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News Roundup: Newport Prison Outbreak Grows To More Than 150 COVID-19 Cases

A prison fence topped with barbed wire against a blue sky.
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State officials announced Thursday that 10 new cases of COVID-19 have been identified among staff and incarcerated individuals at a state prison in Newport.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Thursday, March 11.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. 10 additional COVID-19 cases now affiliated with Newport prison outbreak

The coronavirus outbreak at the state prison in Newport is still growing. The Vermont Department of Corrections reported 10 more cases Thursday. More than 150 cases are now associated with the outbreak.

Nine of the new cases were among people held at Northern State Correctional Facility. Another staffer also tested positive.

A total of 143 incarcerated individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 since late-February. In total, 13 staffers have also been infected.

The department of corrections says despite the new cases, the spread is slowing. The department expects to allow 106 people out of medical isolation on Friday. 

- Liam Elder-Connors

State officials report 128 new COVID-19 cases Thursday

128 more Vermonters have been infected by the coronavirus, according to the Health Department.

Of the new cases, 37 are in Chittenden County and 18 are in Orleans County, where an outbreak continues at the state prison in Newport.

No additional deaths were reported today. To date, 211 people have died from complications due to COVID-19.

Nearly a quarter of Vermonters over 16 have received at least one vaccine dose. About 13% are fully vaccinated.

- Henry Epp

Vermonters 16 and older with select conditions are now eligible for vaccins

As of Thursday morning, the state of Vermont had expanded COVID-19 vaccine access to include young Vermonters with high-risk health conditions.

Now Vermonters aged 16 or older with specific health risks can book an appointment for a COVID-19 shot.

Information on eligibility, and appointments, can be found online at healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine.

Vermonters don't need a doctor's note, or proof of a health condition, to sign up. But health officials say they may ask those who sign up for information about the health care provider they see for their health condition.

School and child care staff, public safety workers and people 65 and older are also eligible for a vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

More from VPR: Frequently Asked Questions (And Answers) About The COVID-19 Vaccine In Vermont

Newport business owner cited for violating mask mandate argues it is unconstitutional

A Newport business owner is in court arguing that Vermont's mask mandate is unconstitutional.

Andre Desautels ran a UPS store in Newport. He's being sued by the state after he refused to enforce the mask mandate in his store.

Desautels' refusal to enforce the mask mandate led to UPS pulling the store's franchise deal. It's now run as Derby Port Press.

A lawyer for the state said at a hearing Tuesday that Desautels admits he hasn't worn a mask since the governor issued the emergency order, and he has no intention to do so.

Desautels' attorney argued the state has failed to prove there's any basis for the continued wearing of masks. A ruling is expected soon.

- The Associated Press

Quebec is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases affiliated with new variants

Quebec is seeing a surge in multiple COVID-19 variants, amid a province-wide uptick in cases and hospitalizations.

The Montreal Gazette reports health officials confirmed Wednesday the first case of the P1 mutation that's swept through Brazil.

They've also confirmed nearly 100 cases of the B1351 strain first identified in South Africa.

That's in addition to many cases of the B117 variant from the UK that's been in the province for more than a month.

Montreal public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin urged continued vigilance to prevent the variants from spreading throughout Quebec.

- Matthew Smith

2. Congress passes $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package Wednesday

Congress has given its final approval to a $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package, and Sen. Bernie Sanders says the bill does more for working class families than any other piece of legislation in his 30-year career in Washington.

The bill sends direct payments of $1,400 to most people, extends unemployment benefits, includes a 15% increase in food programs and significantly expands the child care tax credit program.

Sanders said the bill is designed to cut child poverty rates by 50%.

"To my mind, this is the most significant piece of legislation passed by Congress in decades to benefit working people, who are really today struggling in Vermont and around this country, throughout this pandemic,” Sanders said.

President Biden is expected to sign the bill soon.

Congressman Peter Welch said the legislation includes a provision that could help lift thousands of Vermont children out of poverty.

Monthly payments for families with children

The legislation will send eligible families $300 per month for children who are six or younger, and $275 per month a month for each child between the ages of 7 and 17.

Welch says this change will have an enormous impact on single-parent households headed by women.

“In effect, it's like a social security program that focuses on child poverty and families and I think that it could be one of the most durable changes that will have occurred as a result of this relief package,” Welch said.

Welch says that families of more than 100,000 kids in Vermont will be eligible for the program.

Additional funding for community health centers

Community Health Centers in Vermont, and across the country, will receive a significant increase in funding as part of the new COVID-19 stimulus bill that's now won final approval in Congress.

There are about a dozen centers in Vermont, and many have several satellite offices.

They provide health care services to roughly 25% of all Vermonters.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, has long been a strong advocate for the program.

He says the new legislation will double federal spending for the centers.

“It means that they'll be able to expand and improve access for people to get health care that they need in their communities and that means primary care, dental care,” Sanders said.

Sanders noted the centers also provide critical mental health services.

New bill will fund vaccine production, bring more than $1 billion to Vermont

Congressman Peter Welch says the newly passed COVID economic stimulus package will target more than $60 billion for the production and distribution of vaccines.

The bill won final approval in the House Wednesday, largely on a party line vote.

The $1.9 trillion plan allocates more than $1 billion to the state of Vermont and local communities.

Welch says the bill also focuses on vaccination programs – a step he says is needed to boost the economy.

"There's an immense amount of opinion from economists that we can then be in a self-sustaining recovery, as people are able to go back to work and start spending  money that they've saved,” Welch said.

President Biden is expected to sign the bill by the end of the week.

- Bob Kinzel

3. Environmental court judge orders owner of Slate Ridge to pay fines of $46,000, comply with zoning ordinances

An environmental court judge says the owner of Slate Ridge must dismantle buildings that house a military-style training center in Pawlet and pay fines of $46,000 dollars.

In a ruling last Friday, the judge said Slate Ridge owner Daniel Banyai must begin the process of taking down unpermitted buildings, or face further fines.

Merrill Bent, the lawyer for the town of Pawlet, says it's now up to Banyai to comply.

“The onus is no longer on the town to ensure compliance, the onus is on Mr. Banyai to prove compliance with the court's order,” Bent said.

Banyai could still appeal the ruling, but as of Wednesday, he had not done so. Reached by phone, Banyai declined to comment on the ruling.

Listen to the full story.

- Henry Epp

4. New mayor of Vergennes hopes to move Vermont's smallest city forward

The new mayor of Vergennes says he’s hopeful the state’s smallest city can put the political turmoil of the last three years firmly in the past.  Disagreements over the police budget and civilian oversight of the department led to the resignation of the city's mayor and several members of the city council last year.

Former city councilor and city manager Mathew Chabot was elected Vergennes’ top official on Town Meeting Day.

“We have a storied history in Vergennes, but we have also invited and welcomed a lot of new voices,” Chabot said this week. “They have a different perspective than we may have been living under previously. So, my objective is to ensure that everybody has a seat at the table and that their voices are heard.”

Chabot says the current city council, which includes a veteran city manager as well as new members, is well-positioned to help the city move forward.

Listen to the full story.

- Matthew Smith

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