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News Roundup: Vermont Resumes Using Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

A needle in a bottle with a box labeled Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in the background
Mary Altaffer
/
Associated Press File
After federal agencies lifted their pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine late Friday, Vermont began administering the one-time shot as early as Saturday.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Monday, April 26.

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1. State officials report 35 new COVID cases Monday

Vermont health officials reported just 35 new COVID-19 infections on Monday. That's after the state tallied 68 new cases Saturday and 96 on Sunday.

Even with shrinking daily case counts, Chittenden County has still reported more than 360 new infections over the last two weeks.

Bennington, Caledonian, and Rutland counties also saw about 100 more cases in that same time.

A total of 22 Vermonters are hospitalized with COVID-19, including six in intensive care.

About 305,000 Vermonters 16 and older — just under 56% of those eligible in the state — have so far gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

BIPOC vaccination clinic scheduled Wednesday for Addison County residents

Addison County residents who are Black, Indigenous or people of color and aged 16 and older can get a COVID-19 vaccine this Wednesday at a special BIPOC vaccination clinic.

The Rutland Area NAACP, Vermont Department of Health and Middlebury College are partnering to offer the Pfizer vaccine to BIPOC individuals and members of their households.

While all Vermonters 16 and older are now eligible for the vaccine, the vaccination rate for BIPOC Vermonters is still almost 8 percentage points behind the rate for white Vermonters.

There will be 102 doses available Wednesday, by appointment only. Appointments can be made through the Health Department's website or by calling 855-722-7878.

Shots will be given at the Middlebury College Athletics Complex on South Main Street from 4 to 6 p.m.

- Brittany Patterson and Anna Van Dine

Vermont resumes using Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Vermont will resume using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.

State health officials say residents 18 and older were able to sign up as early as this past Saturday for clinics offering the single-dose shot.

And on Tuesday, April 27, the state is holding a drive-through vaccination clinic in the Northeast Kingdom, offering 400 doses of the Johnson & Johnson shot at the Barton Fairgrounds.

Vermont canceled all appointments for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine earlier this month, after the CDC and FDA recommended a pause while they reviewed a rare but serious blood clot issue with the vaccine.

Federal agencies lifted their pause on the J&J vaccine late Friday.

- Matthew Smith

State to track people with long-term COVID symptoms

Vermont health officials say they’ll start tracking patients who come down with so-called long COVID symptoms after contracting the virus.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine says the state has not been keeping track of patents who come down with new medical issues after surviving a COVID diagnosis.

“There are people whose symptoms persist three months-plus, and don’t seem to go away,” Levine said. “Whether they be fatigue, shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, ‘brain fog,’ as it’s called, or other symptoms."

A study published in the journal Nature last week found that long COVID patients had a greater risk of dying within one to six months, compared to people who had not tested positive for the virus.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

2. State officials: Prom and graduation are on

The state will allow schools to hold proms and graduation ceremonies this year.

Education Secretary Dan French released the guidelines for end-of-school-year celebrations Friday.

“These celebrations are not only being permitted this year, but also being strongly encouraged,” French said. “This has been a long year for our students and our schools, and we want to do whatever we can to ensure the school year ends in a safe and celebratory way."

French says the proms and graduations will have to follow the state’s guidelines on indoor and outdoor gatherings, as well as restrictions on crowd sizes depending on vaccination rates.

Agency of Education to decide how to spend $285M in federal relief funds

It will be up to the Agency of Education to decide how to spend the $285 million included in the latest federal COVID relief package for schools.

Education Secretary Dan French said federal guidelines were released last week.

“The Agency is required to develop the plan through a formal process of stakeholder engagement and public comment,” French said. “And we will use the priorities that emerge from the district-level recovery planning guide to guide the initial drafting of our plan."

French said 10% of the grants will go toward state-level administration costs, with the rest going directly into local schools.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

3. Slate Ridge owner says he won't comply with judge's order to dismantle firearms facility

The owner of an unpermitted firearms training center in West Pawlet says he won't comply with a judge's order to dismantle much of the facility he built in the woods near the New York border.

Daniel Banyai says he's looking for "the proper constitutional attorney" to help him appeal a Vermont Environmental Court order that he dismantle all structures on the property that were built without permits.

