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News Roundup: Vermont Officials Report 137 New COVID Cases

A metal sap bucket hangs on a maple tree along a dirt road in Charlotte on a bluebird day.
Jane Lindholm
/
VPR
In Charlotte, sap buckets hung on maple trees by mid-March.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Monday, March 29.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 137 new COVID-19 cases

Vermont has passed 19,000 coronavirus infections. State health officials reported 137 new cases Monday after a weekend with more than 300 new cases.

That means it took just one week for the state to add its most recent thousand cases.

Another person also died over the weekend, bringing the state's total to 225.

The bulk of the latest infections are in Chittenden County, where nearly 700 new cases have been detected in the last two weeks. A total of 25 people were hospitalized Monday, with four in the ICU.

To date, more than 35% of Vermont adults 16 or older are fully or partially vaccinated.

- Matthew Smith

Vaccination clinics for BIPOC Vermonters next two weekends

The Rutland Area NAACP and state health officials are planning a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for Vermonters who are Black, Indigenous and people of color.

The clinics are set for the next two Saturdays, April 3 and April 10, at Rutland High School. There will also be clinics on the same days at Bennington's Second Congregational Church.

The Rutland Herald reports the clinics will give shots to BIPOC Vermonters who meet state vaccine qualifications, which opened to anyone 50 or older as of Monday.

BIPOC patients are also encouraged to bring a household member, BIPOC or not, who can also be vaccinated.

The aim is to help vaccinate BIPOC Vermonters, who have been historically underserved by health care services and professionals.

The Rutland NAACP says it hopes partnering with the state health department will also help Vermonters of color who are hesitant to get vaccinated or otherwise wary of the state offering free vaccines.

- Matthew Smith

Vermonters 50+ can sign up for COVID vaccine appointments

Starting Monday, Vermonters 50 and older can make appointments for a COVID-19 vaccination.

Bookings can be made at the health department's website: healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine.

Vaccines are also available for anyone with high-risk health conditions 16 or older, and for specific workers like school staff, child care workers, and people who work in the public safety system.

Eligible Vermonters can also make a vaccine appointment through a participating pharmacy including Kinney Drugs, CVS and Walgreens.

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

- Matthew Smith

2. Legislative committee approves bill issuing apology for state's role in eugenics movement

A legislative committee on Friday unanimously approved a bill apologizing for Vermont's role in the eugenics movement.

VTDigger reports the four-page resolution makes amends for "state-sanctioned eugenics policies and practices."

That includes research led by UVM zoology professor and eugenicist Henry Perkins in the 1900s that focused on "breeding better Vermonters."

The bill is slated to go to the House floor for full consideration this week.

- Brittany Patterson

State workers, school teachers push back on House pension proposal

House lawmakers unveiled a proposal last week that would increase workers’ contributions to the pension fund, and decrease benefits for future retirees. Lawmakers say the changes are needed to shore up a deficit in the state’s pension fund.

But employees of the state of Vermont told lawmakers that proposed reductions in pension benefits would destabilize their retirement security.

Karen Shea Denniston works at the Department for Children and Families, and she says lawmakers are trying to ram through changes that would dramatically affect the future finances of middle-class workers like her.

“I have to believe that all of this means you really don’t understand or appreciate the magnitude of the impact this will have on the workforce, service quality, quality of life for Vermonters ongoing, and about attracting talent to our state,” Shea Denniston said.

School teachers like Eric Hutchins, who works for Lamoille Union High School in Hyde Park, also spoke at Friday’s public hearing.

He says teachers were blindsided by a proposal unveiled by House Democrats earlier this week.

“I find it unfathomable that this group of people would consider what they consider stabilizing the pension fund not by actually stabilizing it, but by cutting the promised pensions you made to teachers and state employees,” Hutchins said.

The teachers union says lawmakers should keep the pension fund solvent by raising taxes on high-income Vermonters.

- Peter Hirschfeld

3. Burlington director of police transformation accused of plagiarizing large portions of report

The City of Burlington’s director of police transformation is accused of plagiarizing portions of a final report turned in to city councilors and police commissioners last week.

