fast now, or it will be a decade or more before our country comes back together.”

A House plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $15-a-hour over a 4-year period has been removed from the Senate bill.

The Senate Parliamentarian has ruled the wage issue doesn't qualify for inclusion in the $1.9 trillion bill.

Leahy says he'll back an effort by Senator Bernie Sanders to grant an exemption in this case.

"And that's been done in the past and I think an attempt will be made to do that,” Leahy said. “I suspect it will not pass, but I support Sen. Sanders on the $15 [federal minimum wage]. If we don't have it here, then we're just going to have to find something else.”

The Senate is expected to consider at least 100 amendments to the COVID stimulus bill in the next few days.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Bob Kinzel

6. Northeast Kingdom citizens group calls for Memphremagog to be declared a 'lake in crisis'

A citizens group in the Northeast Kingdom wants the state to formally declare Lake Memphremagog a "lake in crisis" because of ongoing pollution issues.

The group has fought the expansion of the Casella landfill in Coventry, in part because leachate from the landfill contains toxic PFAS, chemicals that have shown up in the lake.

Peggy Stevens is with the citizens group called Don't Undermine Memphremagog's Purity. She says the "lake in crisis" designation would bring additional state funding for research and possible clean-up measures.

“It seems like such a positive step that we can take towards trying to figure out what is wrong, so we can fix it,” Stevens said. “We don't want to sit around and go 'woe is me, oh this is terrible.' We want action to move forward.”

Most of Lake Memphremagog lies north of the Quebec border and 175,000 people in Canada draw their drinking water from the lake. Stevens and other activists say pollution from the U.S. side has threatened that drinking water resource. 

- John Dillon

7. Vermont NAACP branches launch Bright Leadership Institute

The new head of one of Vermont's NAACP branches says she's watched three other Black women leave their leadership posts because of harassment and threats, but she's heartened by the success of candidates of color at Town Meeting Day this week.

President of the Rutland-area NAACP Mia Schultz says she's fought against racism on behalf of herself and her children since moving to Vermont six years ago.

Since 2018, at least three Black women leaders – at the state, town board, and nonprofit leadership level – have left their roles in response to persistent harassment and sometimes violent threats.

This week, at least three Black women won seats on town and school boards. Two others lost their bids in their communities.

To help future Black candidates and other people of color run for office, the state’s two NAACP branches announced the Bright Leadership Institute last month, supported by a $100,000 grant.

- Matthew Smith

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