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News Roundup: Weathersfield's Tenney Tree, Which Symbolized Resistance To Change, Comes Down

A group of people with hard hats use chainsaws to disassemble a large maple tree, lying on its side, with a wide stump in the foreground and a row of trees behind it.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
VPR
In Weathersfield on Wednesday, a team took down an old maple tree, the last artifact left on the land formerly owned by farmer Romaine Tenney.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Wednesday, March 17.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 53 new COVID-19 cases

Vermont health officials reported 2 new coronavirus-linked deaths and 52 new infections on Wednesday.

The new fatalities mean 217 Vermonters have now died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Currently, 24 people are hospitalized with the disease, including three in intensive care.

When it comes to vaccinating Vermonters, the state reports about 28% of adults have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

State officials have confirmed at least five cases of B117 variant in Vermont

Public health officials have now confirmed at least five cases of a COVID-19 variant in Vermont.

But Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine says the mutation is likely far more prevalent than those numbers suggest.

“Everyone has been saying that by the end of March, it may be the dominant strain in our country, so this is just the tip of the iceberg we’re seeing,” Levine said.

The new strain of COVID identified in Vermont is known as the B117 UK variant.

Levine says it's is more contagious than the original coronavirus.

But he says it does not carry a significantly higher risk of serious illness of death.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Median age of those contracting COVID-19 is dropping

The median age of Vermonters who contract COVID-19 has dropped sharply over the past three months.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says at the end of November, the median age of a new COVID case was 44-years-old.

He says the median age of new cases this week was 32.

“With these indicators still trending favorably, our most important metric – the number of deaths in Vermont – is anticipated to continue to improve,” Pieciak said Tuesday.

More than 80% of Vermonters age 65 and over have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pieciak says immunization of older residents has protected people at highest risk of dying from the disease.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Veterans of all ages now eligible for vaccines

Any veteran who gets healthcare through the VA can now register to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

The White River Junction VA Healthcare System announced Tuesday that enrolled veterans of all ages can now schedule an appointment.

The VA says the change is due to the agency having both access to more vaccines, and more consistency when it comes to vaccine allocation.

To set up an appointment call 802-296-5151.

- Brittany Patterson

2. Weathersfield's Tenney Tree, which symbolized resistance to change, comes down

A maple tree in Weathersfield – the last artifact left on the land formerly owned by farmer Romaine Tenney – was cut down Wednesday morning.

Tenney took his own life nearby in 1964, rather than watch the federal government seize his property to build the Interstate.

The farmer’s great-nephew Brandon Tenney said the family is working with the town to come up with a way to remember Romaine’s life.

“You know, the tree’s coming down but at least the state’s gonna pay the town to put up a memorial, you know?” Tenney said. “It feels good and sad at the same time, you know? It’s a moment of history.”

The Agency of Transportation said the more-than-hundred-and-fifty-years-old tree, which grew near a park-and-ride, was dying, and posed a risk to the public.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

More from Vermont Edition: Interstates, Burning Farms & Eminent Domain: Remembering Romaine Tenney

3. Gov. Scott says all Vermonters will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by early May

Gov. Phil Scott says all Vermonters will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by the beginning of May.

Scott says the Biden administration told governors on Tuesday that federal allocations of the vaccine will increase significantly in the coming weeks.

“And with these assurances on supply, I’ll also be able to outline the full schedule for all remaining age bands in order to accomplish making every Vermonter over the age of 16 eligible by the end of April,” Scott said.

Scott says he’ll unveil that schedule on Friday. President Joe Biden promised last week that all Americans will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1.

Scott said while all Vermonters will be allowed to register for appointments on May 1, they may face long wait times before they actually receive the vaccine.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Older Vermonters are signing up for vaccines at rates above the national average

Older Vermonters are lining up for COVID-19 vaccines at higher rates than the national average.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak said Tuesday that more than 80% of Vermonters age 65 and over have received at least one dose of the vaccine. He said that’s 10 points higher than the national average.

“The higher these percentages go, the faster and more normal our recovery will be,” Pieciak said. “And so far, the uptake among our most vulnerable populations has been impressive.”

State health officials say they’re preparing for the possibility of more vaccine hesitancy among younger and less medically vulnerable residents.

And they say they’re preparing an educational campaign to increase vaccine acceptance.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine in Vermont? We’ve got answers.

