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News Roundup: Vermont Surpasses 20,000 Reported COVID Cases

Two Canada geese in a field with corn stalk stubs and green cover crops
Elodie Reed
/
VPR
One sign of normal spring (at least in another year): Canada geese, like these in a field along Route 14 in Sharon, are heading back north again.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Monday, April 5.

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1. Vermont surpasses 20,000 reported COVID-19 cases

Vermont passed another pandemic milestone over the weekend, surpassing 20,000 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

On Monday, the state added 116 new infections, after a weekend with more than 390 new cases. More than a third of Monday’s new cases are in Chittenden County. Virus-related deaths in the state now number 229.

A total of 23 people are hospitalized due to the virus, including three people in intensive care.

- Matthew Smith

Vermonters 40 and older can sign up for COVID vaccine

Starting Monday morning, Vermonters 40 and older could sign up for a coronavirus vaccine appointment with the Vermont Department of Health. Appointments are also open at Kinney Drugs, CVS, or Walgreens.

Those aged 30 and up can register next Monday, April 12.

A number of Vermonters are already eligible, including those with certain health conditions, caregivers of children with certain health conditions, and BIPOC Vermonters — that's Black, Indigenous and people of color — as well as members of their households.

Those who work in schools, public safety and health care are also eligible to get vaccinated.

More than 40% of Vermonters 16 and older have now gotten one or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

After vet’s home staff vax rate remains at 40%, state officials hold meeting

State health officials held a virtual meeting last week with nurses at the Vermont Veterans’ Home in Bennington.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said only about 40% of the staff has chosen to be vaccinated for the coronavirus, and the state wants to increase that number.

“Loved ones are not only concerned about the increased risk to residents, but also, that when there is a positive case, visitation or quarantine restrictions may be imposed on the facility,” Smith said.

About a dozen staff members agreed to receive the vaccine after the meeting, and the state says it will hold additional informational sessions in the coming weeks.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

School spring sport practices, scrimmages can begin Monday

Public health officials say school-based spring sports programs can begin coach-led practices and inter-squad scrimmages Monday, April 5.

Games, meets and competitions against other schools can't be held until April 17. Crowds for all sporting events are limited to 150 people.

All players, coaches, and officials are required to wear facial coverings. Distance runners are exempt, provided there's six feet of distancing between competitors.

Students traveling out of state for competition must follow the Department of Health guidance around quarantine before returning to school.

Health officials say team-based social gatherings are strongly discouraged until all other COVID-19 sports restrictions are lifted.

- Matthew Smith

2. Gov. says he's willing to work with Dem leaders on pension reform

Gov. Phil Scott says he's willing to work with Democratic legislative leaders on a plan to reduce a multi-billion dollar unfunded liability in the state teachers' and state employees' pension funds.

But Scott is also making it very clear that he feels it's the Democrats' responsibility to develop the basic framework of a solution.

Two weeks ago, House Speaker Jill Krowinski unveiled a plan that drew the immediate criticism of the unions and some Democratic leaders. On Friday, she withdrew the plan.

Scott says he wants to be part of the solution, but feels Democratic leaders need to lead the way.

"I'm a willing partner, I'll be at the table… I don't want to be the main course, but I'll be at the table,” Scott said. “This is their moment to shine, this is their responsibility as a majority party to get something done.”

A special summer study commission will now look at this issue.

- Bob Kinzel

3. Legal marijuana market bill seeks equity for communities of color

A bill before the Vermont House seeks to make the state's legal marijuana market equitable for communities of color.

Chittenden Sen. Chris Pearson co-sponsored this year's measure. He says it would potentially waive fees for some groups who've been disproportionately impacted by past marijuana laws.

"And also trying to be sure that the Black community, as an example, maybe could get a head start and a little bit of preference, in terms of getting a license to start up a small facility, a small grow operation,” Pearson said. “We're also considering some grant funding so that folks do have access to business planning."

The bill would also make changes that Pearson says would keep the regulatory process on track to begin legal cannabis sales in the fall of 2022.

Vermont's Senate passed the bill last month. It's now before the House Government Operations Committee.

Read/hear the full story.

- Henry Epp

4. Chittenden Co. state's attorney calls AG "hypocritical" for refiling dismissed charges

Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George says Vermont’s attorney general is being “hypocritical” by refiling charges in three high-profile cases she dismissed two years ago.

George dismissed the three murder cases in 2019 after she said experts determined the accused were all legally insane when the crimes were committed.

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan says a jury should decide on claims of legal insanity.

But George says prosecutors have to determine if a defense like insanity has merit — just as they decide if police officers who use deadly force can credibly claim they acted in self-defense.

“So, for the attorney general to say that the legal defense of insanity is for a jury to decide, but then refuse to prosecute a single law enforcement officer who has killed somebody because he finds their legal defense to be valid, is disingenuous and hypocritical,” she said.

George says those deemed legally insane should remain in the custody of the Department of Mental Health.

Read/hear full story.

- Matthew Smith

5. Americans can comment about airport noise, including F35s, until April 15

The Federal Aviation Administration is giving Americans an extra month to comment on a nationwide survey of aircraft noise, including the sound made by the F-35 jets stationed at Burlington International Airport.

The Burlington Free Press reports the FAA study is now taking public comment through April 14. Vermonters can weigh in online, here.

The latest data from the FAA shows higher levels of annoyance among people living near airports than previous years.

- Matthew Smith

6. 2020 record year for granite headstone business

Barre’s historic granite industry has seen an uptick in business over the past year. There’s an increased demand for headstones, says Mark Gherardi, third-generation owner of Buttura & Sons Inc. He had a record year in 2020.

“If I talk to my contemporaries, whether in Barre or in Georgia or in Minnesota, all the producing centers, even in Canada, it’s very busy,” Gherardi said. “It’s extremely busy. Busier than I’ve seen in the past 40 years.”

According to Gherardi, much of the increase is in pre-need sales, where individuals purchase monuments for themselves. He says 2021 is on track to be another record year for the granite headstone industry.

Read/hear the full story.

- Anna Van Dine

7. Drivers: Watch for amphibians, citizen scientists on roads near ponds, wetlands

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department is asking drivers traveling near ponds and wetlands where salamanders and frogs cross roads during their spring breeding season to slow down or even find alternative routes.

Fish and Wildlife herpetologist Luke Groff says seeing many different animals in a small area can be of interest to many wildlife watchers.

But the department, along with the Agency of Transportation and conservation groups, are also collecting data on wildlife passages and possible barriers in road construction that are needed that allow for all wildlife to safely cross roads.

Drivers are asked to be on the lookout for amphibian road crossings. Citizen scientists are also encouraged to report amphibian road crossings, and share photos of species that they can safely photograph.

- Associated Press

Correction 1 p.m. 4/6/2021: The photo caption for this post has been updated to reflect the magnificent waterfowl pictured are in fact Canada geese, not "Canadian geese."

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