News Roundup: Genomic Sequencing Confirms Delta Variant Is Behind Vermont's Rising COVID-19 Case Counts
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about more COVID-19 cases, labor shortages and more for Wednesday, Aug. 4.
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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 post. Click here for the latest on new cases, and find the latest vaccination data online any time.
1. New modeling suggests Vermont could see 100 new COVID-19 cases per day by mid-August
COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Vermont for the fourth consecutive week.
Vermont recorded 51 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday. Hospitalizations are on the rise. 10 people are now in the hospital due to the virus, three of whom are in the ICU.
15 new cases were identified in Chittenden County; 10 in Washington County.
The positivity rate over the last seven days is up to 2.4%.
And new modeling predicts that by the middle of August, Vermont will see more than 100 new cases a day.
But Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak, who does the state's modeling, says that won’t translate into more hospitalizations or deaths.
“Although cases are increasing, hospitalizations remain low, and we expect them to remain low over the next few weeks, and expect fatalities to remain low as well,” Pieciak said.
Pieciak says the delta variant is driving the uptick in cases.
And while some fully vaccinated Vermonters will contract COVID-19, Pieciak says they’re far less likely than unvaccinated people to suffer serious disease or death.
84.1% of eligible Vermonters have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
— Henry Epp and Peter Hirschfeld
More contagious delta variant is behind the increased spread
Genomic sequencing of coronavirus samples collected in Vermont have confirmed the highly contagious delta variant is behind the rise in case counts in the state.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says that, in July, 48 of the 56 samples sent for sequencing were identified as being the delta variant.
Levine says fully vaccinated people were unlikely to transmit previous strains of the coronavirus.
“But with delta, the game has changed," he said Tuesday. "It spreads about twice as easily from one person to another than previous strains of the virus.”
Levine said vaccinated people still represent a small percentage of total delta cases in Vermont.
And, he said fully vaccinated people are far less likely to suffer severe disease or death from all strains of the coronavirus, including the delta variant.
— Peter Hirschfeld
Quebec's positivity rate reaches highest level since May
Quebec's COVID-19 cases are climbing, as the province reports it's test positivity rate rose to the highest level since May.
CBC Montreal reports Quebec analyzed more than 11,000 coronavirus tests on Sunday, and 1.4% came back positive, the highest rate in more than two months.
The province saw an average of 139 new cases a day over the last week, up from fewer than 60 cases the week prior.
The rising positivity rate is a concern as schools and university classes resume later this month.
To date, more than 84% of Quebec residents 12 or older have gotten at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.
Fully vaccinated Americans will be allowed to travel to Canada starting Monday, Aug. 9.
— Matthew Smith
North Adams, Mass nursing home outbreak grows to 45 cases
A COVID-19 outbreak at a North Adams, Mass. nursing home has now grown to 45 infections, and cases have emerged at another facility run by the same company.
WAMC reports of the 45 cases at the North Adams Commons facility were all among fully vaccinated individuals, save for two residents and two staffers.
Berkshire Healthcare, which operates the facility, now reports two people at it's Kimball Farms Nursing Care Center in Lenox have also tested positive.
2. Vermont's new COVID-19 guidelines for schools differ slightly from CDC guidelines. Here's how.
The Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics say that schools should require mask wearing for all students and staff this fall, regardless of their vaccination status.
But the Vermont Agency of Education is taking a different approach.
And Secretary of Education Dan French says Vermont will eventually drop its universal masking guidance for schools with high vaccination rates.
"Vermont is certainly not an island, but Vermonters know vaccines work, and that understanding needs to be factored into our decision making for schools,” French said.
The agency is recommending a universal mask mandate for all Vermont schools at the beginning of the academic year.
But French says if 80% of a student body gets vaccinated against COVID-19, then masking requirements should only apply to unvaccinated students and staff.
— Peter Hirschfeld
3. New Hampshire hospitals require COVID-19 vaccines for all employees
Hospitals across New Hampshire will require employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The New Hampshire Hospital Association said Tuesday it supports the move by its 30 member hospitals to optimize the safety of care for patients and to protect the lives of health care workers.
At the state's largest health care system, the decision means all 13-thousand employees at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health must show proof of vaccination or documentation about exemptions by the end of September.
The health system includes Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, smaller hospitals in New Hampshire and Vermont, visiting nurse and hospice agencies and 24 clinics in both states.
— The Associated Press
Hanover Co-op stores reinstate their mask mandates
Hanover Co-op stores in the Upper Valley are reinstating their mask mandates amid rising cases of COVID-19 and the Delta variant of the virus.
WCAX reports store officials started requiring shoppers to wear masks this week, saying it's the best way to protect the co-op's 360 employees.
