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News Roundup: Vermont Department of Health Reports 173 New COVID-19 Cases

A white, spray-painted heart on concrete sidewalk, with a message written in light blue reading wash your hands.
Brittany Patterson
/
VPR
In Burlington, a spray-painted message on the sidewalk reminds passersby to wash their hands.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Thursday, March 25.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 173 new COVID-19 cases

There are 173 new COVID-19 infections across Vermont Thursday, a sharp uptick in the daily case count after the state tallied 18,000 total infections yesterday.

One more virus-related death was also reported, bringing the total to 223.

Most of the new cases – 67 in all – were in Chittenden County. Rutland County had 27 new infections, while both Caledonia and Orleans Counties had 18.

Currently, there are 25 Vermonters hospitalized due to the virus. Six are in intensive care.

Around one-third of adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

Norwich students receive vaccines through federal alottment

More than 200 coronavirus vaccines were administered at Norwich University in Northfield on Tuesday.

NBC5 reports the vaccination clinic at the country's oldest private military college offered doses to some of the youngest and healthiest people yet.

That's because the doses came from the U.S. Department of Defense supply and not from the supply the state Health Department or pharmacies receive.

That distinction means Norwich students preparing for careers in the military qualified for a shot at Tuesday's clinic.

- Matthew Smith

Four more COVID-19 variants identified in Montreal

Montreal has found more COVID-19 variants among the outbreaks in the city.

The Montreal Gazette reports the city has reported more than 460 cases determined to be so-called "variants of concern."

The vast majority of the cases were the B117 mutation first found in the UK, but the city has also found one case of the B1351 variant emerging in South Africa, one case of the P1 mutation from Brazil, and two infections of the B1525 variant that arose in Nigeria.

Most of the variants are found among outbreaks in workplaces, child care centers, and schools.

City health officials say the variants made up about 20% of new COVID-19 cases last week. It was as high as one in every four cases in some neighborhoods.

- Matthew Smith

Amtrak service could return within the next few months

Amtrak officials say passenger rail service could be back on track in Vermont within the next few months.

Two trains serve Vermont: The Vermonter, which runs from Washington, D.C., up the eastern side of the state before crossing to the west and ending in St. Albans. There's also the Ethan Allen Express, which travels between Rutland and New York City.

Both trains were suspended last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesperson for the Vermont Agency of Transportation tells The St. Albans Messenger that talks to restart rail service are underway with an announcement possible in "the next several weeks."

- Matthew Smith

Two new COVID-19 infections identified at Newport state prison

There are two new COVID-19 infections at the state prison in Newport.

Corrections officials report both of the new cases are among staff at Northern State Correctional Facility. No new infections were found among the incarcerated.

The facility has been grappling with an outbreak since late February that's so far been linked with more than 200 cases, including 178 inmates and 24 staffers.

More than 150 incarcerated individuals as the prison have been medically cleared to leave isolation.

Staff and inmates are being tested again Thursday.

- Matthew Smith

2. Vermonters 60 and older eligible for vaccine appointments Thursday

Vermonters who are 60 and older can start booking an appointment Thursday to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Appointments open at 8:15 this morning online at healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine.

They can also be booked through participating pharmacies on the websites of Kinney Drugs, CVS and Walgreens.

State health officials say there are enough slots at sites throughout Vermont for everyone who is eligible.

To date, more than a third of adult Vermonters 16 or older have started their vaccination.

The next age band – Vermonters 50 or older – become eligible for vaccinations starting Monday.

- Matthew Smith

3. Superintendents raise alarm over legislation that would provide free meals to all Vt. students

Superintendents across Vermont are sounding the alarm over legislation that would require school districts to provide free meals to all students, regardless of income.

Libby Bonesteel is the superintendent of the Montpelier Roxbury School District.

She says the cost of educating students is already outpacing annual budget increases.

“And so now you’re adding another enormous increase that we don’t have any control over,” Bonesteel said.

