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News Roundup: State Officials Report Another Person Has Died From COVID, Plus 28 New Cases

A barn with a sign reading end racism
Anna Van Dine
/
VPR
A call for an end to racism at the LaPlatte Headwaters Town Forest in Hinesburg on Friday, May 7.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Wednesday, May 12.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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1. State officials report one more death, 28 new COVID cases

One more Vermonter has died from coronavirus. State officials reported the state’s 252nd death as well as 28 total new infections Wednesday.

State data shows 12 people are currently hospitalized with the virus, including two people in the ICU.

- Matthew Smith

State ready to begin vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds with final CDC approval

The Scott administration says the state will open up COVID vaccine registrations for 12- to 15-year-olds as soon as the federal government gives the final go-ahead.

The Centers for Disease Control are expected to sign off on the Pfizer vaccine for children in that age group, following the Food and Drug Administration's approval on Monday. On Wednesday, an independent advisory panel recommended the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children in that age group.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says the state is ready to help get shots into arms as soon as possible.

“Pending CDC's approval, we are tentatively planning to open registration immediately,” Smith said. “If the decision comes outside business hours, registration will open at 8:15 the next morning. Beginning May 17, school-based sites will be part of this effort as well as regular clinics.”

There are approximately 27,000 Vermonters in the 12- to 15-year-old age band.

Smith says families with children that age are eligible to go to any site that offers the Pfizer vaccine.

- John Dillon

State to open mobile COVID vax clinics along Route 100 Saturday

The state will open up mobile COVID vaccination clinics along the Route 100 corridor in central Vermont this Saturday.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says it's one of many events scheduled around Vermont designed to make getting the vaccine extremely convenient.

“We are listening to what Vermonters have to say,” Smith said. “Part of our effective vaccination strategy is to meet people in their communities. And I encourage Vermonters to take advantage of the many opportunities to get vaccinated.”

In addition to the Route 100 clinics this week, the state plans multiple events in Windham County next week. And on May 21 through May 23, Smith says that emergency medical services and fire departments will hold walk-in clinics at 30 sites around the state.

- John Dillon

2. Investigation finds Bennington police discriminated in Kiah Morris case

A nearly two-year investigation by the Vermont Human Rights Commission has found that Bennington police discriminated against former state representative Kiah Morris because of its prejudice and racism.

The commission’s report says that police failed to adequately investigate a white supremacist who targeted Morris with racist social media posts.

Morris said during a press conference on Tuesday that she wants the report to result in leadership changes in Bennington.

“No changes in staffing or penalties for the town manager or the chief of police has emerged from this experience, which my family feels is necessary to begin on a meaningful path toward real change in Bennington,” Morris said.

Morris and her family reached a settlement last month over alleged violations of the state’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act. The town agreed to pay Morris and her family more than $137,000 as part of that settlement.

In the meantime, town officials are refuting the commission report findings. And Bennington Select Board Chair Jeannie Jenkins says the town has full confidence in Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette.

“I think we have an excellent chief of police,” she said. “I really have no concerns at all about the way that Paul has led the department.”

Jenkins says the police department has undertaken a series of reforms to improve accountability and address racial bias.

Read/hear the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

3. Gov. hopes for U.S.-Canadian border reopening in summer

Gov. Phil Scott says he hopes that Vermont's border with Canada will reopen for trade and tourism sometime this summer.

Scott says infection rates in Canada are currently too high to have an open border, and he notes that travel between many Canadian provinces is currently prohibited.

But the governor says he's optimistic that the situation will stabilize once a large number of people are vaccinated on both sides of the border.

"They have their hands full,” Scott said. “Things are getting better, they're getting more doses and getting more people vaccinated, which is the answer. And we'll continue to advocate just as soon as it's safe to open up the border, because we truly — they are our largest trading partner, and we need them for our tourism."

At this time, a limited number of commercial trucks and health care personnel are allowed to cross the border.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: Most Of Us Can't Go Between Vt. And Canada Right Now. But This Trucker Can

Gov. wants to use more federal funds for broadband investment

Gov. Phil Scott says a bill to boost broadband internet service does not go far enough.

The Senate Tuesday advanced legislation that would spend $100 million to support the broadband build-out.

