News Roundup: Corrections Officials Report COVID-19 Outbreak At Newport Prison
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about a COVID-19 outbreak at the Newport prison, Vermont National Guard leaving Afghanistan and more for Tuesday, Aug. 31.
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1. State officials report 104 new COVID cases, another death
Vermont officials reported 104 new COVID-19 infections Tuesday, along with one more virus-linked death.
Now, 276 Vermonters have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic.
Some 25 cases were reported both in Chittenden and Washington counties, with about a dozen or more cases each in Windham and Rutland counties.
Hospitalizations continued to fall, now measuring 28 people, including eight in intensive care.
Vermont's vaccination rate — those eligible who have gotten at least one dose — is now 86.1%.
Virtually all counties in New England are experiencing high or substantial viral spread, prompting the CDC to continue to urge mask wearing while indoors, even if fully vaccinated.
- Matthew Smith
COVID-19 outbreak at Newport prison
Vermont's largest in-state prison is grappling with a COVID-19 outbreak.
The Department of Corrections announced 21 new cases Monday among the 400 or so people held at the Newport facility. That brings the total number of cases to 25 among the incarcerated population and seven staffers.
DOC Commissioner Jim Baker says most of the infections are in a unit where a COVID-positive staffer worked earlier this month.
“All the positive folks are together, the people who are the close contacts are isolated and quarantined, and will be part of the testing,” Baker said. “Individuals that are not close contacts are cohorted in another section in the unit.”
The entire facility was re-tested Monday.
- Liam Elder-Connors
Vaccine mandate for certain state employees goes into effect Wednesday
Starting on Wednesday, about 1,000 government employees in Vermont will have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or face regular testing and masking requirements.
The requirement applies to employees at the Department of Corrections, the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington, and the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin.
In total, the policy applies to about 12% of the state's government employees.
Gov. Phil Scott says the mandate will help protect the patients and incarcerated individuals who live in facilities run by the state.
- Peter Hirschfeld
Dartmouth asks remote employees to keep working from home until October
Dartmouth College is asking employees who have not yet returned to campus to keep working remotely until October.
The previous plan was for workers to return at the start of September, but the college is adjusting its plans as COVID-19 cases increase regionally and nationally.
Those who have already returned to campus can continue to work on-site, college officials said.
The school says the return to campus is being pushed back a month to decrease campus density and slow the transmission of COVID-19.
Dartmouth plans weekly surveillance testing for vaccinated employees, while unvaccinated workers coming to campus will be required to test twice a week.
- Associated Press
2. Vermont National Guard troops have left Afghanistan
Vermont National Guard troops working on the U.S. military's exit from Afghanistan have left the country.
That's according to a tweet from the Guard Monday, which notes all Task Force Avalanche soldiers have returned safely from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
Task force soldiers from multiple states, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Colorado, deployed to U.S. Central Command locations in Asia back in February.
VTDigger reports Vermont Guard members arrived at the Kabul airport earlier this month. About a platoon of soldiers — fewer than 15 in all — deployed there.
They returned to their previous deployment locations on Sunday.
None were reportedly harmed in the attack on the airport that killed 13 Americans.
- Matthew Smith
3. Slate Ridge owner's lawyer argues Environmental Court abused discretion
The attorney for the owner of a paramilitary style training facility in West Pawlet, called Slate Ridge, wants the Vermont Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling against her client.
In a pair of briefs, Middlebury attorney Cindy Hill argues that a town building permit Daniel Banyai was granted in June of 2018 is valid. She says the state’s Environmental Court abused its discretion when it ordered Banyai to tear down unpermitted structures on his property, cease all military style training and pay more than $46,000 in fines.
But the town of Pawlet argues Banyai began operating his training facility and related construction in 2017. It cites what it calls Banyai’s horrendous record of compliance.
Banyai’s behavior and shooting at Slate Ridge has terrified neighbors for years. Hill said all parties had been notified that the Vermont Supreme Court will hear arguments on the case.
No date has been set.
- Nina Keck
4. Max Misch pleads not guilty to second charge of disorderly conduct as a hate crime
A self-described white nationalist pleaded not guilty on Monday to a second charge of disorderly conduct as a hate crime.
Police say a friend of the woman witnessed the argument and heard Misch "saying all types of racist names."
Misch told police that the teens had threatened him as he walked down a street.
Misch pleaded not guilty last year to another misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct as a hate crime.
- Associated Press
5. Champlain Valley Fair seeing record attendance numbers
The Champlain Valley Fair — the largest fair in the state — is seeing record attendance numbers.
Since opening on Friday, more than 36,000 people have walked through the gates.
That comes after the event was canceled last summer due to the pandemic.
Marketing director Jeffrey Bartley says the 10 day event, which brings more than 120,000 people to Essex Junction, provides financial support for other community events hosted at Champlain Valley Exposition.
"If the fair is successful, then that puts us in a situation where we can host all the other community events,” Bartley says. “Anything from Girls on the Run to the craft fair to Champlain College’s graduation."
Bartley says Vermont's high vaccination rate and the event's outdoor setting should help alleviate COVID safety concerns. Fair organizers are recommending people wear masks indoors.
The Health Department says it has provided guidance and recommendations to the event. And during the first three days of the fair, about 60 people were vaccinated at the onsite walk-in clinic.
- Connor Cyrus
6. State police investigating oil dumped in Milton lake
Vermont State Police say they are investigating what appeared to be the dumping of a large amount of motor oil in Arrowhead Mountain Lake in Milton.
Police say fire departments from Georgia and Milton responded on Sunday morning and took steps to contain the spill. It was later being cleaned up by contractors hired by the state.
An environmental enforcement officer with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources also was investigating.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact the Natural Resources Agency or Vermont State Police.
- Associated Press
7. 600+ acres around Appalachian Trail conserved in Killington
More than 600 acres surrounding the Appalachian Trail in Killington have been protected, thanks to a partnership between The Conservation Fund, the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service.
The Conservation Fund’s Sally Manikian says the 1.3 mile stretch of high elevation land is important for connecting ecosystems along the iconic trail.
"The Appalachian Trail prior to this acquisition was a really narrow corridor, literally a very skinny ribbon of about 1,000 feet give or take,” Manikian said. “And you may say well, that’s enough for a recreational trail. But these buffers really enhance the ability to manage the conservation experience outside of that 1,000-foot-wide ribbon. As well as if the trail needs to be moved one way or the other, there’s a wider area in which to work.”
The land was purchased by the nonprofit Conservation Fund in 2014, and is now being managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
- Nina Keck
8. Agriculture agency says live spotted lanternfly captured on shipment in Rutland
Officials say an invasive pest considered to be a threat to a variety of agricultural crops and hardwood trees was found in an out-of-state shipment to Vermont.
The Agency of Agriculture says it was alerted on Aug. 19 that a live spotted lanternfly was captured on a shipment delivered in Rutland.
The agency says the insects found were either killed or captured, and no other evidence of spotted lanternflies has been discovered by responding staff.
State officials say it's important for people to keep a look out for the invasive and destructive insect, and report any immediately. The 1-inch insect has grey wings with black spots and red underwings.
- Associated Press
Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.