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News Roundup: Vermont Reports 113 New COVID-19 Cases

A lone Nordic skier traverses a pasture on a groomed trail, between scattered trees on a bluebird day.
Sarah Priestap
/
For VPR
A skier enjoys the groomed trails and a bluebird skiing day at the Woodstock Nordic Center in Woodstock in late February.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Monday, March 8.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. Vermont Department of Health reports 113 new COVID-19 cases Monday

Vermont health officials reported 113 new COVID-19 infections Monday, on top of 242 cases over the weekend.

Vermont has now passed 16,000 positive COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began just one year ago. More than 13,000 people have recovered, and 208 Vermonters have died.

There are 27 people hospitalized with COVID-19 today, including seven people in the ICU.

Just over one-fifth of Vermonters aged 16 and older have received at least one vaccine dose.

- Matthew Smith and Anna Van Dine

New round of vaccination eligibility opens Monday

Starting Monday, Vermonters with specific high-risk medical conditions who are aged 55 and older can sign up for COVID-19 vaccine.

Those conditions include cancer, kidney disease, COPD, diabetes and other specific afflictions.

State officials say Vermonter's won’t need a doctor’s note or proof of a health condition to sign up. But the health department says it may use information provided to confirm eligibility.

Teachers and child care providers are also eligible for vaccinations this week. Health officials say staff will get information on how and when they can get vaccinated directly from their employer.

Details on who's eligible – and links to sign up for a shot – are online.

- Matthew Smith

As some states ease mask mandates and closures, Gov. Scott says Vermont will move cautiously

The governors of Texas and Mississippi may have lifted their mask mandates this week. But Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine says Vermonters should keep wearing theirs.

Levine says he sympathizes with the desire to return to normal.

“But we only need to look back to last spring when premature actions by many states across the country to open up led to a steep increase in cases and then deaths, and having to roll back those policies,” Levine said Friday.

Texas and Mississippi have also lifted all capacity limits on restaurants, bars and other businesses.

Gov. Phil Scott said Friday that he plans to announce a more modest relaxation of COVID guidelines for Vermont businesses in the coming weeks.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Quebec eases COVID-19 restrictions, curfews

Restaurants and other businesses across Quebec are preparing to open up Monday, as public health measure across the province are eased.

CBC Montreal reports all regions outside the greater Montreal area are now "orange zones," meaning a later 9:30 p.m. curfew and allowances for indoor fitness centers and dine-in restaurants.

The province reported just over 700 new COVID cases Sunday and seven deaths. Hospitalizations in the province have dropped to the lowest level since mid-November.

Quebec has now see nearly 300,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 10,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

- Matthew Smith

2. Vaccine clinics open for school employees this week

Teachers and other school staff in Vermont will begin receiving their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine this week.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said Friday his agency had arranged for vaccine clinics in seven districts starting Monday.

“Details are being finalized for at least 28 additional clinics in the next few weeks,” Smith said Friday. “As I mentioned earlier this week, we are starting small to ensure we have the right capacity and participants to maximize efficiency.”

Smith says the state aims to have all 35,000 school staff members in Vermont vaccinated by the middle of April.

A survey of school staff conducted this week indicated that more than 90% of school staff plan to get vaccinated.

More than 90% of teachers, school staff surveyed plan to accept a COVID-19 vaccine

A survey of teachers and other staff in Vermont schools suggests that the vast majority plan to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Secretary of Education Dan French says of the 15,000 school staff his agency surveyed, more than 90% said they want to get the shot.

“We’re working with each individual district, independent school and childcare provider to obtain specific headcount information and to schedule the vaccination clinics,” French said Friday.

Gov. Phil Scott announced earlier this week that teachers and other school staff are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Scott said Friday the decision was part of his effort to expedite the return to fulltime, in-person instruction in Vermont schools.

Gov. Scott says Vermont will return to age-based system for vaccine priority after school staff and correctional officers receive vaccines

Gov. Phil Scott indicated Friday that school staff, correctional officers and public safety officials will be the last professions to receive priority status for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Scott said that once those workers have been immunized, his administration will likely return to an age-based system.

“And it’s my hope – and we’ll do this, we’ll make this decision as a team – that we go back to the age banding just as soon as we finish with the education system,” Scott said.

Scott has come under fire for refusing to grant priority status to frontline workers at essential retail businesses.

But he says the age-based system will be the most effective at reducing severe illness and death.

- Peter Hirschfeld

3. Health Commissioner renews calls for Vermonters to get tested for COVID-19

Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine is renewing his call for Vermonters to get tested for COVID-19.

Levine says the number of residents seeking tests has fallen during winter.

“Testing continues to be critical to people staying healthy and to stop community spread of the virus and the outbreaks we continue to see,” Levine said.

Levine said the state is opening up a new testing site in Stowe, due to a recent spike in cases there.

Levine said the state is also increasing testing capacity in Burlington, where waste water samples have detected traces of a COVID-19 variant.

- Peter Hirschfeld

4. Scott administration says Vt. schools are looking at new options for in-person learning heading into spring

Secretary of Education Dan French says Vermont schools are looking for new ways to conduct in-person learning, while still adhering to COVID-19 mitigation guidelines.

French says the arrival of spring will boost those efforts.

“As the weather gets warmer and conditions for the transmission of the virus improve in our communities, new opportunities will emerge for creative solutions to challenges such as distancing requirements,” French said.

He added that some districts are sending teachers and students to other buildings in their communities, to reduce density levels in classrooms.

French says virtual learning has taken a toll on the social and emotional health of Vermont students.

The Scott administration wants all districts to return to full-time in-person leaning by April.

- Peter Hirschfeld

5. Judge rules Daniel Banyai must close Pawlet weapons training facility

An environmental court judge has ruled that Daniel Banyai must permanently close his weapons training facility in Pawlet known as Slate Ridge, and pay the town more than $46,000 in fines.

Neighbors have been calling for action since Banyai opened the facility on 30 acres of property in 2017.

In a 22-page ruling issued Friday, Judge Thomas Durkin pointed to what he described as Banyai’s horrendous record of compliance with local zoning laws.

Durkin ordered Banyai to have his property surveyed – and stated that any buildings and structures not authorized will have to be removed.

- Nina Keck

6. Scott doesn't want to use stimulus money for ongoing state programs

Gov. Phil Scott says that he continues to oppose any effort to use new federal stimulus money to fund ongoing state programs.

The Senate passed the bill Saturday, and under the plan, Vermont could get as much as $1.25 billion in additional funds.

Much of the money is targeted at upgrading broadband infrastructure, providing grants for rural hospitals, and expanding the production and distribution of vaccines.

Scott is insisting that the new money be used only for these types of one time projects.

"I would resist building a program based on any additional money coming into the state," Scott said. "It should be looked at as one-time investments whether its in water, storm or sewer or broadband or any mitigation due to cimate change."

Scott is also calling on Congress to give states as much flexibility as possible when using this new money.

- Bob Kinzel

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