Scott wants to use federal funds to make a $250 million investment in broadband.

“Are they thinking that we'll add another $100 million to that afterwards? And where is all the money going to go?” Scott asked. “Because I don't want to wake up three or four years from now and look back and ask ourselves, where did all the money go? And we didn't accomplish what we hoped.”

The bill would direct the funds to small internet providers and local communication union districts. Nine of these districts have started up around the state.

- John Dillon

Gov. says he doesn't feel welcome anymore in national GOP

Gov. Phil Scott says he no longer feels welcome in the national Republican Party.

The governor says GOP party leaders have established a litmus test to be considered a "good Republican," which includes total allegiance to former president Donald Trump.

Scott says he's very concerned that House Republican leaders have targeted Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney after she challenged Trump's false assertion that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

"It appears that there's a sign that's being placed in the window saying, ‘You needn't apply' and if you don't adhere to those values, that litmus test, in fact you are no longer welcome,” Scott said. “And I think that's really unfortunate."

Scott says it's impossible for the Republicans to be a "big tent" party under the policies of current GOP leaders.

- Bob Kinzel

4. Marcelle Leahy begins receiving cancer treatment

Marcelle Leahy, the wife of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, has begun treatment for a form of adult leukemia.

Leahy began outpatient treatment Tuesday. It is expected to last a few weeks.

She was diagnosed with the cancer in 2019, and previously survived melanoma cancer.

- Mark Davis

5. Controversial plan to sink old ferry in Lake Champlain is scrapped

A controversial plan to sink a century-old ferry into Lake Champlain has been scrapped.

Seven Days reports that Lake Champlain Transportation withdrew its application for a state permit to plunge the ferry — named the Adirondack — to the bottom of Burlington Bay.

Environmental groups had expressed concerns the vessel would pollute the lake. Proponents argued the sunken ferry would draw scuba diving tourists.

- Brittany Patterson

6. UVM faculty union secures new four-year contract

Members of the University of Vermont's faculty union have a new four-year contract after a year of negotiations.

VTDigger reports the deal was completed Monday and includes what the faculty had sought, including a 5.5% salary increase by 2024, and preservation of retirement and sabbatical benefits.

In a press release, UVM said it continues to face multimillion-dollar revenue shortfalls and called the contract one of "fiscal prudence."

The union represents about 700 full-time faculty.

Some of the university's clerical and technical workers are also continuing to seek unionization. A vote is scheduled for later this month — the third union drive in a decade.

- Brittany Patterson

7. Stowe voters approve withdrawal from Lamoille South Unified Union School District

Stowe voters approved a withdrawal from the Lamoille South Unified Union School District Tuesday.

WCAX reports the decision had more than 1,000 votes supporting the withdrawal, to just over 460 votes against.

Stowe merged with schools in Morristown and Elmore in 2018 under the school consolidation law known as Act 46.

The towns of both Elmore and Morristown will have a vote of their own to approve Stowe's withdrawal from the combined district.

- Matthew Smith

8. Health insurance could decrease for some small businesses, increase for individuals

The cost of health insurance in Vermont could shrink for some small businesses next year.

In filings with the Green Mountain Care Board last week, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont requested an 8% decrease in health insurance rates for small businesses and nonprofits for 2022.

VTDigger reports another major insurance provider in Vermont, MVP Health Care, asked the care board for a 5% increase.

Individuals buying insurance on Vermont Health Connect can expect large price hikes, with MVP asking for a 17% increase, while Blue Cross Blue Shield asked for an 8% increase for those plans.

The Green Mountain Care Board will hold hearings on the changes before making a final determination this summer.

- Matthew Smith

9. ECFiber broadband service to experience interruptions Thursday

Vermonters in several towns who get their broadband through ECFiber will see their service interrupted Thursday.

The Valley News reports a facility upgrade by the telecom provider starts Thursday night at 10 o'clock and could go into early Friday morning.

Outages for phone and internet will affect residents in 11 towns, from Hancock and Granville east to Norwich, and as far south as West Windsor.

- Matthew Smith

Update 4:30 p.m. We removed a sentence from the first item about Vermont's COVID-19 data that contained information we couldn't fact-check.

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