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News Roundup: State Officials Report 123 New COVID Infections, Another Death

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

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about elementary and college classes going remote due to COVID-19 cases, a BIPOC land sovereignty project getting close to securing access to its first parcel and more for Wednesday, Sept. 1.

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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. State officials report 123 new COVID infections, another death

One more Vermonter has died from COVID-19 and another 123 more are infected with the coronavirus, Vermont health officials reported Wednesday.

To date, 277 Vermonters have died from the virus during the pandemic, including 17 deaths throughout August.

Some 29 people are currently hospitalized with the virus. Eight are in the ICU.

Officials report 86.2% of eligible Vermonters have gotten at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

East Montpelier Elementary School closes this week for COVID-19 cases

East Montpelier Elementary School has closed for the rest of the week after administrators learned of two cases of COVID-19 at the school.

And Secretary of Education Dan French says widespread surveillance testing at Vermont schools will reveal more cases in other districts as the fall term progresses.

“Contact tracing in our schools will continue to play a critical role in ensuring the safety of our schools in the coming months, which means there’ll be times when classes or schools will need to close, but hopefully for shorter periods of time than last year,” he said.

French says 47 of the state’s 52 school districts have agreed to participate in COVID surveillance testing, and all but one school district has adopted a universal mask mandate for students and staff.

Read/hear the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

NVU-Johnson classes go remote after COVID-19 cases detected on campus

NVU-Johnson students will be learning remotely through the end of the week due to positive COVID-19 cases on campus.

WCAX reports Northern Vermont University students at the Johnson campus are remote starting today.

An email to the school community states two students on campus tested positive. The move to remote learning runs through this Friday.

The change only applies to NVU students on the Johnson campus.

- Matthew Smith

COVID case rate not decreasing as quickly as officials expected

The surge in COVID cases in Vermont due to the delta variant isn’t dissipating as quickly as public health officials predicted.

Vermont is experiencing its ninth consecutive week-over-week increase in COVID case counts. But Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says that should not be cause for alarm.

“We do want to stress that when you look at the trend lines over all, the rate of growth continues to decrease, and we’re moving in that favorable direction,” Pieciak said.

More than 900 Vermonters tested positive for COVID-19 over the past weeks, a 22% increase over last week’s totals.

Previous COVID modeling had predicted that the number of new cases would begin to decline by late August.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Vermont first in nation to vaccinate more than 75% 12- to 17-year-olds

Vermont has hit another first-in-the-nation COVID milestone.

More than 75% of Vermont children age 12 to 17 have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Gov. Phil Scott says younger children will soon have an opportunity to be immunized as well.

“And we’re eagerly awaiting FDA approval of the vaccine for kids under 12, and hope that will happen in the next month or so,’ he said.

Scott says high vaccination rates among Vermont’s students will allow for full-time, in-person learning in the classroom this year.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Gov. considering vaccine mandate for all state employees

The Scott administration says it will decide in the near future if all state employees should be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be tested on a weekly basis.

The administration has already issued a vaccination mandate for all employees of the Corrections Department that went into effect today.

Now, Gov. Phil Scott says this initial mandate could be expanded to cover the rest of the state's workforce.

"This will affect about 1,000 employees who will have to attest they're fully vaccinated, or they will be required to test for COVID weekly and wear a mask while at work,” Scott said. “We're now also considering expanding this requirement across state government."

Scott says the Newport facility where 25 inmates and seven staff have tested positive for COVID will be in a total "lockdown mode" until further notice.

- Bob Kinzel

Vermont preparing to distribute COVID-19 vaccine booster shots

The Scott administration is preparing for the distribution of COVID-19 booster vaccination shots in the coming weeks.

It's expected these shots will be available at the end of September.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says the state will follow the same protocols for the booster that it used with the initial vaccines.

Health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities will be at the top of the list. The booster shots will then be available based on a person's age, starting with Vermonters who are at least 75.

