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News Roundup: State Reviews Recommendations On Face Masks For Upcoming School Year

A red background with vermont news round up written, with a small green graphic of vermot on the R of roundup
Elodie Reed
/
VPR

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about masking in schools this fall, the latest coronavirus numbers and more for Monday, July 26.

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As Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended and coronavirus restrictions lifted statewide, we will no longer be reporting daily case numbers at the top of this newsletter. Click here for the latest on new cases, and find the latest vaccination data online any time.

1. State officials review face mask recommendations for schools

State officials are reviewing their recommendations for the use of masks in Vermont schools this fall as the state sees an uptick in COVID cases due to the highly-contagious delta variant.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says a special task force has been created to study public health protocols and the safety of students and teachers.

"And we're going to take all of that under consideration, along with our experience with masking, along with what COVID looks like now in Vermont, and what we anticipate it will look like in the fall with regard to community transmission levels,” Levine said. “And we'll look at vaccination rates at least among the students who are eligible currently to be vaccinated."

Levine says the task force hopes to have specific recommendations in several weeks.

- Bob Kinzel

State reports 18 new COVID cases

Vermont officials reported 18 new COVID cases today and another 38 over the weekend. Five people are currently hospitalized, though none are in the ICU.

To date, 83.4% of Vermonters 12 and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot.

- Elodie Reed

State colleges to require student COVID vaccination

The 3,000 students on the residential campuses of the Vermont State Colleges will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the fall semester.

The executive committee of the Vermont State College System Board of Trustees voted Thursday to require the vaccines for students at Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College.

Students who are studying online only and will not be on campus will be exempted. Exemptions are also permitted for health and religious reasons.

The resolution passed by the committee says a significant percentage of state college students are from an age group that is less likely to be vaccinated.

- Associated Press

2. Vermont DCF to pay students for meals during remote or hybrid learning

Nearly 40,000 Vermont students will get payments from the Department of Children and Families to pay for meals they would normally receive in school.

The payments are for students enrolled in remote or hybrid learning programs, and who normally receive free or reduced-price school meals.

The state announced it received authorization from the federal government for the program Friday.

The money is being distributed on EBT cards. A student can get close to $120 for each month of remote learning, and between $30 and $40 for each month of a hybrid program. Children are in line for a one-time benefit of $375 for the full summer.

Families can apply for the summer benefit until Aug. 16 by contacting their student's school.

- Henry Epp

Low-income schools can apply for funds to provide services to families

The Agency of Education wants to use about $3.5 million in COVID relief money to help low-income schools increase the services they provide families.

The Legislature this year passed the Community Schools Act. The law funnels federal COVID funds toward things like mental health services, dental clinics, and more free food for students and their families.

The Agency of Education opened up the grant process last week for the program, and districts have until the middle of August to apply for the money.

The grants last for three years, and are only available to schools with at least 40% of their students qualifying for free or reduced lunch program.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

3. Welch disagrees with U.S. waiting until Aug. 21 to open border with Canada

Congressman Peter Welch says the U.S.-Canada border should be open as soon as possible for fully vaccinated people.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced this week that Canada will open its border with the United States beginning on Aug. 9. Visitors will need to have proof that they are fully vaccinated.

But the United States has not yet lifted its ban, a decision with which Welch disagrees.

“You know, I think Biden is really wrong on this, and I think Trudeau is right,” Welch said. “Now I'm working with my colleagues to just bang the doors in the Biden administration to do what Trudeau did, and open those borders. I think that's really important for us."

The Biden administration has extended the current ban until Aug. 21.

- Bob Kinzel

4. Nurses, health care workers rally to highlight concerns over pay, staffing shortages

Nurses and health care workers with UVM Medical Center rallied last week to highlight concerns over pay and staffing shortages.

Jessica Kilpatrick is a registered nurse and executive vice president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses. She says the shortages are due to a few factors, including older staff retiring and new nurses not staying long.

"And so we're just really feeling that stress everywhere in the hospital, with the patient increase and the nursing shortage and technical and professional shortages,” Kilpatrick said. “So we've been trying to find ways that we can recruit and retain that staff, so that we can continue to offer the quality care that we're known for."

In a statement, UVMMC spokesperson Dr. John Brumsted said recruiting has been challenging, but the network is committed to finding solutions.

Kilpatrick says the nurses’ union bargaining team met this past week to form a proposal and plans to meet with the hospital next week.

- Mary Engisch

5. Vermont set to have record budget surplus

Vermont is set to record its largest budget surplus ever.

According to preliminary data, the state collected more than $400 million over revenue estimates set last August.

Administration Secretary Susanne Young says the state economy got an enormous boost from the billions of dollars in federal pandemic programs that went to thousands of businesses and residents.

"And the state's economy is the result of vaccination rates, more restrictions being lifted and consumers are now appearing to have become more comfortable going out to spend, dine, shop, travel,” Young said.

According to Young, a large part of the surplus, $150 million, has been earmarked to help reduce unfunded liabilities in the state employees' and state teachers' pension funds.

- Bob Kinzel

6. State police investigating boaters' deaths in Northeast Kingdom

Vermont State Police are investigating the deaths of two boaters found in a Northeast Kingdom lake Sunday.

VSP received reports Saturday night about a pontoon boat adrift on Crystal Lake in Barton, and found several personal items on that boat, according to a press release. Police say their investigation found that a man, woman and dog went out on the boat Saturday afternoon. The bodies of the man and woman were found early Sunday morning, and the dog has not been found.

The identities of the two individuals haven't been released yet. Police say their investigation is ongoing, but that the incident does not appear to be suspicious.

- Liam Elder-Connors

7. Rutland pairing locals with prospective residents to bolster workforce

After pausing during the pandemic, a concierge-style program in Rutland is resuming efforts to attract new residents and bolster the local workforce.

Lyle Jepson heads the Chamber and Economic Development of the Rutland Region, one of the organizers.

He says 12 Rutland County towns and more than a dozen businesses are sponsoring the program that pairs locals with prospective newcomers.

“We have 30-plus volunteers who are eager to talk to people in their demographic, and we have folks of all ages, and they will speak with folks about what they know about the region and what they like about being here,” Jepson said. “And we feel that that really is what makes a difference.”

Jepson says since 2018, 33 families have moved to Rutland County with the program.

- Nina Keck

Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.

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