News Roundup: Vermont Loosens Restrictions For Cross-Border Travel, Outdoor Businesses
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, April 9.
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The latest coronavirus data:
1. Vermont reports 145 additional COVID cases, one more person dies
Vermont reported 145 new COVID-19 infections Friday, as well as one more person dying, bringing the total virus-related deaths to 231.
More than a third of the new cases are in Chittenden County. There were about a dozen cases each in Franklin, Orleans, Rutland, Washington and Windham counties.
Six people are in intensive care due to the virus, among a total of 30 people hospitalized for COVID.
State officials say Vermont is continuing to see high numbers of coronavirus cases due to more contagious variants of the virus and people being more willing to gather. Most of the new cases are among younger people not yet eligible for the vaccine.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine says new infections don’t seem to be concentrated among any particular industry.
“Nothing that’s so dramatic that we would immediately say, ‘Gee, there’s an entire workforce that’s at higher risk than another workforce in the state,’ because that’s not what the data is showing up,” Levine said.
Nearly 45% of Vermont's 16-and-older population have gotten at least one dose of vaccine so far. Starting Monday, people who are 30 and older will be able to sign up for the vaccine.
- Matthew Smith and Liam Elder-Connors
Corrections commissioner concerned by number of incarcerated people refusing vaccine
Nearly half of the 1,200 people held in Vermont's prisons have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Department of Corrections.
But officials are concerned by the number of people refusing a shot.
A total of 595 people in DOC custody have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Some 206 people, or about 25% of those offered the shot, have refused it.
Commissioner Jim Baker told lawmakers on Wednesday that was concerning.
“We’re talking with staff now about how we can do an educational piece and try to influence the decision making,” Baker said. “Some of this is just the mistrust individuals have because of their circumstances.”
The commissioner says some incarcerated people also told DOC they’d prefer to get the one-shot vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson.
Baker says he expected the vaccination rate to go up significantly next week when people 30 and older are eligible for shots.
- Liam Elder-Connors
State officials encouraging more BIPOC Vermonters to sign up for vaccine
More than 5,500 Vermonters identifying as Black, Indigenous or as people of color have signed up for a COVID-19 vaccine since last week – that’s when the state started allowing all BIPOC residents 16 and older and members of their households to get a shot.
The state opened up expanded eligibility for BIPOC Vermonters because vaccination rates were lagging behind white residents. State data shows people of color are more likely to get infected by the coronavirus.
Human Service Secretary Mike Smith says uptick of vaccination appointments is encouraging.
“We are moving in the right direction,” Smith said. “But as I said on Tuesday, we need more BIPOC community members to sign up.”
Smith says people can make an appointment at the Health Department’s website or by calling 855-722-7878.
- Liam Elder-Connors
Beginning April 19, non-residents can sign up for COVID vax in N.H.
New Hampshire will remove its residency requirement for the coronavirus vaccination starting April 19.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu faced criticism from Democrats and college officials over the state’s initial decision to prohibit college students from other states, as well as banning other non-residents like second homeowners from being vaccinated in New Hampshire.
But that restriction was lifted Thursday because Sununu says the state anticipates having plenty of doses to go around.
All New Hampshire residents 16 and older have been eligible for the vaccine since April 2.
- Associated Press
2. Cross-border travel, outdoor business restrictions loosen today
Vermont's plan to fully reopen from the coronavirus pandemic begins Friday.
Gov. Phil Scott's strategy, dubbed the "Vermont Forward" plan, ties reopening to vaccine milestones across the state.
Starting today, outdoor businesses shift to universal guidance. That means farmers markets, outdoor recreation, campgrounds and retail operations simply have to follow masking and physical distancing requirements.
Also today, unvaccinated Vermonters returning from out-of-state travel won't have to quarantine, and instead have to get a COVID test within three days of returning. Unvaccinated visitors to Vermont must follow similar testing rules.
All dates associated with the reopening plan could change based on Vermont's vaccination rates.