According to Seven Days, Kyle Dodson borrowed liberally from several websites in the March 19 document, which a Seven Days review found that more than half of the words were not his own.

Dodson was appointed by Burlington City Mayor Miro Weinberger last October to oversee the city's police reform efforts.

In a statement released Friday evening, Weinberger said he was “very disappointed to learn that much of the language in Kyle Dodson’s final report was not his own.”

- Karen Anderson

4. Tornado touches down in Middlebury Friday

A tornado touched down in Middlebury Friday, causing damage to a home, multiple downed trees and injuries to at least two people.

The National Weather Service in Burlington confirmed an EF-1 tornado with an estimated wind speed of 110 mph.

A statement says the tornado threw a barrel into a house, shattered a window, uprooted trees, removed roofs and an attached garage, and flipped a car near Middlebury.

The twister traveled about one mile before dissipating.

Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciack says Vermonters who experienced property damage as a result of Friday’s severe weather should notify their insurance company as soon as possible to begin filing a claim.

In a press release issued Saturday, the commissioner also reminded Vermonters to:

  • Take photos of the damaged property.
  • Save samples of damaged material.
  • Make a list of the damage and keep receipts to document the cost of repairs or replacement.

Vermonters should call the department’s consumer services team at 800-964-1784 with questions or concerns; or connect with the DFR on their website; Facebook or Twitter.

- Karen Anderson

5. Vt. opioid deaths up 38% in 2020

Opioid deaths in Vermont were up 38% in 2020, according to new statistics from the Vermont Department of Health.

In a report released this month, the Health Department said that preliminary data showed the 157 people died from opioid-related causes last year, up from 114 in 2019.

The synthetic opioid fentanyl was involved in 89% of the deaths.

The Health Department report did not suggest a reason for the increase, but the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has attributed a nationwide increase in overdose deaths to disruptions to daily life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

- Associated Press

6. 60 Vt. National Guard soldiers deploying Tuesday

More than 60 Vermont National Guard soldiers will deploy across the United States Central Command Tuesday.

The 60 are among nearly 1,000 Vermont Army National Guard Soldiers who have been preparing for over a year to deploy across Europe, Africa and the United States this year.

The soldiers will depart from the Army Aviation Flight Facility in South Burlington Tuesday between 10 a.m. and noon.

- Karen Anderson

Vermont National Guard investigating sergeant accused of sexual assault

The head of the Vermont National Guard says the organization is investigating after one of its members was charged with sexual assault.

Adjutant General Gregory Knight condemned the alleged behavior as "abhorrent" and "repulsive" at a town hall meeting Thursday.

Seven Days first reported on the charges against Sergeant Daniel Blodgett. Blodgett has pleaded not guilty. His public defender is reminding the news media that he is innocent until proven guilty.

WCAX-TV reports that the Guard has launched a provost marshal position to help identify soldiers who break the law.

- Associated Press

7. Wildlife officials ask Vermonters to take down bird feeders for bears, avoid cliffs for peregrine falcons

Wildlife officials recommend Vermonters take down their bird feeders by April 1 to avoid attracting bears.

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department warns warm weather and melting snows will drive bears to come out of their winter dens in search of food.

Biologists say bears are especially fond of suet and bird seed, specifically the black oil sunflower seeds, which they can smell from a long distance.

Bringing feeders in at night won't work either, because bears will still feed on seed that's spilled on the ground.

Pet food, grills, and household trash can also attract bears.

The department recommends securing any chickens and honeybees within an electric fence or bear-proof enclosure.

Purposely feeding bears is illegal, dangerous, bad for bears and causes problems for neighbors, the department said.

The department also said a dozen Vermont clifftops and overlooks are temporarily closed to hikers to protect nesting peregrine falcons.

The cliffs will stay closed until Aug. 1, or until officials determine there's no longer a risk to the falcons.

The closed areas include portions of the cliffs where the birds are nesting and the trails leading to cliff tops or overlooks. More areas could be closed as biologists visit sites to determine if they are occupied by peregrines.

The department asks climbers and hikers to maintain a "respectful distance from all nests" they encounter.

- Associated Press

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