State will begin vaccinating incarcerated people with qualifying conditions this week

The state of Vermont will begin administering COVID-19 vaccines this week to inmates with qualifying medical conditions.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith made the announcement at the governor’s COVID-19 media briefing on Tuesday.

“We anticipate completing this group of approximately 185 eligible individuals in the next two-to-three weeks,” Smith said.

Civil rights groups have blasted Gov. Phil Scott for refusing to vaccinate all of Vermont’s inmates.

An ongoing outbreak at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport has now infected more than 150 inmates.

While Scott has granted vaccine prioritization to all correctional officers, he says inmates won’t be treated any differently than the general population.

- Peter Hirschfeld

4. Contact tracing shows COVID-19 was passed between competing high school hockey teams

State health officials say a high school hockey game appears to have resulted in the transmission of COVID-19 from members of one team to another.

Secretary of Education Dan French says the incident has some districts rethinking their policies on competitions between schools.

“I know there’s a lot of instability right now in the tournaments but I don’t have specific information at the moment,” French said.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says members of the Essex High School hockey team contracted COVID-19 after playing against infected students from Missisquoi Valley Union.

Gov. Phil Scott cleared high school sports teams to resume competition last month. 

- Peter Hirschfeld

5. Vermonters who received unemployment benefits are eligible for new federal tax benefit

Vermonters who received unemployment compensation last year are now eligible for a potentially lucrative tax benefit.

Secretary of Administration Susanne Young says federal legislation approved last week exempts the first $10,200 in unemployment compensation from the federal income tax.

“This is an unprecedented retroactive exclusion and is a very valuable one, and we want to make sure taxpayers are aware and taking steps to claim the exclusion on this year’s tax return,” Young said.

Young says Vermonters can visit the IRS website for information on how to claim the exemption.

She says the Scott administration is working with the Vermont Legislature to create a similar exemption for the state income tax as well.

- Peter Hirschfeld

6. Scott Administration to update pandemic protocols for Vt. businesses

The Scott administration will soon roll out updated COVID-19 operating guidelines for businesses in Vermont.

Pandemic protocols for the manufacturing, service and retail industries have gone largely unchanged since last summer.

But Secretary of Commerce Lindsay Kurrle says the vaccine rollout will allow for some modifications.

“Our team’s been busy working with the Department of Health and the Department of Public Safety to identify how we’re going to come out of this crisis in the next few months,” Kurrle said.

Kurrle says the administration will offer more specifics on the new guidelines in the coming weeks.

Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday that he expects businesses to be back to normal by July 4.

- Peter Hirschfeld

7. Gov. Scott pushes to expand mail-in voting in Vermont

Gov. Phil Scott is one of the very few Republican governors in the country backing efforts to expand access to voting.

Many GOP governors are supporting legislation in their states to shorten early voting periods, require photo IDs at polling places, and limit same-day voter registration.

Last November, ballots were sent out to all registered voters in Vermont because of health concerns over COVID 19.

Scott wants lawmakers to make the change permanent.

"If we're going to do it for the General Election I'm wondering why not the other elections that we have. I would only ask that it get expanded in some capacity,” Scott said.

The Senate is considering a bill that would apply the new system only to future general elections.

The Senate has advanced a bill that would make the mailing out of general election ballots to all registered voters a permanent part of the state's election process.

Senate president pro tem Becca Balint strongly supports the bill.

“When we make voting more accessible more people vote – when we make voting more accessible our democracy better represents the will of the people and voting is one of the most sacred rights and responsibilities that we have,” Balint said.

Gov. Phil Scott is asking lawmakers to expand the bill even further to include the state's primary election.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Bob Kinzel

8. New stimulus package will bring $2.7 billion in relief to Vermont

The federal American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by President Joe Biden last week is expected to bring $2.7 billion to Vermont.

Much of that money will arrive in the form of stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits.

But Secretary of Administration Susanne Young says the state will get more than $1 billion for COVID recovery programs.

“There is much opportunity to be thoughtful in our approach to spending this money in a way benefits Vermont and its economy in the long run,” Young said Tuesday.

Young says the Scott administration wants to put a significant portion of the money toward broadband and other infrastructure improvement projects.

Vermont has now received a total of approximately $7.5 billion in federal relief since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

- Peter Hirschfeld

More from VPR: Pro Tem Balint Talks New Federal Relief Dollars, Pensions As Legislature Hits Halfway Mark

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