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News Roundup: Starting Saturday, Masks Will No Longer Be Required Outside, With Social Distance

A blue sticker with a white imprint of two feet says thanks for practicing social distancing.
Elodie Reed
/
VPR
At a testing center in Burlington, a sticker directs people to practice social distancing.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, April 30.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 reports 124 new COVID-19 cases

Vermont health officials reported 124 new COVID-19 infections statewide today.

It's the first time in nearly two weeks the state has seen more than 100 new cases in a single day.

Chittenden County had most of the new infections, with 42.

Currently, 17 people are in the hospital due to the virus, including five people in intensive care.

To date, just over 61% of Vermonters 16 and older have gotten at least their first dose of a COVID vaccine. Nearly 43% are fully vaccinated.

- Matthew Smith

Vaccination rates lag for 18-29-year-olds

Health officials in Vermont say they’re increasingly alarmed by a lack of enthusiasm for the COVID-19 vaccine among young adults.

Fewer than 30% of 18-to-29-year-olds have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Gov. Phil Scott says his administration is planning an outreach campaign to improve rates of vaccine uptake in that age group.

“We’re going to be doing everything we can to try and incentivize, to try and educate, and try and get to where they are to figure out, ‘Why not? What’s the problem?’” he said.

Scott says Vermont is otherwise faring well in its quest to get Vermonters immunized against COVID-19.

61% of adults have now received at least one dose of the vaccine.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Vermont fairs and fairgrounds plan to reopen this summer

Many Vermont fairs and fairgrounds plan to be open this summer after being canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and the governor's emergency orders.

VTDigger reports a lobbyist with the Vermont Fairs and Field Days Association told state lawmakers this week that all but one fair – the Connecticut Valley Fair in Bradford – are expected to return this year.

Some fairs might offer pared-back offerings, but what's on offer and what kind of mask or distancing rules will be in place all depends on the state hitting its vaccination goals as it nears its July 4 goal of fully reopening.

Lawmakers have set aside half a million dollars from last year's coronavirus relief bill for fair operators whose income and operations were affected by the cancellation.

- Matthew Smith

2. Masks are no longer required outdoors, with social distancing

Gov. Phil Scott on Friday announced a change to the statewide mask mandate.

Masks or other facial coverings are no longer required for people who are outside, and socially distanced.

“The science and data show that outdoor transmission is rare, and poses little risk, if you follow our guidance,” Scott said.

The revision to Vermont’s mask policy follows similar guidance released by the federal Centers for Disease Control earlier this week.

Scott says masks are still required outdoors, when maintaining 6 feet of distancing isn’t possible.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Capacity limits on manufacturing, retail and restaurants to be lifted Saturday

With Vermont set to hit its May 1 target of having 60% of adults with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Phil Scott says he’ll move forward with the next phase of his economic reopening.

Capacity restrictions on manufacturing operations, retail outlets and even restaurants and bars will be lifted starting this Saturday.

Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine says 60% of Vermont adults have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

And he says weekly case counts are lower than they’ve been since November.

“This means easing some protocols, opening the spigot a bit as the governor says, so Vermonters can get back to their lives,” Levine said.

While blanket capacity restrictions expire on Saturday, businesses will still have to abide by COVID-19 executive orders.

Those orders include mask-wearing in indoor spaces, and maintaining 6 feet of distance between all staff and customers.

Scott said the state is ready.

“If you need proof, just look at our declining hospitalizations, out death rate, and our seven-day case count average, which the lowest it’s been since November,” Scott said Friday.

The new guidelines, which take effect on Saturday, also increase the limit on public gatherings.

The new limits allow for gatherings of up to 150 people indoors, so long as venues have at least 10-square-feet for every unvaccinated person.

Outdoor gatherings can now include up to 300 people.

- Peter Hirschfeld

3. Health commissioner at odds with prosecutors, addiction experts over buprenorphine bill

Prosecutors and opioid addiction treatment experts are urging the Vermont Senate to advance a bill that would decriminalize the possession of buprenorphine.

