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News Roundup: Gov. Scott Announces Vaccination Schedule For All Adult Vermonters

A light blue sign with blue lettering reads COVID-19 Vaccine with an arrow pointing left. The sign sits in a parking lot.
Kari Anderson
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VPR
A sign directs traffic at a vaccination clinic in Winooski on March 16. On Friday, Gov. Phil Scott announced that all Vermonters over the age of 16 will be eligible for vaccine appointments by April 19.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, March 19.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 135 new COVID-19 cases

State health officials reported 135 new COVID-19 infections statewide on Friday.

The bulk of the cases – 53 in all – are in Chittenden County, which has now seen 440 new infections in just the last two weeks.

All of Vermont's counties reported at least one new infection.

Hospitalizations due to the virus are now at 22, including five people in intensive care.

To date, just over 30% of Vermont adults over the age of 16 have gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

B1429 strain detected in Franklin, Chittenden counties Thursday

Another mutation of the coronavirus has been found in Vermont.

The B1429 strain, which was first identified in California, has been found in three specimens in Franklin and Chittenden counties, according to the Health Department.

The state previously identified the B117 strain in Vermont.

In a press release, the department says the presence of the variants is not surprising, but it reinforces the need for people to follow public health guidelines, including masking, social distancing and avoiding crowds.

The department also urges anyone with symptoms to get tested.

- Henry Epp

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of US-Canada border closure

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the restrictions placed at the US-Canada border.

Since March of last year, cross-border travel has been allowed only for essential travel and crossing by essential workers.

WCAX reports it's cost the region millions in lost commerce. In 2019, the Champlain Port of Entry – one of the largest on the northern border – saw more than 342,000 vehicles cross the border. This past year the number was just 30,000, a drop of about 90%.

The Department of Homeland Security announced on Thursday the U.S. will extend border restrictions through at least April 21.

- Matthew Smith

N.H. Gov. says all adults will be eligible for vaccines within weeks

All New Hampshire adults will be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine in a matter of weeks, Gov. Chris Sununu announced Thursday.

The Granite State started its vaccinations with health care workers and older age groups. Eligibility expanded last week to include school and child care workers. New Hampshire residents 50 or older can sign up starting Monday.

Sununu says officials are still deciding how to handle college students, part-time residents and those who may have gotten their first shots in other states.

The state launched a new online registration system on Wednesday, and more than 10,000 people signed up within the first 24 hours.

- The Associated Press

2. All Vermonters 16 and older will be eligible to sign up for vaccines by April 19

Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday that all Vermonters 16 and older will able to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine by April 19.

Officials hope the state’s population will be fully vaccinated by July.

On March 25, people 60 and older can sign up for a shot. The state will continue to expand eligibility each week, by age, in 10-year increments.

Gov. Phil Scott says when a new age band opens up, those in that group will be able to get a shot within two or three weeks.

“And again, depending on which vaccine you receive, it takes a while before you’re fully vaccinated. So as a reminder, fully vaccinated means two weeks after your last dose,” Scott said at a press conference Friday.

Scott says each age group will have had the chance to get fully vaccinated within two months of becoming eligible.

“[July is] when I believe things will feel somewhat normal again. And by the way, normal to me isn’t a small cookout the backyard with a couple of friends; it’s when things will feel similar to pre-pandemic,” Scott said.

As of Friday, 30% of Vermonters aged 16 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

- Liam Elder-Connors

3. Vermont Department of Health to host two vaccine clinics for BIPOC Vermonters

Vermont’s top health official says the state is holding two coronavirus vaccine clinics specifically for residents who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of color.

Data from the state health department shows that people of color in Vermont get COVID-19 at higher rates than white people in the state.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine says the state allows BIPOC residents to get vaccinated as long as lone member of their household is eligible for the shot, under current state rules. Right now, people 65 and old and adults with certain health conditions can sign up.

“We now have 262 BIPOC Vermonters scheduled for a clinic in Burlington tomorrow, in partnership with the Racial Justice Alliance and the city of Burlington,” Levine said. “Another 100 people are scheduled for a clinic in Brattleboro next week, thanks to our partner, the NAACP.”

According to the health department, 12% of Black Vermonters have received one dose of the vaccine, compared to 29% of white residents.

