News Roundup: Vermonters Ages 16-18 Can Sign Up For COVID Vaccine Starting Saturday
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, April 16.
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The latest coronavirus data:
1. State reports two more Vermonters have died from COVID-19, 141 new cases
Two more people have died from COVID-19 in Vermont. The state reported those new deaths along with 141 new infections statewide Friday.
To date, 242 Vermonters have now died from COVID-19.
Among the new cases, 36 were in Chittenden County, with roughly a dozen cases in Caledonia, Orleans, Rutland, Washington and Windham counties.
A total of 26 people are hospitalized with the virus, including three in the ICU.
Some 51% of adult Vermonters have gotten one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while 34% have been fully vaccinated.
- Matthew Smith
N.H. governor lifts mask mandate
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu says the state's mask mandate will be lifted Friday, as vaccinations rise and hospitalizations remain manageable.
But Granite State communities, businesses, schools and other groups can still require masks be worn.
New Hampshire was the last state in New England to adopt a statewide mask mandate in November, and will be the first to lift it.
On May 7, New Hampshire will eliminate its remaining restrictions on businesses and replace industry-specific rules with universal safety recommendations.
- Associated Press
2. Gov. announces Vermonters ages 16-18 can sign up for vaccine two days early
Vermonters between the ages of 16 and 18 will be allowed to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine starting Saturday at 10 a.m. — two days before the state’s adults 19-29 years old can sign up for a shot.
Only one vaccine, made by Pfizer, is approved for 16- and 17-year-olds.
Gov. Phil Scott says that limitation is why he decided to open up eligibility early for teenagers.
“So this is just giving them two days advance notice, so to speak, so they can sign up, because they only have one option, the Pfizer,” he said.
All adults 16 and older can sign up for a vaccine appointment starting Monday.
- Liam Elder-Connors
3. Racial justice advocates holding rally for missing Barre man on Saturday
Racial justice advocates are urging Barre Police to get additional help investigating the case of a Black man who went missing a year ago.
Activists will hold a rally at Battery Park in Burlington Saturday at noon.
Ralph Jean-Marie, 38, was last seen April 13, 2020, near the Hollow Inn and Motel in Barre. Police say Jean-Marie’s disappearance was suspicious because he left behind his ID, wallet, glasses and medications.
But over the last year, Barre police haven’t made much progress in their investigation. Activists like Mohamed Abdi say it’s time to get help from outside law enforcement agencies.
“We want the FBI to take over the investigation so that we just see more pressure on figuring out what happened to him,” Abdi said.
Barre Police held a press conference this week and urged anyone with information about Jean-Marie’s disappearance to come forward.
- Liam Elder-Connors
4. Scott administration facing challenges returning to in-person learning
The Scott administration says it's facing a number of challenges as it tries to have most schools reopen on a full-time, in person basis after the upcoming April break.
Education Secretary Dan French says roughly a third of Vermont's schools have all of their students attending classes full-time, while just over half have developed a hybrid system.
According to French, the increasing number of COVID-19 cases among younger people is causing some of the hybrid districts to rethink their decision to bring all of their students back.
"But I think just the challenges with the elevated case counts that we’re seeing provide some head winds into their decision-making,” French said. “So, it's hard to ascertain actually what I think what's going to happen in the next couple of weeks, but we think certainly as the case counts improve and conditions improve, we will see more in-person [learning]."
The education secretary says about 12% of Vermont schools are operating on a totally remote basis, and some them are contemplating shifting to a hybrid model.
- Bob Kinzel
5. Man facing multiple charges of sexual assault no longer member of Vt. National Guard
A Vermont National Guard staff sergeant with a history of criminal offenses is no longer with the Guard.
Blodgett currently faces multiple counts of sexual assault, including of two women who also served in the Guard.
The paper reported last month that Blodgett continued with the Guard despite his lengthy criminal history.