She says complying with the free meals mandate would likely force her district to cut other school programs.

The universal free meals program carries an estimated price tag of between $25 million and $40 million per year.

The Vermont Superintendents Association says if lawmakers want a universal meals program, then the state should cover the costs, not local school districts.

- Peter Hirschfeld

4. Vt. Legislature proposes $16 million in funds to build secure mental health care facility

The Legislature wants to spend $16 million to build a new, secure facility for patients in state custody who need mental health care.

The new building would be constructed at the site of the now-closed Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Colchester.

Springfield Representative Alice Emmons chairs the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions. She says the new facility is needed to replace temporary trailers in Middlesex.

“At any point, the current trailers have about seven beds, and they are constantly full,” Emmons said. “And at any point in time, we have within the state hospital anywhere from five, to eight, 10 people that would qualify for the secure residential but they can't move down to that level because there aren't any beds.”

Emmons said this year's capital bill would appropriate $11.6 million for the project. That will be added to $4.5 million allocated earlier.

- John Dillon

5. Vt. Senate advances legislation to tax and regulate cannabis

The Vermont Senate has advanced legislation that's designed to keep the state on track to implement a tax and regulate marijuana retail system by the fall of next year.

The bill establishes the regulatory structure for a three-member state Cannabis Board. The board will set fees for growers and oversee commercial advertising.

But some Democratic lawmakers are concerned that the timeline for Vermont's retail marijuana program could be delayed because the governor hasn't yet named the board members.

Chittenden Sen. Chris Pearson said the board needed greater flexibility in establishing fees without immediate legislative approval.

“The Senate has asked for this law to be in place and up and running for several years now and the prospect of losing an extra year is not something that we need to tolerate,” Pearson said.

The bill also includes social equity grants for small growers who "have been disproportionately affected by the prohibition of marijuana."

- Bob Kinzel

6. Activists decry silence by Vt. media, political leaders over murders of Asian women in Atlanta

An activist group has sent an open letter calling out Vermont leaders, media and community members for their silence after a white man killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, in Atlanta last week.

Steph Yu is with the group Vermont Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi Americans for Black Lives. She told Vermont Edition Wednesday that discrimination and hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans are happening in Vermont, but they're being ignored.

“The acknowledgement is the bare minimum of what we're talking about,” Yu said. “[We’re] sort of waiting for leaders to weigh in and seeing it happen with leaders from other places and just wondering at the silence.”

The letter calls for elected leaders like Gov. Phil Scott and Vermont's congressional delegation to publicly denounce the attacks against the Asian American community and support for multiple bills pending in the Vermont Statehouse.

Listen to the full conversation and read the full letter.

- Emily Aiken

7. Vermont House advances bill that would expand access to affordable child care statewide

The Vermont House has given its overwhelming support to legislation that expands access to affordable child care throughout the state.

The bill allocates nearly $10 million in state and federal funds to significantly increase income eligibility caps for state subsidies, boost salaries for child care workers, and upgrade the state's child care IT system.

Shelburne Representative Jessica Brumsted said the bill is needed because 60% of all children under 6 in Vermont don't have access to the child care services they need.

"If Vermont wants to meet the needs of our children, families, communities and our businesses, strengthening our child care system is one of the best investments we can make for long-term transformative change,” Brumsted said.

The legislation now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

- Bob Kinzel

8. Vermont House to debate big budget bill this week

Vermont lawmakers have sketched out future spending plans using a massive infusion of new COVID-19 relief funds.

Montpelier Democrat Mary Hooper chairs the House Appropriations Committee. She says the new federal funds will be invested in clean water projects, broadband build-out and workforce training, among other priorities.

“Anticipating that there were going to going to be significant, you know, this billion dollars, on the order of a billion dollars coming into the state, we said: ‘Here's the construct for how we think it should be spent,’” Hooper said.

The budget will be debated in the House later this week. The spending plan also includes a $77 million boost for higher education, including the troubled state college system.

- John Dillon

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