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News Roundup: Scott Administration Broadens State Employee Vaccine Mandate

Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Thursday, Sept. 9.

Want VPR's daily news in podcast form? Get up to speed in under 15 minutes with The Frequency every weekday morning. How about an email newsletter? Add our daily email briefing to your morning routine.

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 101 new COVID-19 case

Health officials reported 101 new COVID-19 infections in Vermont Thursday, and one more virus-linked death.

In addition to the new cases today, health officials also disclosed more than 50 backdated cases that were not reported on previous days.

Some 30 people are currently hospitalized. The rate of eligible Vermonters with at least one dose of the vaccine is now 86.7%.

- Matthew Smith

All state employees will be subject to COVID vaccine mandate starting Sept. 15

Gov. Phil Scott says all 8,000 or so executive branch employees in Vermont will soon be subject to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Speaking Wednesday at his weekly press briefing, Scott said he notified the state employees union of the requirement earlier this week.

The new mandate takes effect on Sept. 15.

“We want as many people as possible to get the vaccine, because we know they work,” Scott said. “And we feel it’s the best way to put this pandemic behind us, and I continue to urge other employers to follow suit.”

Employees that don’t self-attest to having gotten a COVID vaccine will face weekly testing requirements and will also have to abide by a mask mandate in government offices.

Scott had previously mandated vaccines only for state employees that work in prisons or other state-run residential facilities.

Read/hear the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Schools encouraged to keep masks on until at least Oct. 4

Vermont schools reported 81 confirmed cases of COVID-19 last week, and the governor is now encouraging districts to keep mask mandates in place until at least Oct. 4.

"We hope by then the delta wave that has impacted the entire country, though fortunately not anywhere near as severe in Vermont, will have begun to subside," Scott said.

Scott had previously said schools should lift mask mandates once 80% of eligible students received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. He now says the level of viral transmission in Vermont is too high for districts to lift masking requirements, regardless of vaccination rates.

The Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has urged the governor to institute a statewide mask mandate for schools until the COVID vaccine is available to children under 12.

Read/hear the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

State will offer cash incentives to schools to boost vaccination rates

The Scott administration is hoping that cash incentives will help boost vaccination rates among school-aged children.

“I’ve directed the Agency of Education to reserve $2 million in grant dollars for schools who receive high vaccination rates,” the governor said. “There will be benchmarks with corresponding awards as schools reach higher percentages.”

Scott said his administration is still finalizing details for the school vaccine incentive program, but added he’ll be encouraging districts to let students decide how the grant awards are spent.

More than 76% of 16- and 17-year-olds in Vermont have already gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. And more than 71% of 12- to 15-year-olds have begun the vaccination process.

-Peter Hirschfeld

State says it’s prepared to administer COVID-19 booster shots

The Scott administration says it's ready to administer COVID-19 booster shots as soon as the federal government approves them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to sign off on the shots in the next 10 days.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said the state plans to distribute the boosters using the same eligibility criteria used for the initial round of COVID vaccines.

This means health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities will be given top priority, followed by Vermonters who are at least 75 years old.

"Our plan subject to the terms of the federal approval is that eligibility will come in the order people were originally vaccinated,” Smith said.

Smith cautioned that it could be a few weeks before people will be able to sign up for a booster shot.

- Bob Kinzel

COVID shots for kids under 12 could be coming this fall

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says he hopes a COVID-19 vaccination for children under 12 will be available by the end of next month.

The CDC is currently testing the efficacy of several vaccinations for this age group.

Speaking Wednesday at the administration’s weekly press briefing, Levine said the initial test results are promising and the Health Department will be ready to launch its distribution program as soon as the vaccinations receive federal approval.

“We've been doing the planning for this literally for weeks already, so we have great experience with the 12 and up, using a host of methods, the predominant one was school-based clinics,” Levine said.

Vermont currently has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country for students aged 12-17.

- Bob Kinzel

Two Williston schools revert to virtual learning after positive COVID cases

Some students in Williston will continue to learn remotely after three more COVID-19 infections were found among the learning community.

WCAX reports a total of six cases are now being reported: five at Allen Brook School and one at the Williston Central School.

The four classes at ABS will continue with remote learning, the district says, as it re-examines its protocols around lunch hour, outdoor snack time and classroom activities.

- Matthew Smith

Vernon Green Nursing Home outbreak grows

An outbreak of COVID-19 at a senior living community in Vernon now has more than two dozen active cases, and has claimed the life of one resident.

The Bennington Banner reports there are currently 22 active COVID-19 cases at Vernon Green Nursing Home, and four more cases at Vernon Hall Assisted Living.

Officials with the senior community say one resident with a compromised respiratory system died on Wednesday.

The residents are all vaccinated, and officials say they are experiencing mostly mild symptoms.

Vernon Homes officials say about a quarter of its 110 employees are not vaccinated. In all, nine staffers between the two facilities are among the positive cases.

Residents are being isolated in their rooms, and dining and visitations are suspended. They hope to restart group activities, meals and visits in about two weeks.

- Matthew Smith

2. Vt. solar companies SunCommon and iSun Energy merge

Two of Vermont's largest solar companies are merging. iSun Energy, headquartered in Williston, is purchasing Waterbury-based SunCommon for $40 million.

iSun primarily builds commercial and industrial solar projects, while SunCommon installs both residential and commercial solar. SunCommon co-president Duane Peterson said his 200 employees stand to gain from this deal.

"Every SunCommon employee will receive a $2,000 bonus, and all employees will receive shares in iSun at a minimum of around $7,500 each,” Peterson told VPR.

The news comes the same day that President Joe Biden announced a goal to produce 45% of the nation's energy through solar power by 2050. If the goal is achieved, it would significantly expand the solar industry.

Disclosure: SunCommon is a VPR underwriter.

- Henry Epp

3. Gov. Scott weighs in on VSP trooper fake COVID-19 vaccination card scheme

Scott says he's disappointed by the actions of three state troopers accused of making fake COVID-19 vaccination cards.

The troopers, who have all resigned, are under federal investigation.

“It's just a dumb thing to do, to be perfectly frank,” he said. “It just makes no sense to me whatsoever.”

The troopers are suspected of having "varying roles" in the creation of the fake cards, according to the Department of Public Safety. The agency says it first learned of the scheme in August after another state police officer reported it.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Burlington confirmed that the incident was referred to federal investigators, but declined to provide more details.

- Liam Elder-Connors

4. Windham narrowly votes to close their elementary school

Voters in the town of Windham have voted to close their elementary school.

In a special election on Tuesday, residents voted 137-135 to close Windham Elementary School and send K-6 students elsewhere, the Brattleboro Reformer reports.

Some residents say they plan to fight the decision.

Voters simultaneously voted down an article that would allow the school board to pay for students to be tuitioned elsewhere.

- Anna Van Dine

5. Barre Police issue warning after six drug overdoses

Barre Police are urging people who use drugs to be cautious after a recent spate of overdoses in central Vermont.

The department said in a press release Wednesday that there have been six overdoses in recent weeks, and three of them have been fatal.

Opioid-related deaths have been rising since the start of the pandemic. According to the Health Department, as of this May, there have been 80 overdose deaths.

In 2020, fatalities were up 38% compared to 2019.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Brittany Patterson compiled and edited this post.

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