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News Roundup: Attorney General TJ Donovan Weighs Whether To Join Challenges To Sackler Opioid Settlement

A graphic of a blue background and the words Vermont News Roundup
Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about more COVID cases and deaths, Attorney General TJ Donovan's reaction to the Sackler opioid settlement deal and more for Friday, Sept. 3.

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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 96 new COVID infections, 1 additional death

The Vermont Department of Health reported 96 new COVID-19 infections and one more virus-linked death on Friday.

That brings the pandemic's death toll in Vermont to 280.

Thirty-one people are in the hospital with the virus. Eleven people are in intensive care.

The vaccination rate of eligible Vermonters with at least one dose is now 86.3%.

- Matthew Smith

Millions in pandemic rental assistance still available

More than 4,100 households have received funds through the state's emergency rent program, but there are close to 2,000 applications in the pipeline.

About two-thirds of the applications waiting to be processed are missing information, according to Vermont State Housing Authority.

The agency is administering the federally funded program, which is meant to help people who are behind on rent due to the pandemic.

VSHA has distributed about 18% of the $110 million that are currently available.

But some housing advocates worry funds aren't going out fast enough. The U.S. Supreme Court ended the Biden administration's eviction moratorium and Vermont's ban ended in July.

About 5,500 Vermont households still aren't caught up on rent, according to an August survey by U.S. Census Bureau.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Lebanon, New Hampshire adopts indoor mask mandate

The Lebanon City Council on Wednesday approved a mask mandate for most indoor spaces in the city.

The Valley News reports that the mandate applies to businesses, government buildings and nonprofits. It exempts children under 3 and employees who do not interact with the public.

Just over 59% of New Hampshire's eligible residents have had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. In Vermont, that number is just over 86%.

Vermont communities do not have the legal authority to enact mask mandates, without the approval of Gov. Phil Scott.

- Mark Davis

2. Vermont may challenge Sackler opioid settlement, Attorney General TJ Donovan says

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan says he's considering appealing a bankruptcy settlement involving the manufacturer of the addictive opioid OxyContin.

Under the settlement approved by a federal judge on Wednesday, the company Purdue Pharma will dissolve and pay over $4 billion, but members of the Sackler family, which own Purdue, will be shielded from further lawsuits involving their role in the opioid addiction crisis.

Attorney General Donovan says he thinks the deal is overly favorable to the Sacklers.

"They get to have every claim dismissed against them without ever appearing in a Vermont courtroom,” he told VPR. “I think that's unfair, and if we appeal, that will be the basis of our appeal."

Donovan says he's consulting with other larger states, including California, Oregon and Washington, which are also weighing whether to appeal the settlement.

- Henry Epp

3. Green Mountain Power sends help to Ida-beleaguered New York City

More than two dozen line workers and mechanics from Green Mountain Power are headed to the New York City area to assist with power restoration — after the remnants of Hurricane Ida caused extensive flooding and power outages Wednesday night.

GMP Communications Director Kristin Kelly said 29 utility employees will assist Con Edison workers in restoring power.

"In many ways it's like neighbors helping neighbors,” she said. “The devastation was clear. Con Edison needs help getting the lights back on to their customers, and we are happy to respond and assist as needed after that storm."

Kelly says most workers will receive their assignments Friday morning. The work could take until Sunday to complete.

- Henry Epp

4. Drought conditions continue to improve

Areas of the state that had been affected for months are finally seeing some relief. At the end of September 2020, the entirety of the state was at least "abnormally dry," according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Those conditions persisted through the spring of 2021, when more than 80% of Vermont was “abnormally dry” or in “moderate drought.”

Now, that's down to about 48%

Much of Orleans, Essex, Franklin, and Grand Isle counties are still in “moderate drought,” and Chittenden, Washington, Lamoille, Caledonia, and Orange counties are “abnormally dry.”

- Anna Van Dine

5. Criminal charges dropped in 2019 case of N.H. couple who died of carbon monoxide poisoning

All criminal charges have been dropped against two gas fitters indicted last year in the 2019 deaths of a New Hampshire couple who died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Caledonian Record reports the gas fitters faced charges of negligent homicide and reckless conduct in the deaths of John and April Courtney, who died from the deadly gas that investigators alleged was the result of an improperly installed heating system.

A judge on Tuesday dropped felony charges against 50-year-old Richard Mallett, Jr., of Woodsville, and 29-year-old Philip Poirier of East Corinth, Vermont.

Charges against a third man who supervised Mallet and Poirier in the heating system installation were dropped in April.

Despite the dismissal of criminal charges, all three men face a civil lawsuit alleging negligence.

- Matthew Smith

6. Cyclists converge on the Mad River Valley for the Green Mountain Stage Race

One of the largest bicycle stage races in the country is coming to the Green Mountains this weekend.

The 20th-annual Green Mountain Stage Race begins today in the Mad River Valley.

The four-day event includes four stages, including today's Warren time trial, the 37-mile Randolph circuit race on Saturday, and the 65-mile Mad River road race on Sunday.

The event concludes Monday with the Burlington Criterium, where racers will complete a 1-kilometer loop in downtown Burlington as many as 40 times.

Race officials say more than 600 racers will compete in this year's events. Organizers tell the Valley Reporter they expect more than 1,000 people when counting family members, friends and coaches.

- Matthew Smith

Brittany Patterson compiled and edited this post.

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