Some 71% of co-op employees have been fully vaccinated.
Hanover has four stores: one in White River Junction, two in Hanover, N.H. and one in Lebanon.
— Matthew Smith
4. Vermont track star Elle Purrier St. Pierre qualifies for the Olympic finals in the 1,500m
Vermont native Elle Purrier St. Pierre is moving even closer to realizing her dreams of an Olympic medal, qualifying for the finals in the women's 1,500m race after snagging a sixth-place finish in the semi-finals in Tokyo Wednesday.
Purrier St. Pierre had to wait for the second heat of runners to finish before finding out whether she'd qualify for the final.
She didn't finish in the top 5 for automatic entry, but her finishing time of 4 minutes and 1 second for sixth place was faster than the 6th and 7th place finishes among runners in the second heat of the semi-finals.
That gave her one of the two extra qualifying spots to compete for a medal in the final round.
The 26-year-old former Richford High School track star, who later went on to run for the University of New Hampshire, has set two separate records on the track: shattering a 37-year-old record for the fastest U.S. women's indoor mile in February of last year, and breaking the two-mile record earlier this year.
Now she's an Olympic finalist, with a chance to win a medal when the women's 1,500m finals takes place on Friday.
— Matthew Smith
5. Study finds it regularly takes more than three years to get a federal housing voucher in Burlington
It can take over three years to get a housing voucher in Burlington.
That’s the average wait time for low-income applicants seeking federal housing vouchers through the city, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Soyna Acosta is a housing analyst at the center. She called on Congress to increase federal funding to the program to reduce wait times nationwide.
"Long waiting times are not due to agencies failing to spend their voucher funding," Acosta said. "Over the past decade, agencies have spent virtually every dollar that lawmakers have provided for vouchers.”
The national average wait time for a voucher is over two years.
The housing voucher program gives federal dollars to tenants to pay for a portion of rent. Housing advocates have called for extensions of this rental relief, as the federal eviction moratorium expired July 31.
The Biden administration announced a new federal eviction moratorium Tuesday that NPR reports remains in effect through Oct. 3.
— The New England News Collaborative
6. Vermont loses cultural icon, driving force behind Bread and Puppet Theater
A driving force behind Glover’s Bread and Puppet Theater passed away this week.
Elka Schumann founded the company’s printing press and curated the cavernous puppet museum.
She loved playing the recorder, saxophone and teaching singing rounds in her living room.
She was prolific — making apple cider, raising sheep, tapping hundreds of maple trees, baking and swimming every day.
Friends describe her as strong-willed and humble, says former Bread and Puppet puppeteer Diana Sette.
"She always had a huge list of things to do that she could never keep up with. She was always like … just so busy and engaged always," Sette said.
Schumann was born in Russia, and came to the U.S. as a child.
She was an anti-war activist, and moved to a former dairy farm in Glover in the 1970s with her husband Peter and five children.
Schumann died on Sunday. She was 85.
— Lexi Krupp
7. Facing labor shortage, Cabot Creamery executives take shifts on the line
Like a number of businesses around the state, Cabot Creamery is struggling to hire enough employees — so much so that company executives are volunteering to help cut and package cheese.
Spokesperson Amber Sheridan says more than 50 positions are currently open in Vermont. While the company is offering incentives such as hiring bonuses for second and third shifts, it can’t always keep its lines up and running seven-days-a-week.
Sheridan said people across the company, including executives, have stepped in to help cut and package cheese.
“Our executives are coming down and working shoulder to shoulder with employees on our lines, so we're finding ways to keep up morale and trying to find ways to keep their production operating here at Cabot," Sheridan said.
The latest Vermont labor data shows the state's unemployment rate was 3.1% in June, compared to 5.9% nationally.
— Elodie Reed
8. Green Mountain Power will replace two maintenance trucks with Quebec-built electric vehicles
Vermont's largest utility will use a state grant to replace two of its heavy-duty maintenance trucks with battery-powered electric vehicles.
Green Mountain Power will buy the trucks using $915,000 from Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources — money from the state's share of the Volkswagen "dieselgate" settlement.
The electric bucket truck and maintenance truck are just a fraction of the utility's fleet of about 100 heavy-duty vehicles.
But GMP's chief innovation officer, Josh Castonguay, says the electric trucks don't require fuel or maintenance like traditional diesel-burning trucks. That saves money and up to 100 tons of carbon emissions per year.
"It just continues to show that, yeah, you can start to make this transition, you can electrify these vehicles, even the heavier-duty ones," he said. "And it makes sense and it starts to save you money, saves your customers money. It saves your carbon footprint."
The first of the two trucks — both built by Quebec-based Lion Electric — will join GMP's fleet next year.
— Matthew Smith
Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.