- Liam Elder-Connors

4. Bars can reopen at 50% capacity on March 24

Bars and clubs will be allowed to re-open on Wednesday as long as they follow certain rules to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Phil Scott says they’ll be required to follow the same rules as restaurants. Those include operating at 50% capacity, six feet between groups and a maximum of six people per table.

“There is a caveat however. Municipalities by action of their governing body will be able to take stricter action if they so choose,” Scott said.

Scott closed bars in November after coronavirus cases began to surge.

- Liam Elder-Connors

5. Environmental advocates raise concerns about plan to sink Lake Champlain ferry

Environmental advocates are raising concerns about plans to create a new underwater diving attraction in Lake Champlain.

The state of Vermont wants to sink a decommissioned ferry to the bottom of Lake Champlain, to draw more SCUBA divers to the region.

But Lauren Sopher, with the Lake Champlain Committee, says the steel-hulled vessel could contaminate the lake.

“We are constantly learning about new contaminants and their impacts even if there are standards in place that are supposed to protect environments from them,” Sopher said.

The ship, called the Adirondack, is a century-old vessel that’s about to be retired by the Lake Champlain Transportation Company.

Misha Cetner, with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, says the ship will be stripped of toxic materials before it’s sent to the bottom of the lake.

“They want to take out all of the internal machinery, all the wiring, all the potential contaminants to water quality, to make sure that those contaminants are removed and then to make it just a safe diving site,” Cetner said.

State regulators have already issued a draft permit for the ferry proposal.

But Sopher says more Vermonters should have a chance to weigh in before the project gets its final go-ahead.

- Peter Hirschfeld

6. Vermont Senate considers bans on guns in hospitals, state capitol complex

The Vermont Senate has voted to ban guns from all hospitals in the state.

The vote was 20-9. The bill is similar to current gun bans in schools and courthouses.

Chittenden Senator Phillip Baruth said the measure is needed because there are cases when people have brandished guns in hospital emergency rooms when they've been unhappy with the care that a patient is receiving.

“The delivery of health care had to cease while personnel went and dealt with the gun in the hospital,” Baruth said.

Caledonia Senator Joe Benning said the bill wasn't needed because it unnecessarily infringes on a person's Constitutional right to have a gun.

“And I suggest there is not clear evidence here by any stretch,” Benning said.

The legislation also calls for a special study to determine if guns should be banned within the buildings that comprise Montpelier's Capitol Complex.

Bill also approves study of gun ban at the Capitol Complex

The Vermont Senate has given its approval to legislation that calls for a special study to determine if guns should be banned from the state office buildings that make up Montpelier's downtown Capitol Complex.

Chittenden senator Phillip Baruth said the state needs to be prepared in the event that acts of violence take place in or around the Statehouse.

“Now that we have seen our national capitol actually overrun, now that we have seen multiple state capitols taken over, in effect, by groups of heavily armed men wearing tactical gear and body armor,” Baruth said.

The measure is scheduled to come up for final approval in the Senate on Friday.

- Bob Kinzel

Vt. Senate advances legislation to expand mail-in voting

The Vermont Senate gave final approval Thursday to a bill that would see ballots mailed to all voters ahead of future general elections.

The Senate gave final approval by a vote of 27-3.

Secretary of State Jim Condos says that if the proposal receives final approval in the House, it would be the most significant expansion to voter access in Vermont history.

Last November, 73% of eligible voters cast ballots, a record. Roughly 3 out of every 4 votes cast was an absentee ballot.

- The Associated Press

More from Vermont Edition: New Bill Would Make Mail-In Voting Permanent In Vt. What Does That Mean?

7. Vermont House advances bill that would make it easier to try hate crimes

The Vermont House has given its final approval to a bill that's designed to make it easier for prosecutors to bring hate crime charges when they feel it's appropriate.

The bill was adopted on a strong voice vote.

Under current law, prosecutors must prove malicious intent in order to impose the additional penalties that are included in the state's hate crime statute.

Hartford Representative Kevin Christie told his colleagues that the proposal follows an approach taken by a number of other northeastern states.

“This change removes an element that the prosecution would need to be prove to establish a conviction under the statute,” Christie said.

The legislation now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

- Bob Kinzel

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