Knight offered few details of Blodgett's separation with the Guard. Knight also told the legislative committee he's working to improve how the organization works with civilian law enforcement, and how the Guard tracks members who face criminal allegations.
- Matthew Smith
6. Vermont's unemployment rate, workforce numbers went down last month
Vermont's labor force shrank slightly last month, but the unemployment rate continued to decline.
The rate now stands at 2.9%, dropping below 3% for the first time since the pandemic began.
Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington says there's a growing demand for employees, with more than 6,000 job postings currently listed on the state's portal.
Still, the overall number of Vermonters either working or seeking work is down significantly compared to a year ago. There are nearly 30,000 fewer people in the labor force than there were in March of 2020.
- Henry Epp
7. Franklin firefighters help fight blaze over Canadian border
Firefighters in the northern Vermont town of Franklin joined with their Canadian counterparts to fight a fire that crossed the international border.
The Franklin Fire Department shared photos and videos on their Facebook page of a forest fire that started on the Quebec side of the border Wednesday afternoon.
The flames ultimately reached the U.S. border near Franklin. A joint effort from both fire departments helped battle the blaze in the rugged terrain. Canadian crews deployed a scout plane and two air tankers.
The Franklin department shared videos of the planes filling their tanks with water from Lake Carmi.
- Matthew Smith
8. UVM workers say university trying to block employees from unionizing
More than 200 people gathered virtually Thursday to voice concerns that the University of Vermont is blocking some employees from unionizing.
VTDigger reports about 700 members of the university's clerical and technical staff are once again considering forming a union. Employees tried in 2012 and 2014, but were unsuccessful.
Now, some workers say the UVM administration is taking steps to undermine the effort by classifying about 100 of these employees ineligible for union membership.
In a statement, UVM said it was considering decreasing the number of workers deemed ineligible.
- Brittany Patterson
9. Vermont House advances bill expanding Bottle Bill
After four hours of debate, the Vermont House has advanced a bill that significantly expands the scope of the state's bottle deposit law.
The bill passed on a vote of 99 to 46.
Under the legislation, plastic water bottles, juice containers, wine bottles and non-carbonated drinks would be subject to a five cent deposit.
Springfield Rep. Kristi Morris said the measure was needed because many of these containers were not in use when the Bottle Bill was passed almost 50 years ago.
"Today's limited scope of the Bottle Bill, such as its failure to cover wine, bottled water and many of the non-carbonated beverages we see today, are limiting the Vermont Bottle Bill's effectiveness in meeting these goals of incentivizing consumers to reduce litter and increase recycling efforts,’ Morris said.
Opponents of the bill said it would remove valuable materials from the state's commercial recycling programs and result in higher beverage prices for consumers.
- Bob Kinzel
Scott considering vetoing tax bill
Gov. Phil Scott says he will spend the weekend pondering whether to veto a tax bill on his desk.
Scott says he's torn, because the bill includes a provision that he likes, which is a plan to exempt a portion of unemployment benefits from the state income tax.
But he strongly opposes another part of the bill that taxes businesses for any federal stimulus PPP loans they received over the past year.
"There are a lot of things in there that I have problem with,' Scott said. "I'm going to reflect on that through the rest of the day and tomorrow, and come to a conclusion and a decision."
Scott could also choose to let the bill become law without his signature.
- Bob Kinzel
10. Comment period extended for proposed surveillance towers along Canadian border
Vermonters will have more time to make their voices heard regarding a controversial proposal to build a series of surveillance towers on the state's border with Canada.
Customs and Border Protection wants to construct the 199-foot-tall towers in five northern Vermont communities. Local residents as well as lawmakers have voiced concerns about the impact on privacy and property values.
The original 30-day comment period closed last month.
In a joint statement issued Friday, the Vermont congressional delegation said the Department of Homeland Security agreed to reopen the public comment period for an additional 60 days.
Comments can be made starting April 18, and submissions will close on June 17. Instructions on how to comment can be found on the CPB's website.
- Brittany Patterson
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