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News Roundup: Vermont Dept. Of Health Reports 144 New COVID-19 Cases, 2 Deaths

A blue background with the words Vermont News Roundup with a green Vermont icon over the "R"
Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about new coronavirus cases, pension reform and more for Friday, Aug. 27.

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While Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended, the delta variant is now circulating around the state. Click here for the latest on new cases, and find the latest vaccination data online any time.

1. Vermont Dept. of Health reports 144 new COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths

Two more Vermonters have died from COVID-19, state health officials reported Friday.

That makes 15 virus-linked deaths so far this month, and pushes the state's COVID-19 death toll to 275.

The health department also reported 144 new COVID-19 infections statewide today. Vermont has now seen 100 or more new cases a day in eight of the last nine days.

45 of today's new infections were in Chittenden County, with 23 in Washington and 15 in Windsor counties.

Pandemic-related hospitalizations dropped to 30. The number of people in the ICU dropped to four.

85.8% of eligible Vermonters have now gotten at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

Matthew Smith

Vermont DOC reinstates mask mandate inside facilities

The Vermont Department of Corrections is re-instituting a mask mandate across all of its facilities in the wake of several COVID-19 infections among workers and people who are incarcerated.

Prisons with active cases will also have visits suspended and be placed in lockdown. As of Friday, five of the state's six facilities have active cases.

The department announced seven new infections Thursday. In all,10 DOC workers at four different locations have tested positive for COVID-19. Four inmates across three locations are also positive.

Gov. Phil Scott had announced a requirement for for corrections officers to get vaccinated, but details of that mandate are still being worked out. The department says nearly 80% of its staff are vaccinated.

Matthew Smith

UVM students must be fully vaccinated to return to campus this week

University of Vermont freshmen are arriving on campus this week and must be fully vaccinated.

The school’s largest freshmen class started moving in Thursday. Returning students are arriving Saturday, for the start of the semester Monday.

Nearly 100% of undergraduate students are vaccinated, according to university officials, with a little over 1% qualifying for an exemption.

Those unvaccinated students will be required to get tested for COVID-19 weekly, and all students must wear masks indoors.

Students are expected to get tested before arriving for the fall semester and will get tested again once they’re on campus.

The Associated Press

2. Burlington elementary, middle school closed after staff discover bullet hole in window

The Burlington School District closed Edmunds Elementary and Middle Schools Friday morning, after staff discovered a bullet hole shot through a window on campus.

A spokesperson with the district says they believe it happened overnight, when the school was empty.

It was discovered when staff arrived this morning.

The district notified parents with an automated phone call this morning, and is working to get students who had already arrived at school home safely.

All other schools in the district are open today.

District officials say they’re working with police to investigate, and anticipate reopening Monday.

Matthew Smith

3. Former labor commissioner warns cuts to state pension fund will make it hard to recruit

A former Vermont labor commissioner says cuts to the state’s pension benefits would make it harder to attract workers to government service.

Annie Noonan told lawmakers this week that generous retirement benefits are one of the main draws for people seeking jobs in state government.

“If the retirement plans are overhauled and redefined to make them less attractive to applicants, I believe that we will not be able to compete as we should for the best and the brightest," Noonan said.

Noonan says the state could also see a mass exodus of state workers leaving for the private sector.

She says some state workers have already decided to retire early, in advance of possible reductions to pension benefits.

And she told lawmakers this week that more will follow if the Legislature doesn’t do more to reassure government employees.

“What we don’t want to see happen is people who are really important to the public service delivery system in this state leave state government because they don’t know what’s happening or they’re fearful of what’s happening,” she said.

A task force created by the Legislature is considering pension cuts as one way to address a shortfall in the pension system.

Peter Hirschfeld

More from VPR: What's Going On With Vermont's Pensions?

4. Sen. Sanders will hold town halls to raise support for Democratic stimulus bill across the midwest

Senator Bernie Sanders is taking on a new leadership role within the Democratic caucus.

Beginning this weekend, Sanders will be traveling around the country touting the Democrats' $3.5 trillion economic package that increases spending on child care, affordable housing, climate change and Medicare.

Sanders hopes to convince some Republicans to support the bill.

"Here is the issue," he said. "In the Congress, it is absolutely true the Republicans are adamantly opposed to what we are trying to do. But at the grassroots level, that is not the case, whether you're a Democrat, Republican, Independent, you understand that for too long government has paid attention to the rich and the powerful and now it is time to pay attention to working families."

The proposal is paid for, in part, by raising taxes on wealthy people and corporations.

Sanders, who's chair of the Senate Budget Committee, says he'll be holding town meetings in Iowa, Indiana and Michigan, to build support for the bill in rural communities.

"To talk to the people in those areas to explain what is exactly in this bill and what we have seen so far from the polling it is massively popular — massively popular," Sanders said.  

Sanders is hoping that some Republican members of Congress will vote for the bill when they see it has support at the grassroots level.

Bob Kinzel

5. Apportionment board mulls over Chittenden County Senate district

One of the biggest challenges facing the Vermont Apportionment Board, as it redraws legislative districts based on the new Census report, is how to divide up the six-person Chittenden County Senate district.

This district is the largest in the country — currently no state has a senate district with more than three members.

Several years ago, lawmakers voted to break the district into smaller parts but the specific design was left to the Apportionment Board.

Board chairman Tom Little says the district could be divided up using existing geographic boundaries or some Chittenden towns could be sliced off to neighboring counties.

"If you are looking at population pressures beyond Chittenden District, you could propose a solution that involves other counties; Grand Isle and Franklin for example," he said.

The Board hopes to make a decision by the middle of October.

Read or listen to the full story.

Bob Kinzel

Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.

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