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News Roundup: Outbreak At Newport Prison Grows To Nearly 170 Cases

Barbed wire at the top of a prison fence, against a blue sky.
Leo Patrizi
An outbreak at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport has now grown to nearly 170 COVID-19 cases.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Monday, March 15. (Updated at 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday, March 16.)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. Vermont Department of Health reports 85 new COVID-19 cases

Health officials identified 85 new cases of COVID-19 in Vermont Monday.

Of the new cases, 30 are in Chittenden County, 16 are in Franklin County and 11 are in Bennington County.

In total, 29 people are hospitalized, with three in intensive care.

The positivity rate over the last week has dropped slightly – 1.3%

Over 26% of Vermonters who are 16 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

- Henry Epp

Gov. Scott rolls back some restrictions on multi-household gatherings

Gov. Phil Scott has announced some small changes to restrictions on social gatherings and restaurant rules amid the pandemic.

As of Friday, March 12, two non-vaccinated households may gather together, and that pairing doesn't have to be the same each time, as earlier restrictions required.

Additionally, restaurants may now seat six people at a table from different families, rather than just one household.

Scott also said that he believes Vermont will be able to meet or exceed President Joe Biden's pledge to make all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1.

- The Associated Press

Canada falls behind other countries in its efforts to vaccinate citizens

Canada has made slow progress with administering its COVID-19 vaccine.

North Country Public Radio reports that as of last week, Canada ranked 19th in the world in terms of the number of people vaccinated.

Just over 2.4 million Canadians had gotten at least one vaccine dose as of Sunday. That's about 6.4% of the country's roughly 38 million people.

The low vaccination rate has been blamed on difficulties in procuring doses and a lack of vaccine manufacturing facilities in the country.

As of Sunday, about 8.4% of Quebec's roughly 8.5 million residents had gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

2. As outbreak grows, Vermont NAACP chapters call on governor to vaccinate incarcerated people

Vermont's branches of the NAACP are calling on the state to vaccinate incarcerated people.

The Scott administration said last week it would not prioritize vaccinations for inmates in response to an outbreak at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, where over 150 people have tested positive for COVID-19.

In a letter Saturday, local NAACP leaders criticized the state's plan, citing data that show Vermont's high rate of incarcerated Black people, and African Americans' greater risk of death from the coronavirus.

They ask Gov. Phil Scott to "prioritize vaccinations for all incarcerated peoples in our state, especially Black and Brown Vermonters" as soon as possible.

- Anna Van Dine

Vermont Department of Corrections reports 21 new cases associated with prison outbreak

The Vermont Department of Corrections reported 21 new COVID-19 cases at its Newport prison Monday: 19 among incarcerated individuals, and two among staff.

As of Tuesday, March 16, at 12:15 p.m., DOC officials say the outbreak at Northern State Correctional Facility has now been connected to nearly 180 individuals: 165 incarcerated people and 13 staff.

The prison says 100 individuals who previously tested positive have now been medically cleared to leave isolation.

The entire facility is being tested again Monday. It's been in full lock down since February, when the outbreak began, with one staffer and 21 inmates testing positive.

- Matthew Smith

Scott Administration says it will vaccinate incarcerated people when they become eligible by age or medical conditions

The Scott Administration said Friday it will not speed up plans to give COVID vaccines to inmates, despite the outbreak at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport.

The state is vaccinating inmates according to guidelines set for the general population, which include age and medical conditions.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said that as of Friday, 37 inmates in state custody had so far received the vaccine.

“We're in the process of vaccinating, along with the various age bandings that we have done,” Smith said Friday. “And now that those with high risk conditions are going to be vaccinated, we anticipate a large number of inmates will be falling into that category.”

Smith said he didn’t have an exact number in front of him Friday, for how many inmates fell into that category.

Officials say they expect all inmates – just like all Vermonters over the age of 16 – will be eligible to sign up for a vaccine by May 1.

- John Dillon

3. Health Commissioner Mark Levine receives first COVID-19 vaccine dose Friday

As more and more Vermonters are vaccinated, they can look forward to life's simple, pre-pandemic pleasures, like visits with friends and family.

Health Commissioner Doctor Mark Levine got his first shot Friday. He counts himself among those more than ready to see and embrace family in person.

Dr. Levine said he especially looks forward to hugging his young granddaughter.

“And yes, hugging will be in order, and will be the doctor's order for all of you who follow in my footsteps,” Levine said Friday. “Like many of you, while I feel somewhat grateful for Zoom, it has not come even close to making up for missing seeing her grow from a five-month-old baby to a year-and-half [years-old] toddler.”

Levine is the point person for the Scott Administration's COVID response.

He says his own personal story is another way to show that the vaccines are safe and effective, and are a vital step to ending the pandemic.

- John Dillon

4. Essex voters set date to reconsider town merger in April

Voters in the town of Essex will vote again in April to reconsider the proposed merger with the village of Essex Junction that failed by fewer than 20 votes on Town Meeting Day.

VTDigger reports the Essex Selectboard voted unanimously to have a reconsideration vote, after a petition signed by more than 800 residents asking for another vote was delivered last week.

If the merger fails, the village of Essex Junction is considering a nonbinding proposal for a separation charter that would formally split with the town government and create an independent city of Essex Junction.

- Matthew Smith

5. State agency and regulatory panel disagree over permit to protect bats

The Fish and Wildlife Department and a state science panel are battling about legal protection for Vermont's endangered bats.

The state endangered species committee wants an insecticide spraying program in Addison and Rutland counties to get a special permit.

The permit could restrict the program to help protect five bat species that are imperiled.

The Fish and Wildlife Department opposed the move, saying the danger to bats has been overstated.

But panel member Elizabeth Thompson disputed the department's assessment of the danger to bats.

“Our job is to decide whether we think there is a risk of injury. And it seems clear from the evidence that I’ve seen that there is a risk of injury,” Thompson said.

It's now up to Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore to decide whether the permit is needed.

Read or listen to the full story.

- John Dillon

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