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News Roundup: Vermonters 60 And Up Eligible For Vaccines Thursday

A door reading National Guard has a sign in its window promoting healthy preventative practices around COVID-19.
Kari Anderson
A sign on the door to the Winooski Armory asks those who enter to wear a mask, offers pointers about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The armory was the site of a recent COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Tuesday, March 23.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 89 new COVID-19 cases

Vermont health officials reported 89 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, and one additional virus-related death.

To date, 220 Vermonters have died due to the pandemic.

Most of today's cases were in Chittenden County, with 21 infections, and Orleans County, with 14.

Currently, five people are in intensive care among the 27 people hospitalized statewide due to the virus.

The state's inoculation dashboard shows nearly a full third of adult Vermonters – just shy of 33% – have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

Bars, clubs can reopen Wednesday

Starting tomorrow, Wed., March 24, Vermont's bars and social clubs will get the green light to reopen.

Closed since November, state health officials are moving bars and clubs like American Legions and VFWs under the state’s restaurant guidance.

That means they'll reopen Wednesday with the same restrictions restaurants currently follow, like operating at 50% capacity, and requiring tables have no more than six people.

Keeping a 6-foot distance and masking will continue to be required.

Health officials say towns can also implement their own, more restrictive rules for bars in their jurisdictions.

- Matthew Smith

B117 variant detected on UVM's campus

The University of Vermont saw a spike in new COVID-19 infections over the last week, including the first confirmed cases of a more contagious variant of the virus.

The school's latest testing found 69 new cases among off-campus students. Another 24 infections were among students living on campus. Two staffers also tested positive.

The university also reports 4 of 5 random samples from UVM tested positive for the B117 mutation of the virus, a variant first found in the United Kingdom that spreads more rapidly and may bring more severe symptoms.

UVM says the numbers show it's "vitally important" to adhere to virus precautions as vaccines make their way to more Vermonters.

- Matthew Smith

CVS pharmacies are now offering COVID-19 vaccines

CVS pharmacies are offering coronavirus vaccines at some Vermont locations.

The pharmacy chain has opened more appointments at locations in Barre, Bennington and Morrisville.

CVS says it's following state eligibility rules for the shots, meaning as of today, Vermonters 65 and older are eligible, as well as K-12 teachers, school staff and child care workers.

Those eligible for a shot have to register through the CVS web site or the smartphone app. Walk-in vaccinations will not be provided.

The company says it'll expand vaccinations to more store locations as more supplies become available.

- Matthew Smith

Additional COVID-19 cases reported Monday at Northern State Correctional Facility

The Vermont Department of Corrections is reporting three more cases of COVID-19 at the Northern State Correctional Facility.

The Newport prison has been hit hard by a coronavirus outbreak over the past several weeks. More than 175 incarcerated individuals and 19 staff have tested positive at the facility.

The agency reports 145 inmates have been cleared to leave medical isolation. That means they are no longer considered COVID positive or are experiencing symptoms.

Currently, there are 33 positive incarcerated individuals and three positive staff cases.

The prison remains on full lockdown.

- Brittany Patterson

2. Vermont Legislature eyes a week of big legislative decisions

In what's expected to be a busy week for the Vermont Senate, lawmakers are scheduled to take up a number of controversial bills.

One proposal increases the maximum state unemployment benefit by roughly $100 per week and freezes the tax rate paid by businesses.

Some members of the business community argue that the increase will eventually cost them tens-of-millions of dollars annually, and that higher benefits could discourage some people from working.

The Senate will also consider a major cannabis bill that establishes the powers and responsibilities of the newly created state Cannabis Board.

The bill also includes a social equity provision that addresses the needs of smaller growers who have been disproportionately affected by the prohibition of cannabis.

The Senate will also consider legislation to expand the school breakfast and lunch program to include all students regardless of family income. And it encourages schools source food locally.

Vermont House weighs big bills on broadband, sexual assault and more

It's expected to be a busy week for members of the Vermont House. Lawmakers will consider bills on a number of key issues including how to expand high-speed internet service.

Broadband access is one of the biggest issues of the session, and a solution has long eluded lawmakers, but they now have several-hundred-million dollars in federal stimulus recovery money to tap into.

The bill in the House creates a new state Broadband Authority that will make grants and loans available to local groups known as Communications Union Districts.

Questions remain about the best technology to achieve statewide service and the role of private sector companies in this expansion.

The House will also consider a bill to expand eligibility for child care services and increase work force training initiatives.

Lawmakers are scheduled to vote on a bill that strengthens Vermont's sexual assault laws.

- Bob Kinzel

3. Vermonters using SNAP will receive additional six months of pandemic benefits

Vermonters who receive SNAP benefits will get an extra six months of additional food assistance, thanks to the recently passed COVID relief bill.

In January, individuals in Vermont received an extra 15% for the federal program formerly known as food stamps.

That money was set to run out in March, but will now run through September, according to the Department for Children and Families.

USDA, which runs the federal food program, says there was about $3.5 billion dollars for SNAP benefits in President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

A recent UVM study found that about a third of Vermont households were food insecure during the pandemic.

Looking for food assistance? You can find resources here.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

4. Lost cold war ice core reveals Greenland's ice free past

A new study led by researchers at the University of Vermont is shedding light on the ancient history of Greenland’s ice sheet.

Researchers were surprised to find plant fossils while analyzing sediment from the bottom of a Cold War-era ice core extracted from a secret military base.

The scientists say the fossils indicate that, in the last million years, the Greenland ice sheet disappeared and plants covered the territory.

UVM geology professor Paul Bierman says that’s important because it shows the ice sheet melted away without human influence. But today, human-caused climate change is warming the planet.

"We are headed into this uncharted territory right now, warming our planet,” Bierman said. “And our best analogs for how the planet might behave are how it behaved in the past. And this gives us an analog for what the planet did in the past when it warmed up.”

If the ice sheet melts, it could unleash 20 feet of sea level rise, destroying cities like Boston and New York.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Brittany Patterson

5. Sanders calls on Democrats to push $2 trillion infrastructure bill forward

Sen. Bernie Sanders says the next big challenge facing Congress is the passage of a massive public infrastructure bill and he says Democrats should push the bill through even if it doesn't have any Republican support.

The legislation is expected to cost at least $2 trillion over the next 10 years.

Sanders said the bill is an investment in the future of this country and will also help create a lot of new jobs.

"Everybody in Vermont knows that our roads and our bridges, our water systems, our waste water plants, need an enormous amount of work and God knows we're going to have to transform our energy systems away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy if we're going to effectively combat climate change,” Sanders said.

There are still questions about how to pay for the bill. A combination of sources including raising income taxes on wealthy people, imposing higher corporate tax levels and boosting transportation related fees are all being considered.

- Bob Kinzel

Correction 3/23/21 5:20 p.m.: A previous version of the news item about COVID-19 cases at UVM switched the case counts for positive students living on and off campus.

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