News Roundup: State Officials Report 136 More COVID Cases, One More Death
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Wednesday, Sept. 15.
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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. Health officials report 136 more COVID cases, one more death
Some 136 more Vermonters have contracted COVID-19, the Health Department reported Wednesday.
The state also added more than 70 backdated cases to previous days' totals.
One more person in the state has died from the virus, and 39 people are hospitalized with the disease.
A total of 87.1% of eligible Vermonters have now gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.
- Matthew Smith
Five children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in Vermont
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says five Vermont children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the delta variant arrived in Vermont.
Levine says the figure underscores the need to improve vaccination rates, especially in schools.
“COVID-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations were found to be about three and a half times more frequent in states with the lowest percentage of the population vaccinated, compared to states like Vermont,” he said.
Levine says one study that examined data from 14 states shows that pediatric hospitalizations have jumped fivefold among children nationwide since the delta variant first appeared in the U.S.
No one under the age of 17 has died of COVID-19 in Vermont.
- Peter Hirschfeld
State data shows COVID case counts lower, but hospitalizations up
COVID case counts in Vermont dropped slightly over the past week. But COVID-related hospitalizations are on the rise.
And Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says unvaccinated Vermonters account for the majority of severe illnesses.
Pieciak says 71% of all recent hospitalizations involve unvaccinated individuals.
“And when you look at the ICU hospitalizations, the numbers are even greater, with 79% of all recent hospitalizations being among the unvaccinated,” he said.
On Tuesday, 43 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Vermont. That was the highest daily total since February.
- Peter Hirschfeld
Gov. Phil Scott asks school districts to impose vaccine mandates on teachers and staff
Gov. Phil Scott is calling on Vermont school districts to impose vaccine mandates on teachers and other school staff.
“Because we aren’t under a state of emergency, the state doesn’t have the authority to implement such a mandate ourselves,” Scott said. “But I urge school districts who are the employers to use the state as a model and take a similar approach.”
Earlier this month, Scott announced that all state government employees would have to get vaccinated against COVID-19, or face weekly testing requirements.
Scott says he’s also asking his labor commissioner to determine whether schools are subject to a federal order that requires businesses with more than 100 employees to have a vaccine mandate for workers.
- Peter Hirschfeld
Education agency unveiling new guidance for school contact tracing
The Vermont Agency of Education is unveiling new guidance for schools when it comes to contact tracing.
And Education Secretary Dan French says the protocols will make the process less burdensome for local districts.
“Previously, schools had to wait for vaccination status to be confirmed by the Health Department,” French said. “We are now going to enable schools to use their local vaccination information to make this determination.”
French says students who are fully vaccinated, and don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19, don’t need to be notified when they’ve come into close contact with an infected person.
He says the new guidance will help districts shrink the number of students they need to contact when a school has a case of COVID-19.
- Peter Hirscheld
2. U.S. Senate committee holds initial confirmation for Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson
Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson told members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary committee that it's critical for appellate judges to approach each case with an open mind.
The Committee Wednesday held its initial confirmation hearing in Robinson's nomination to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
Robinson, who has served on the Vermont Supreme Court for over 10 years, also played a key role in the passage of the nation's first same sex civil union law in 2000.
"And as often as not, your initial impression may prove ill-founded,” Robinson said. “It's one of the reasons why it's important to approach every case with an open mind, and do the work to ensure that your legal reasoning is sound."
If she is confirmed by the full Senate, Robinson will be the first openly gay woman to ever serve on a federal Circuit Court of Appeals.
- Bob Kinzel
3. Vermont legislative leaders considering special session for enacting mask policy
Vermont legislative leaders say they'll consider holding a special session to enact a statewide mask policy for students if there's a sharp increase in the number of COVID-infected students in the coming weeks.
Both Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint and House Speaker Jill Krowinski have called on Gov. Phil Scott to impose a mask mandate.
But Scott has refused, saying he's unwilling to declare another state of emergency to give him the power to impose such a mandate.
Balint says lawmakers are now looking at their options to act on this issue.
"It takes a lot of effort, to pull both houses back together for a conversation and action about this,” Balint said. “But certainly that's a conversation that the Speaker and I will be having in the next couple of days.”
Under current protocols, lawmakers have the authority to hold a special session in mid-October.
- Bob Kinzel
4. Recount vote to close Windham Elementary confirms result to shutter school
A recount vote to shutter the small Windham Elementary School in Vermont confirmed the earlier result of a yearslong debate.
WCAX reports that residents of Windham voted 137 to 135 in favor of closing the elementary school last week.
The school's closing will allow families in Windham to choose where their children go to school.
Parents have said Windham Elementary was lacking compared to other schools in the area.
There has been no petition to repeal the decision to close Windham Elementary.
- Associated Press
Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.