News Roundup: State Officials Report Three More People Have Died From COVID-19
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the attorney general suing four oil and gas companies and more for Tuesday, Sept. 14.
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1. Vermont Dept. of Health reports three more people have died from COVID-19
Three more Vermonters have died from COVID-19, state health officials reported Tuesday, as the state added 111 new viral cases to its total.
That brings Vermont to 291 coronavirus-linked deaths so far in the pandemic.
Hospitalizations also rose to 43 today, including nine people in intensive care.
The state's positivity rate remains at 3.5%.
The vaccination rate of eligible Vermonters with at least one vaccine dose is now 87%.
- Matthew Smith
St. Albans offers drive-through COVID-19 testing
The Northwestern Vermont Medical Center in St. Albans is offering a drive-through option for people seeking to be tested for COVID-19.
The St. Albans COVID-19 Resource Center was to begin offering the drive-through testing on Monday at the Valley Crossroads Building on Fisher Pond Road.
Vaccinations will still be done inside. While walk-in vaccinations and tests are possible, individuals are encouraged to register for a test or vaccine on the Vermont Health Department website.
On Monday, the Health Department reported 108 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to more than 30,000 cases.
- Associated Press
New York's North Country reports four COVID deaths in recent days
More than 700 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the North Country in recent days and four people have died.
North Country Public Radio reports three of the new deaths reported on Monday were in Washington County. All three were unvaccinated against COVID-19.
State health officials say the deaths involved a 64-year-old, 77-year-old, and a 42-year-old.
The fourth death was reported in St. Lawrence County. Their vaccination status was not disclosed.
- Matthew Smith
Maine started the week with more than a dozen outbreaks in schools
Maine started the week with more than a dozen outbreaks of COVID-19 in schools, and many schools are testing to mitigate the risk.
As of Friday, more than 380 of Maine's 720 public and private schools had signed up for pool testing.
The Bangor Daily News reports the program calls for student tests to be pooled and sent to a lab in Massachusetts for PCR tests.
If there’s a positive test for a school, then individual students will be tested.
The school outbreaks come amid a surge in infections tied to the delta variant, which is spreading in Maine, averaging nearly 350 new cases per day over the last two weeks.
- Associated Press
2. Vt. AG sues four oil and gas companies
Vermont's attorney general is suing four oil and gas companies over their role in greenwashing the impact fossil fuels play in contributing to climate change.
Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil Company, Sunoco and CITGO and their subsidiaries are all named as defendants in a lawsuit filed today under Vermont's Consumer Protection Act.
The suit alleges that as early as the 1950s, the companies knew greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels were impacting the planet and willfully misled Vermont customers.
Attorney General TJ Donovan said this is a “bread and butter” consumer rights case.
"Whether it's tobacco, whether it's fast food, you've seen this in different industries,” Donovan said. “I don't think the oil industry is any different from any other product."
The lawsuit calls for companies to disclose the role fossil fuels play in global warming at the site of sale, like at the gas pump.
It also calls for the companies to return any profits they may have earned in Vermont in violation of the Consumer Protection Act, which could be substantial.
The Associated Press reports ExxonMobil called the suit "baseless and without merit."
Connecticut and the district of Columbia have filed similar suits.
- Abagael Giles
3. Dairy task force member boycotts organic milk company ending contracts with 28 Vermont farms
At least one member of a dairy legislative task force says they are boycotting Horizon Organic, the company that recently announced it would cut ties with 28 organic dairy farms in Vermont.
Heather Darby is an agronomic and soils specialist for the University of Vermont Extension. She also serves on the Task Force on Revitalizing Vermont’s Dairy Industry, which met Monday to discuss how to help Vermont’s organic dairies following the Horizon announcement.
Darby says she’s changing her grocery store purchasing habits.
“My husband went to get his two gallons of Horizon, and I told him we’d be getting a divorce if he put it in the cart,” she said.
Another task force member, Jackie Folsom, with the Vermont Farm Bureau, says some Horizon farmers are asking on social media for people to hold off on boycotting for just a bit, until after their contracts are up in August of 2022.
In the meantime, Diane Bothfeld with the Agency of Agriculture said the state will survey milk processing companies to see if any might be able to pick up the farms losing their contracts.
"It really is key in Vermont, about a willing processor coming forward,” Bothfeld said. “I have a lot of people contacting, wanting to talk about markets. I’m like, ‘Well, we don’t have anyone processing it. We ain’t got nothing to market.’”
A representative from dairy cooperative Organic Valley said Monday that it's looking into whether it could pick up the farmers.
- Elodie Reed
4. State collecting data on school closures' impact on students
As Vermont students settle into the school year, questions remain about how much damage was done by closures, remote learning and other disruptions last year.
Secretary of Education Dan French told Vermont Edition that the state is still trying to figure out the extent of learning loss that students suffered last academic year.
"In terms of quantifying this, we will be preparing some data collections at some point in collaboration with school districts, so we can understand what the state level patterns are,” he said.
French says the state is determined to keep students in the classroom all year.
- Connor Cyrus
5. Apportionment Board trying to reduce number of two-member House districts in Vermont
The geographic lines of a number of Vermont House districts could be significantly redrawn by the state's Apportionment Board.
Every 10 years, the board uses population data from the most recent census to ensure that House districts represent a similar number of people.
Apportionment Board Chair Tom Little says there are currently 44 two-member districts in the 150-seat House.
At its meeting yesterday, board members were encouraged to reduce the number of Vermont's two-member districts, as a way to foster greater participation in the democratic process.
Little says he could support the approach, if the new map meets legal requirements
"If we do that and reach consensus on a new map that has more single-member districts than the current map, I will support that and think that we all will be able to,” he said
The board hopes to present local officials with their draft legislative map by the middle of next month.
- Bob Kinzel
6. Vt. state climatologist tapped to help with fifth national climate assessment
Vermont's state climatologist has been tapped to help write the fifth national climate assessment.
Mandated by Congress, the document is the U.S. government's report on the risks and impacts climate change poses across the country, and the adaptations required.
Dr. Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux will be an author on the national water chapter, which will focus on drought and floods, among other topics.
She was the regional lead for the northeast chapter of the fourth National Climate Assessment, which was published in 2018.
The next assessment is expected to be finalized in 20-23.
Dupigny-Giroux is also the president of the American Association of State Climatologists, and serves on the state's Climate Council. And she's a member of the Geography and Geology faculty at the University of Vermont, where she studies climate and climate change.
- Abagael Giles
7. Vermont sees record number of common loon nests this year
The common loon continues to recover in Vermont, and the state saw a record number of active nests this year.
VTDigger reports there were just seven nesting pairs of the birds in 1983, and this year, biologists counted 109.
That resulted in 77 pairs raising more than 100 chicks, of which 85 survived.
That success was due in part to six new nesting pairs, and the birds nesting on lakes where they had never been seen before.
About 300 volunteers statewide helped track nest activity through the Vermont Loon Conservation Project, a partnership between state wildlife officials and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.
Loons were removed from Vermont's endangered species list in 2005.
- Matthew Smith
Abagael Giles and Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.