News Roundup: Vt. Reaches 79.6% Vaccination Rate, Inches Closer To Full Reopening
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Wednesday, June 9.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:
1. Vt. reports 5 new COVID-19 cases, inches closer to 80% vaccination goal
Health officials reported five new COVID-19 infections in Vermont Wednesday.
Three were in Windsor County, which has seen more new cases in the last two weeks than any other area in the state.
One person is hospitalized in intensive care due to the virus.
The state also inched close to its target of getting 80% of eligible Vermonters to start COVID-19 vaccinations.
Currently, 79.6% of Vermonters have been at least partially vaccinated – an increase of 0.2%.
- Matthew Smith
Vermont's case counts hit lowest level in months
COVID-19 case counts in Vermont have hit their lowest levels in eight months.
Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says 61 Vermonters tested positive for COVID-19 over the past seven days.
“And since our new case peak on April 1, our seven-day case average has fallen 94%, and we’ve fallen another 17% over the past week,” Pieciak said Tuesday.
Pieciak says new cases are declining even as cell phone data shows that Vermonters are moving the state about at pre-pandemic levels.
And he says high vaccination rates in Vermont are keeping transmission of the virus at bay.
- Peter Hirschfeld
As COVID-19 case counts fall in Vermont, so is the number of Vermonters being hospitalized because of the disease.
Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has dropped by more than 50% over the past two weeks.
“In fact, this week, we frequently reported zero patients in our ICUs across the state – the first time we’ve seen such few people requiring critical care in nearly eight months,” Pieciak said.
He says modeling suggests that hospitalizations will continue to fall as the summer progresses.
Vermont has reported one COVID-related death over the past three weeks.
- Peter Hirschfeld
2. Vermont Dept. of Health stages hundreds of walk-in vaccine clinics
The Vermont Department of Health has staged hundreds of pop-up vaccine clinics in recent weeks.
But Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith says Vermonters can also get their COVID-19 vaccines at more permanent walk-in clinics around the state, “Including, CVS, Hannaford Food and Drugs, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Price Chopper Market 32, RiteAid, Shaw’s Market, Costco or UVMMC pharmacies,” Smith said.
Gov. Phil Scott says he’ll lift all COVID-related public health orders when 80% of eligible Vermonters are at least partially vaccinated.
Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine is trying to improve COVID-19 vaccination rates among 12-to-15-year-olds in Vermont.
Levine says vaccination rates in that age group are lagging well behind the state average.
But he says new data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that young people can experience serious symptoms as a result of contracting COVID-19.
“Among hospitalized adolescents, nearly one-third required intensive care unit admission, and 5% had to be placed on a ventilator,” Levine said.
Levine says concern among parents is likely contributing to the comparatively low rates of vaccination for 12-to-15-year-olds.
He says reluctant parents should talk to their doctors to get more information about the vaccine.
Get a COVID-19 vaccine at a Vermont State Park this weekend
The Agency of Natural Resources is waiving entry fees at Vermont state parks this weekend.
And Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith is hoping to take advantage of the promotion to increase the state’s COVID-19 vaccination rate.
“We will have vaccination crews at many of the state parks to offer COVID-19 vaccines. We will also be back at the Jazz Fest this weekend as well,” Smith said.
Governor, White House express concern about vaccine misinformation
Gov. Phil Scott says members of the White House COVID-19 taskforce are worried that misinformation on the internet is fueling vaccine hesitancy.
Scott says members of the taskforce voiced those concerns on a conference call with governors on Tuesday.
Scott had his own message for Vermonters who have concerns about the vaccine.
“Think about reaching out to your family doctor, who you trust, and ask those questions, because vaccines are safe,” Scott said. “And if you’re reading something on Facebook that you haven’t seen anywhere else, it’s probably not true.”
Nearly 80% of Vermonters have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
But the state has seen a sharp decline in recent weeks in the number of new people getting vaccinated against the disease.
- Peter Hirschfeld
3. Memorial Day weekend shows promise for return of tourism to Vermont
The Scott administration says visitor traffic over Memorial Day weekend suggests that Vermont’s tourism industry is rebounding.
Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says hotel stays over the holiday weekend were up by nearly 300 over last year.
Pieciak says tourism traffic is still down compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“This should, however, certainly be an encouraging sign for the summer tourism season,” he said.
Gov. Phil Scott says he’ll lift all COVID-related travel restrictions when 80% of eligible Vermonters have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
He says Vermont could hit that benchmark as soon as this week.
- Peter Hirschfeld
4. Vermont's Congressional delegation calls on Pres. Biden to prioritize reopening the Canadian border
Vermont's congressional delegation is calling on the Biden administration to step up efforts to reopen the US-Canada border.
Congressman Peter Welch and Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Monday.
The delegation asked Biden to engage in talks with Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and loosen restrictions on travel between the two countries.
Other politicians on the Northern Border, including New York Representative Elise Stefanik, have called for the border to reopen. Stefanik, in a press release, said the US should unilaterally ease restrictions if a joint re-opening plan isn't established this month.
The U.S.-Canada border has been closed for more than a year due to the pandemic.
CTV News reports Prime Minster Trudeau recently indicated he wouldn't ease travel restrictions until 75% of Canadians are vaccinated. Currently, 63% of the population in Canada has received at least one dose of the vaccine.
- Liam Elder-Connors
5. Spurned bidders in Koffee Kup/Vermont Bread sale consider lawsuit
Gov. Phil Scott says he was caught off guard by news that the former Koffee Kup Bakery will be sold to a Georgia-based food maker that has no intention of maintaining operations in Vermont.
A court-appointed receiver for Koffee Kup has accepted an undisclosed bid for Koffee Kup’s brand and assets from a company called Flowers Foods.
While the deal may result in manufacturing plants in Burlington and Brattleboro going dormant, Scott says there’s little Vermont can do to intervene.
“It’s their obligation to get the best deal they possibly can to take care of those who are in line for some of the debt obligations,” Scott said.
A Canadian company had previously offered to purchase the company, and continue operations in Vermont.
250 people lost their jobs when Koffee Kup unexpectedly closed in late April.
New Brunswick-based company considers lawsuit over bid rejection
Two other baking companies that vied to buy the brand and its Vermont bakeries could challenge the sale.
Flowers Foods bought Koffee Kup's assets after submitting a late bid last week.
Now VTDigger reports New Brunswick-based Mrs Dunster's says it's considering a lawsuit after its bid was rejected at the last minute. Another spurned buyer, Massachusetts-based East Baking Company, says it also plans to challenge the sale.
An East Baking Company spokesperson told VTDigger it’s exploring whether the sale to Flowers Foods violates federal anti-trust rules.
- Peter Hirschfeld and Matthew Smith
6. Visits to Vt. prisons could resume next month
The Vermont Department of Corrections is hoping to resume in-person visits with people who are incarcerated by next month.
Visitations have been halted for more than a year due to the pandemic.
Interim DOC Commissioner Jim Baker says the department hopes to allow families to see incarcerated loved ones by July.
“After that we want to get volunteers back into the facility, the religious community, other volunteers, AA and so on, back into the facility,” Baker said.
Baker says DOC is might require a COVID-19 vaccine for visitors and incarcerated people who want to meet with family or outside groups.
- Liam Elder-Connors
7. Dept. of Public Safety issues water safety advisory
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling issued a water safety advisory Tuesday, after a swiftwater rescue at the Huntington Gorge over the weekend.
Schirling says first responders rescued two women who’d been swept up by a strong current in the Huntington River on Sunday.
He said the incident underscores the importance of never swimming alone.
“Whether you’re in a lake, a river, swimming pool or pond, even if you’re an expert swimmer, there’s always the potential for something unforeseen to happen,” Schirling said.
Schirling says people looking to cool off in the summer heat should be aware of the depth, current and underwater dangers before entering a body of water.
He says people should also not go swimming if they’ve been drinking or are under the influence of drugs.
- Peter Hirschfeld
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