News Roundup: Vermont Dept. Of Health Reports 141 New COVID Cases, 1 New Death
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, Sept. 10.
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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. One more Vermonter has died from COVID-19
One more Vermonter has died from the coronavirus, state health officials reported today Friday, bringing the state's total to 284.
That's as the health department tallied 141 new COVID-19 infections, along with six cases backdated to previous days.
Rutland County had the bulk of the new cases, with 28.
30 people remain hospitalized, seven of whom are in intensive care.
The state's vaccination rate among those eligible for shot remains at 86.7%.
— Matthew Smith
Health commissioner pledges to improve reporting of COVID-19 cases
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says the state is hoping to do a better job reporting COVID-19 statistics to the public.
In the past few weeks, the administration has frequently updated the previous day's case counts after they were first published.
"With more abundant testing, more results come in later and there has to be a finite time when we end the assessment and then pick it up the next day," Levine said. "So that's exactly what's been happening. We do rectify any misinformation within 24 hours so that people are aware of what the true count was."
Officials said the state plans to hire more people and switch their software to reduce the data discrepancies.
The administration is encouraging Vermonters to get tested if they've recently been in large, unmasked crowd settings.
— Bob Kinzel
Gov. calls for civility in discussions about COVID-19 vaccination policies
Gov. Phil Scott is imploring Vermonters to refrain from engaging in heated discussions about COVID-19 vaccination policies.
In recent weeks, there have been instances when health officials supporting mandatory masking have been shouted down at local school board meetings.
"We've got to reflect on the language we use — the fear and anger these words might stoke and the wounds we're deepening. This is the time to rally and pull together because COVID -19 is not going away and we must not let it tear us apart," Scott said.
At his press briefing Wednesday, Scott also announced that the state will require all of its employees to be vaccinated or be regularly tested beginning next week.
— Bob Kinzel
New England hospitals fill as COVID-19 cases rise
Hospitals in northern New England are filling to capacity because of rising COVID-19 cases.
In New Hampshire, Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover says its emergency department has been at over 100% capacity this week, with resources stretched due to short-staffing, and an increase in other patients who delayed getting medical help.
In Maine, the number of patients in intensive care units rose to the highest point since the start of pandemic Thursday.
All told, Maine had 193 people receiving treatment for COVID-19 in hospitals across the state, of which 74 were in critical care.
In Vermont this week, Rutland Regional Medical Center said staffing shortages and acute demand is resulting in the center's most challenging period of the pandemic.
Staffing is playing a major role in the issue. The Valley News reports Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center has 730 open positions in Lebanon alone, while smaller hospitals around the Upper Valley also looking to fill dozens of jobs.
— The Associated Press
2. Report finds New England states have some of the lowest incarceration rates in the U.S.
New England states have some of the lowest incarceration rates in the US, but they still lock people up more than many countries.
That's according to a report released this week [Wednesday] by the Prison Policy Initiative.
Wanda Bertram, with the Prison Policy Initiative, says Vermont and Massachusetts have the lowest incarceration rates in the US — but the rates are still higher than other countries.
"If you compare Vermont to the UK, the incarceration rate is one more than twice as high," Bertram said.
The report found that the overall incarceration rate in the US was 664 people per 100,000. The state with the highest rate was Louisiana.
— Liam Elder-Connors
3. School board members, school administrators call on lawmakers to overhaul Vermont's education funding formula
School board members, school administrators and municipal officials are calling on lawmakers to overhaul Vermont’s education funding formula.
Lawmakers held a hearing on Wednesday evening to solicit public input on proposed changes to the school funding system.
Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott said the existing funding scheme doesn’t provide enough money for low-income students, and students who are English language learners.
“We know that formula is out of date, it doesn’t provide support to our students the way we want it to, and it’s underserving kids with the most need. If you don’t update the formula, you allow that inequity to persist," Lott said.
Lott is among a growing number of elected officials who say the state needs to direct more money to schools with a high percentage of children from poverty, and children who are English language learners.
Dalib Bulle works with Somali students at the Winooski School District.
He says the existing funding structure doesn’t provide enough resources for students who are English language learners.
"I was the only liaison for my community in the district for the past 17 years, but with the high number of families and students, it was impossible to meet their needs," Bulle said.
The dozens of people who testified Wednesday were unanimously in favor of overhauling the education funding formula.
— Peter Hirschfeld
4. Welch urges Congress not to link $3.5 trillion budget bill with infrastructure bill
As the U.S. House starts its review of a $3.5 trillion budget proposal, Congressman Peter Welch is urging his colleagues not to link the passage of this bill to a smaller, $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
Members of the Progressive Caucus have written a letter to moderate Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema saying the caucus won't support the smaller infrastructure bill unless the larger plan passes as well.
Welch, who is a member of the caucus, says he didn't sign the letter, because he thinks it's the wrong approach.
"Where I disagree with some of my colleagues is on the notion that by holding back on infrastructure somehow that's going to influence Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema. I just don't think that will affect them," he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she wants the House to vote on the larger budget proposal by the end of the month.
— Bob Kinzel
5. Drought conditions persist in far northern Vermont
While much of southern Vermont has seen an exceptionally wet summer, six northern Vermont counties are still experiencing moderate drought.
Dry conditions in northern Vermont saw no improvement this week, with parts of Grand Isle, Franklin, Lamoille, Orleans, Caledonia and Essex counties still in moderate drought. That's according to the latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Those parts of the state are dry enough that fish, as well as hay, grain and honey production could be impacted. And despite a wet summer across much of the state, August brought below normal rainfall to all but the southernmost part of Vermont.
Stream flow and groundwater levels remain much below normal in the Northeast Kingdom, and well above normal on Southern Vermont.
NOAA estimates it would take 7.61 inches of rain in the next month, to pull Northeastern Vermont out of its long-term drought.
— Abagael Giles
6. Weigh in on the Climate Action Plan
The Vermont Climate Council is working on a plan to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act. The plan has to be approved by Dec. 1.
On Friday, the council announced dates for seven meetings across the state where Vermonters can weigh in.
Jane Lazorchak is the state's Global Warming Solutions Act director. She says many of the high-level pathways for how Vermont will reduce emissions will already be "somewhat set" bythe time the forums wrap up.
"Of course, we want to hear about big gaps or things that we're really missing, but we really want to hear about the how — like, how do we implement this? What are the actions needed to realize these changes?" Lazorchak said.
Find further details about the events online, here.
Farmers are invited to weigh in virtually next Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m.
— Abagael Giles
Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.