Step 2 of the governor's plan rolls out in May, and expands indoor and outdoor gatherings and opens up other sectors. But more than half of Vermonters will have to get at least one vaccine dose before those changes take place.
- Matthew Smith
3. Vt. Legislature takes up bills to reduce domestic and sexual violence
The House Judiciary committee is backing efforts to expand victim access to sexual assault exams.
Committee Chairwoman Maxine Grad says under current law, victims must go to a hospital for an exam.
Speaking on VPR's Vermont Edition Thursday, Grad said this policy is too restrictive, and that all primary care health centers should be authorized to do this work.
"And we know that many victims live in rural areas and can't always access ths critical exam,” Grad said. “This is an appropriation that would ensure that all Vermonters can be safe and free of violence, regardless of where they live."
The proposal provides these services by amending the current "Bill of Rights for Sexual Assault Survivors."
Grad is also urging the Vermont Senate to pass legislation that would give a judge the power, in certain emergency situations, to order someone to temporarily relinquish their firearms if there is an "immediate danger" of further abuse.
She says the bill provides a statewide policy on this critical issue.
“This bill is so important, because it will provide consistency, statewide consistency, so that all survivors will have access to justice, so we can prevent and end violence for all Vermonters,” Grad said.
Opponents of the bill say it doesn't provide defendants with sufficient due-process rights. The legislation, which passed the House by a 2-1 margin, is currently being reviewed by the Senate Judiciary committee.
- Bob Kinzel
4. Vermont Ski Areas Association: Skier visits down 20% this year
The Vermont Ski Areas Association is reporting skier visits were down by 20% through February of this year, compared with the year prior.
Out-of-state visitors account for more than 75% of the traffic at Vermont ski areas. This year, they had to quarantine before hitting the slopes.
Ski Association President Molly Mahar says fewer visitors this season will have ripple effects across rural economies:
“I think this means that ski areas will be more conservative when making their business decisions, probably over the next couple of years,” Mahar said. “You know, it may affect offerings and staffing levels. We did see employment levels down approximately 35% across the industry this year, so that’s affecting several thousand jobs.”
The good news? As this year's season comes to a close, not a single Vermont resort has shut down due to the pandemic.
- Abagael Giles
5. Vt. House advances bill decriminalizing buprenorphine
The Vermont House of Representatives has advanced a bill that would decriminalize possession of a drug that’s used to treat opioid use disorder.
Debate over the buprenorphine legislation turned emotional on Thursday when lawmakers, such as Burlington Representative Brian Cina, recalled the loss of friends and family to opioid addiction.
“And so today I’m going to vote yes in honor of all of my clients, friends and neighbors who have passed away from overdoses, and for all of the people who need one more day on their road to recovery,” Cina said.
Supporters of the bill say black-market buprenorphine can serve as a gateway to treatment for people with opioid use disorder.
Critics say buprenorphine is a dangerous opioid that should only be legal when prescribed by a medical professional.
- Peter Hirschfeld
6. Several Vermonters receive Guggenheim Fellowship
Several Vermonters are among the recipients of the prestigious Guggenheim fellowship.
Bradford writer and Dartmouth creative writing professor Alexander Chee was awarded a fellowship for nonfiction.
Also from Dartmouth, English professor Joshua Bennett was awarded a fellowship for American literature. Middle Eastern studies professor Tarek El-Ariss was awarded a fellowship for his literary criticism.
Several Bennington College faculty were also among the winners, including Mark Wunderlich, the director of Bennington Writing Seminars, who was awarded a poetry fellowship. Faculty member Craig Morgan Teicher also was awarded a poetry fellowship for his three volumes of verse.
Several other former faculty and alumni also received fellowships in fiction, film and video, nonfiction and fine arts.
Given since 1925, the Guggenheim fellowships award grants for six to 12 months with no strings attached, with the intention of allowing fellows time to do their work with as much creative freedom as possible.
Montreal filmmaker Alison McAlpine was also granted a fellowship in film and video.
- Matthew Smith
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