"This is the process that's now underway, and will unfold in just the next several weeks,” Levine said. “As we have throughout the pandemic, we'll keep everyone highly informed as this develops."

Levine says he's optimistic that the booster shot will help prolong the effectiveness of the original vaccine.

- Bob Kinzel

State says unvaccinated people six times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 compared to vaccinated people

Fully vaccinated Vermonters may be contracting COVID-19. But Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says they’re enjoying far better outcomes than people who haven’t been vaccinated against the disease.

“Those who are not fully vaccinated have a much higher rate of hospitalization than those that are fully vaccinated,” he said.

Pieciak says people who haven’t been vaccinated are six times more likely to end up in the hospital as a result of COVID than people who are fully vaccinated.

Over the past two weeks, more than 70% of COVID-related hospitalizations have involved unvaccinated individuals.

- Peter Hirschfeld

2. BIPOC land sovereignty project close to securing access to first parcel

A land sovereignty project for Black, Indigenous and People of Color in Vermont is close to securing access to its first seven acres in Sharon.

The project, called Every Town, hopes to eventually do this in every municipality in the state. Project founder Kenya Lazuli says the aim is to build networks of community support and mutual aid as well as permanent land access for people of color in a very white state.

“Regardless of what happens with the climate, and regardless of what's happening politically, there's still space for everyone,” Lazuli said.

She says Every Town is obtaining the land in Sharon through a donation by Norwich Solar, which plans to purchase the land and construct barns on the premises. The company will mount solar panels and then share the barn space and land.

“And the land stewards are planning to do like medicinal herbs and… gourmet mushrooms and sort of like community garden space and community storage using the barn,” Lazuli said.

Through a $15,000 grant from the Working Lands Enterprise Board, the Every Town project will record the process in a journal-like document.

That includes consulting and building a relationship with the descendants of the original inhabitants of this land, the Abenaki.

- Elodie Reed

3. Alburgh international border crossing to temporarily close for renovations

The international border crossing in Alburgh will temporary close for renovations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Tuesday.

The station will be closed for about six weeks starting on Sept. 15. CBP is improving security features at the facility and resurfacing lanes, among other projects.

Border crossings at Highgate Springs and Champlain, New York will remain open.

- Mark Davis

4. Rutland weekly newspaper shutting down

A popular Rutland weekly newspaper is shutting down after 23 years.

The Rutland Herald reports Sam’s Good News printed its final issue, dated Saturday, Aug. 25.

The paper ran a mix of columns by locals, and community news.

Publisher Sam Gorruso cited declining advertising revenue, a longtime editor's retirement and his own health issues as reasons why the paper is folding.

Gorruso said he's long struggled to hire enough staff to keep the paper running. That's on top of what he calls a 90% decline in ad sales since the paper began.

- Matthew Smith

5. Emerald ash borers expanding range in Vermont

Invasive insects are expanding their range in Vermont: The area of the state infested by the emerald ash borer has grown.

The emerald ash borer is a small green beetle that destroys ash trees. First detected in Vermont in 2018, it's found in portions of most counties.

And now, the state says the beetle is present in seven new towns: Berlin, Highgate, Middlebury, Rupert, St. Albans, Swanton, and Wilmington.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture advises residents of those towns, and neighboring towns, not to move ash wood outside of infested areas.

Earlier this week, the agency also announced that a spotted lanternfly was found in a shipment delivered to Rutland. That invasive insect damages agricultural crops as well as hardwood trees.

The state is investigating the incident, and asks residents to report any sightings of the pest.

- Anna Van Dine

6. Bennington College welcomes largest-ever class

Bennington College will welcome its largest-ever class this fall.

The liberal arts college in southwestern Vermont has an incoming class of more than 250 students, the largest in its almost 90-year history.

The college also saw a record number of applications, 25% higher than the previous year. Bennington has an acceptance rate of 61%.

Almost 750 students in total are enrolled at Bennington. Most will be on-campus this fall.

- Anna Van Dine 

Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.

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