But as VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld reports, officials in the Scott administration are lobbying against the legislation.

Brenda Siegel, a drug policy reform advocate from Newfane, says black market buprenorphine is a lifeline for people with opioid use disorder.

And on Thursday, she told a Senate committee that failure to pass the legislation this year will have grave consequences.

“People will die. People that you all have the power to give another tool for survival,” Siegel said.

Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Schirling disagreed.

“We believe that a better approach would be to continue to use the structure of the criminal justice system to encourage people to get into treatment,” Schirling said.

Many of the prosecutors that oversee that criminal justice system, including Attorney General TJ Donovan, support decriminalization.

However, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine is urging Senate lawmakers to reject the legislation.

Levine says buprenorphine is a powerful opioid in its own right.

And he says lawmakers should be wary of measures that might stimulate demand on the black market.

“This bill would further increase demand on the street, and increase the risk that a patient sells their drugs for cash,” Levine said Thursday.

Levine’s warnings to Senate lawmakers on Thursday is at odds with testimony from many opioid treatment experts, who say black market buprenorphine often serves as a gateway to recovery.

- Peter Hirschfeld

4. Town of Bennington formally apologizes to former legislator Kiah Morris, reaches settlement

The town of Bennington will pay former state legislator Kiah Morris and her family more than $130,000 to settle alleged violations of Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act.

Morris resigned her seat in the Legislature in 2018 after becoming the target of a white supremacist.

In a complaint filed with the Human Rights Commission in 2019, Morris and her husband, James Lawton, said the Bennington Police Department failed to properly investigate allegations of racial harassment.

Jeannie Jenkins read an apology aloud at a Bennington Selectboard meeting on Monday.

“The town of Bennington apologizes to Kiah Morris, James Lawton and their family for the harms and trauma they encountered while residing in Bennington, and we fully acknowledge this reality,” Jenkins read.

“We have to do better by all persons who live in, work in, or travel through the town of Bennington, irrespective of color, race, religion, and other categories as protected by law."

The town will also provide free space over the next five years for pro bono legal services administered by Vermont Legal Aid.

The settlement also requires the town to solicit public comment for the creation of a new police oversight body.

- Peter Hirschfeld

5. Gov. Scott says he won't support $7 billion proposed budget

Gov. Phil Scott made it clear at his COVID-19 media briefing Friday that he will not support a $7 billion state budget proposal approved by the Vermont Senate this week.

Scott says Senate lawmakers want to use federal coronavirus relief money to fund general government services.

He says Vermont should instead devote those funds to infrastructure improvements.

“We shouldn’t be using this money,” Scott said. “It’s borrowed money. I mean, we’re going to have to pay it back – somebody’s going to have to pay it back – for budgetary holes, you know?”

Vermont is slated to receive more than $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Scott wants to put the money toward affordable housing, broadband, and sewer and wastewater infrastructure.

- Peter Hirschfeld

6. Scott administration appeals U.S. Labor Dept. directive to audit unemployment claims

The Scott administration is appealing a directive from the U.S. Labor Department that could otherwise require the state to audit tens of thousands of unemployment claims.

Vermont decided early in the pandemic to side step certain federal unemployment eligibility criteria.

Gov. Phil Scott says he made that decision because it was taking too long to perform compliance checks.

“So that was really a bottleneck in the system, and preventing us from sending checks to those who were in desperate need,” Scott said.

Commissioner of Labor Michael Harrington has appealed the federal order.

And Scott says all three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation have also asked the U.S. Labor Department to stand down.

- Peter Hirrschfeld

7. An update from Congressman Welch on Biden's infrastructure package

Congressman Peter Welch says President Biden's plan to spend several-trillion dollars on programs to assist families and improve the nation's infrastructure, are needed because Congress has chronically under-funded these programs for decades.

Under Biden's "American Family" plan, $2 trillion would be allocated to increase child care subsidies, expand pre-Kindergarten programs, and provide two years of free tuition at a community college.

