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News Roundup: Vermont Department of Health Reports 53 New COVID-19 Cases

Two people kneel, wearing masks and hats and overalls, in a row of small plants behind a tractor under gray May skies.
Elodie Reed
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VPR
Colin Swanson, left, and Sarah Howe, right, transplant cilantro at the Intervale Community Farm on Monday, May 3.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Wednesday, May 5.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 Department of Health reports 53 COVID-19 cases

Vermont health officials reported 53 new coronavirus infections statewide Wednesday.

Even as each county's daily case counts drop to single digits, Chittenden County continues to see the bulk of virus, reporting 240 infections over the last two weeks.

Currently, people are hospitalized with the virus, four of whom are in intensive care.

The health department's vaccination dashboard shows just shy of 65% of adult Vermonters have gotten at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, while nearly 46% are fully vaccinated.

Addison County leads the state with vaccinations, with nearly 73% of its residents inoculated. Essex County trails other areas of the state, with less than 49% of its residents vaccinated.

- Matthew Smith

2. In Vermont, vaccination rate for 18-29-year-olds lags behind national average

Vermont continues to be among the leading states in the country in overall COVID vaccination rates, but not when it comes to younger people.

Mike Peiciak is the Commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation. He says that while 78% of Vermonters 40 or older have received at least one shot, only 41% of people in the 18-to-29 age group have reached this goal.

“In fact, when you compare vaccination uptake by age in Vermont against the U.S. average, you will see that Vermont is far ahead or in some cases pretty far ahead in each age category except for the 18-to-29-year-olds, where we are actually slightly below the national average,” Pieciak said.

The Scott administration will be holding walk-in clinics around the state in an effort to increase vaccination rates among young people.

- Bob Kinzel

State to open more walk-in vaccine clinics

The Health Department will be ramping up its use of walk-in vaccination clinics as it tries to reach the next milestone in re-opening the state.

Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said clinics are opening at college campuses and race tracks where people can get their COVID-19 shot without making an appointment.

“This is done in an attempt to get as many people vaccinated as possible, by making it easy and convenient,” Smith said.

The Scott Administration hopes to move to the next phase of reopening before June 1, but that requires at least 70% of those 16-and-older to have received at least their first dose of the vaccine.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

CVS pharmacies now offer walk-in vaccine appointments

CVS pharmacies now offer walk-in appointments for COVID-19 vaccines. The company, in a press release, said all eight locations in the Vermont can give the shot – no appointment needed.

Nearly 65% of Vermonters above the age of 16 have received at least one dose of a vaccine. But state officials said Tuesday that uptake among 18-to-29-year-olds was lagging, with only 35% of that population receiving one shot.

Essex County has the lowest vaccination rate among Vermont's 14 counties: only 48% of eligible residents have gotten a shot. State officials say they plan to hold a number of clinics in Essex County this weekend.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Vermont will offer free creemee coupons at vaccine appointments

The state of New Jersey made national headlines recently after offering a free beer to anyone who gets the COVID-19 vaccine.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine says Vermont is still hoping to offer a free creemee to anyone here who gets their shot.

Not as an incentive, he said, but just because creemees are good.

“Everybody wants a creemee, especially on a hot spring or summer day. But the reality is I don’t think that’s going to make the difference in someone’s decision,” Levine said. “But at the same time, why shouldn’t they get rewarded if they happen to be there?"

Levine says the state will have about 10,000 free creemee coupons to give out once the program is in place.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

3. FDA expected to approve Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds next week

The FDA is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 sometime next week.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says the state is still working out a plan for how to get the vaccine into the arms of minors.

“Even at a school site, maybe the parent would want to accompany the child as they move forward,” Smith said. “I think those are the things, you know, the details of a parent-child relationship that we’re just going to have to work through in the next two days."

The Pfizer vaccine is currently only authorized in the United States for people 16 and older.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine told Vermont Edition Wednesday that Vermont could start vaccinating adolescents three-to-five days after its approval for younger people.

"We will be ready to directly work with that age group of 12- to-15-year-olds and begin getting them vaccinated,” he said.

Levine says there will be opportunities to have vaccination clinics at schools with hours that work with student schedules.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Emily Aiken and Howard Weiss-Tisman

4. Vermont Department of Labor shuts down unemployment claims system due to fraud

The Vermont Department of Labor has shut down its online unemployment claims system because of fraud.

Usually the Department uses a call center to process new applications but when demand increased during the pandemic, it also provided an online filing process.

And that's when the problems started.

Commissioner Michael Harrington says Vermont is one of many states that have been inundated with thousands of false claims that were made online.

“What we're finding is that it's more of a coordinated national and international crime ring and they're pulling on old data from large institutions that can be compromised – anything in the past ...” he said. “It's not necessarily that there is a state database or anything locally that would essentially compromise what has led to this.”

Harrington says the number fraudulent cases dropped dramatically in the days since the online application system has been shut down.

- Bob Kinzel

5. Gov. Scott threatens budget veto over stimulus spending

Gov. Phil Scott has taken the unusual step of warning lawmakers that he will veto the state budget if the Legislature uses one-time federal stimulus money to pay for ongoing programs.

Scott usually waits until later in the legislative process before he threatens a veto, but he says he's speaking out now because this is a core issue that he feels very strongly about.

“So there's no reason to play this shell game,” he said. “Think of it as taking a loan out. You wouldn't use loan money to fulfill ongoing budgetary concerns and this is the way I look at this."

Scott also wants to have a specific plan in place to spend roughly $1 billion in new federal money.

But lawmakers have allocated only half of the money at this time, and say they'll make a decision about the remaining funds next winter.

The Scott administration sent a letter to key lawmakers Tuesday to request changes to the budget approved by the Vermont Senate last week.

Administration Secretary Susanne Young says Gov. Phil Scott has concerns with how lawmakers are spending money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, the most recent COVID relief bill passed by Congress.

“The items on the Legislature’s list are not long term, they’re not transformative. They are more in line with short-term immediate recovery needs,” Young said.

Young says the governor wants to use the new federal funds for physical infrastructure, such as broadband and housing.

Lawmakers have earmarked some of the money for workforce development and higher education.

- Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel

6. Vermont colleges consider making vaccinations mandatory

Colleges across the state are considering whether they will require that all students be vaccinated when they return to campus in the fall.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine says more than a hundred colleges across the country have already decided to mandate vaccinations next year.

“They would prefer to have normal operations, or operations as close to what normal used to be,” he said. “And to do that effectively, they want to make sure that they have a vaccinated student body."

Levine said at least five colleges in Vermont are talking about mandating vaccinations, and he expects the debate to heat up as this year draws to a close.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

7. State officials say more incarcerated people need to be vaccinated before visitation can resume

Vermont is still not allowing volunteers, or visitors, into correctional facilities due to the pandemic.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says about a third of the state’s inmates have refused to be vaccinated, and he wants to see that number improve before starting the programs up again.

“Once we feel comfortable with the vaccination, or working through who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t, in order to re-establish the volunteer and the visitation policy. We just want to be safe on this one,” he said.

Smith says about 80% of the staff in Vermont’s prisons have been vaccinated.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

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