He has until May 5 to appeal the order handed down in March.

The town of Pawlet has asked a judge to hold Banyai in contempt for refusing to end training activities on the property. The order also calls on Banyai to have the structures there surveyed, and to remove any buildings that were constructed without local zoning permits. He was also fined $46,000 dollars.

When asked about the order to remove the buildings during a weekend event held at Slate Ridge, Banyai told a reporter "we are not going to do that" and added "we haven’t done anything illegal."

- Associated Press

4. This year's maple sugar season one of shortest in last decade

Seventy-degree weather and low sugar content in tree sap have caused one of the shortest maple seasons in over a decade for producers in Vermont, the country's top maple-syrup-producing state.

Allison Hope, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association, says that most sugar makers produced anywhere from 40% to 70% of an average crop of maple syrup this season.

The Burlington Free Press reports that the ideal weather is warm, sunny days combined with cold evenings. Hope says that the early 70-degree weather put an end to the flowing sap.

- Brittany Patterson

5. Bald eagles are back in Vermont

Bald eagles are thriving once again in Vermont.

The state recorded 52 breeding pairs last year in Vermont, and border areas along the Connecticut River and Lake Champlain.

Secretary of Natural Resources Julie Moore says the birds have made a strong recovery after being decimated for years by habitat loss and pesticide poisoning. She says her agency will soon propose taking the eagle off the state endangered species list.

“It's an incredible success, and the ability to go many different places in the state and see bald eagles is thrilling, I think, to almost anyone,” she said.

Moore says the eagles' recovery is similar to that of peregrine falcons and ospreys, two bird species that were once listed as endangered but have now returned in significant numbers in Vermont.

Moore says she will put the de-listing plan out for public comment soon. A legislative committee has to give final approval to the proposal.

Read/hear the full story.

- John Dillon

6. Orange County deputy state's attorney to take over as county's top prosecutor

Orange County's deputy state's attorney, Dickson Corbett, will be taking over as the county's top prosecutor.

Gov. Phil Scott announced the appointment Friday. Corbett has served as deputy state's attorney since 2013. He takes over following the resignation of former state's attorney William Porter, who stepped down after nearly 20 years on the job.

Corbett served as a law clerk and staff attorney with the Vermont Judiciary. He received a B.A. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his J.D. from Vermont Law School.

- Brittany Patterson

7. Feds reconsider decision to shut down EB-5 program, allow Vt. to wind down existing projects

The federal agency that oversees immigration has reversed a 2018 decision that would have required the state of Vermont to shut down its program that oversees EB-5 projects.

The EB-5 program promises green cards to foreign investors who commit significant funding to economic development projects. The program was at the center of a fraud scheme, uncovered in 2016, involving Jay Peak and other Northeast Kingdom projects.

After that scandal, the federal government ordered the state to shut down the Vermont Regional Center, which oversaw the projects. The state argued for winding down the center's work instead, assisting ongoing EB-5 projects but not taking on new ones.

On Thursday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services granted the state's request to reconsider the termination order. State officials say that will allow them to wind down the Vermont Regional Center's work, as they requested.

- Henry Epp

8. Health officials warn foragers to not mistake false hellebore for ramps

Vermont officials are warning people who like to forage in the state for wild leeks, or ramps, to beware of a poisonous look-a-like plant.

The Health Department says young leaves of American false hellebore are often mistaken for ramps.

Last year the Northern New England Poison Control Center managed 25 cases involving Vermonters with possible false hellebore poisoning, more than four times the usual number.

So far there has been one case this year. Eating false hellebore can make people sick enough to need hospitalization.

State officials urge Vermonters who harvest wild ramps to make sure they know how to identify them.

- Associated Press

9. Demolition derbies to return to Orleans County

Demolition derbies will return to the Orleans County Fairgrounds this summer.

Suspended last year due to the pandemic, the Newport Dispatch News reports the first demo derby will be held on Sunday, May 30th, with events during the Orleans County Fair also planned for September.

Derby operators say, unless health rules change, they'll ask everyone to wear a mask in the pit area and grandstands during the events.

- Matthew Smith

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