The $2 trillion infrastructure bill targets road and bridge repairs and an expansion of broadband.

Speaking on Vermont Edition Thursday, Welch said he supports both plans.

“So the question for me is: why we have had such a lack of investments, such a deficit of investments on things that are really important to our families and what's really important to the long term wellbeing of our infrastructure?”

The bills are paid for, in part, by raising tax rates on wealthy people and corporations.

Welch supports increased funding for IRS

Welch says he supports Biden’s plan to crack down on people and corporations who are defrauding the nation's tax system.

Welch says Congress, in recent years, has cut the enforcement budget of the Internal Revenue Service.

He says that the situation encourages some people and businesses to understate their true income without fear of being caught.

“There's very little prospect of a very, very wealthy person or a multi-national corporation having a big deal audit that would uncover abuse. So we put the money back in for enforcement and the studies indicate that $80 billion over 10 years would produce about $700 billion," Welch said.

Congressman Peter Welch says the current kindergarten through high school public education model no longer serves the basic needs of students.

That's why Welch is strongly backing President Biden's new American Families Plan.

The nearly $2 trillion proposal includes sizeable increases in child care subsidy programs, funds an expansion of Pre-K programs, and provides free tuition for students attending community college.

Welch says the approach is a recognition that all students need more education.

“It's a full on embrace of that. Those kids need that early shot in this modern world, and then graduating from high school is not enough,” he said. “So two years is the minimal additional education we need to make available to our kids."

The bill also increases training and salaries for child care workers. Republicans expressed concerns about how the proposal would be paid for.

- Bob Kinzel

More from Vermont Edition: What’s In Biden’s Infrastructure Package? We Talk With Congressman Peter Welch

8. Vt. House advances bill to allow 16-year-olds to vote in Brattleboro

After nearly two hours of debate, the Vermont House has advanced legislation that will allow sixteen year olds to vote on local town issues in Brattleboro.

The vote was 102 to 42.

The initiative is part of a charter change approved by Brattleboro voters last year.

Backers of the plan said it would encourage young people to become more involved in local concerns while opponents argued that sixteen was too young to fully understand the depth of many local issues.

Barre City Rep. Peter Anthony said he thought 16 was an excellent age for people to begin to participate in local democracy.

“At 16, on the other hand, young people are perfectly positioned to form the habit of voting on local issues supported by their peers, parents, teachers and while still immersed in the community they call home,” Anthony said.

The bill still needs to be considered by the Senate.

- Bob Kinzel

9. Beloved Orange County newspaperman M. Dickey Drysdale has died

A beloved figure in Orange County and the Vermont news community has died. M. Dickey Drysdale, who owned and operated the Herald of Randolph newspaper for 44 years, died on Wednesday. He was 76.

Phillip Camp owns The Vermont Standard, a weekly newspaper out of Woodstock. He says Drysdale was one of the first people he reached out to when he got into the newspaper business.

“I learned a lot from that fella. But what I learned was it really matters that you know people, and know their problems and you know their strengths and you know their specialties and their interests. I learned a lot of that stuff from Dickie Drysdale,” Camp said.

Drysdale sold The Herald in 2015. He had offers from out of state buyers, but decided to keep it locally owned.

The Herald remains an independent weekly paper, covering towns in central Vermont.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

10. Vermont to hold 51st Annual Green Up Day Saturday

Vermont will hold its 51st annual Green Up Day on Saturday.

Gov. Deane Davis created the event in 1970, to enlist volunteers to pick up trash that accumulates along roads and rivers.

Gov. Phil Scott about four hundred and 50,000 pounds of trash are removed during this uniquely Vermont event every year.

“So, I encourage all Vermonters to get out there and help out if you can,” Scott said.

People can pick up free trash bags from their local Green Up Day coordinator.

You can find information on how to participate in the event online, at greenupvermont.org

- Peter Hirschfeld

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