News Roundup: More Than 300 Vermonters Have Now Died From COVID-19
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the end of the state’s motel housing program and more for Tuesday, Sept. 21.
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1. More than 300 people in Vermont have now died from COVID-19
Vermont passed a grim pandemic milestone Tuesday, surpassing more than 300 coronavirus-linked deaths since the pandemic began.
The three more Vermonters who died from COVID-19 puts the state's total deaths from the virus at 301.
Health officials also reported 129 new coronavirus infections today, along with 18 more backdated cases.
Hospitalizations remain at 46. To date, 87.4% of Vermonters have at least one dose of a vaccine.
- Matthew Smith
State officials investigating if Labor Day gatherings responsible for COVID surge
State officials are investigating if social gatherings over the Labor Day weekend are largely responsible for the recent surge in COVID cases in Vermont.
Since the beginning of September, cases have trended sharply up. That's raised concerns over mask mandates for schools and businesses.
Gov. Phil Scott's spokesperson Jason Maulucci says the state is digging into the data.
"We're in that time frame where we might be seeing additional cases above where they were as a result of some Labor Day gatherings,” Maulucci said. “A lot of people were getting together for events and barbecues and cook outs."
Maulucci says the administration hopes to have most of the data finalized by the governor's COVID press briefing today.
- Bob Kinzel
Majority of Vermonters contracting COVID are experiencing symptoms
A majority of Vermonters who contracted COVID report having symptoms, according to the latest Health Department data.
As we move toward the end of the summer, hospitals and testing sites are being slammed by an increase in cases and hospitalizations.
According to a recent report, over 50% of people with coronavirus experienced symptoms of cough, fatigue, runny nose, and headache. The data show those who get the disease feel sick for just over a week.
And over 70% of people experience flu or fever-like symptoms.
Vaccines are still a highly effective method for protecting ourselves from the worst effects of COVID. That combined with wearing a mask in open public spaces is one of the best ways to stay safe, public health officials say.
- Marlon Hyde
2. Advocates asking Scott administration to extend motel housing
Advocates for people without housing are making a last-ditch appeal to the Scott administration to extend a motel program.
More than 500 Vermont households are set to lose long-term motel housing on Thursday.
At a press conference on Monday, Mairead O’Reilly with Vermont Legal Aid said many people will have nowhere to go.
“Neither the housing nor the shelters being developed will be ready on Sept. 23 to protect these 500-plus households as they exit the motels,” O’Reilly said.
Legal Aid and other advocacy groups are calling on Gov. Phil Scott to extend the motel housing program until at least Dec. 31.
Administration officials say they can’t grant that extension, because the number of motel beds available to the state will drop off due to foliage season.
- Peter Hirschfeld
3. After months, Koffee Kup, Vermont Bread Company employees will finally get PTO payments
After months of uncertainty, hundreds of former employees of Koffee Kup and Vermont Bread Company will get the paid time off owed to them.
A federal judge reaffirmed a previous order to pay nearly $850,000 in owed PTO.
The paper reports a court order issued Friday indicates the payment is being made immediately.
Koffee Kup, in Burlington, and Brattleboro-based Vermont Bread Company abruptly closed in late April. In early June, Georgia-based Flowers Foods purchased the assets of both businesses, as well as a bakery in Connecticut. The company says it has no plans to reopen the facilities.
- Brittany Patterson
4. U.S. land border with Canada to remain closed for at least another month
Despite changes announced Monday by the Biden administration easing pandemic travel restrictions for foreigners flying into the U.S., the land border with Canada will remain closed to Canadians for at least another month.
Fully vaccinated travelers with proof of vaccination will be able to fly into the country in November, provided they demonstrate proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of the flight.
But the Department of Homeland Security says there will be no immediate change to U.S. land border policies, which continue to restrict much cross-border travel with Mexico and Canada.
That means Canadians looking to cross into the U.S. by land will have to wait until at least Oct. 21.
Canada reopened its border to fully-vaccinated American travelers more than a month ago.
- Associated Press
Trudeau, Liberal Party victorious, though don’t get majority in Canadian election
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party came out victorious in Monday's parliamentary elections, but his gamble to win a majority of seats failed and nearly mirrored the result of two years ago.
The Liberals won the most seats of any party, leading or elected in 156 seats — one less than they won in 2019, and 14 short of the 170 seats needed for a majority in the House of Commons.
The Conservatives were leading or elected in 121 seats, the same number won in the last election.
The Quebec-based Bloc Québécois remained unchanged, with 32 seats.
- Associated Press
5. Vt. Public Utility Commission approves Middlebury solar project, rejects smaller one in Manchester
Vermont's Public Utility Commission has given approval to a new Middlebury solar project, while rejecting a smaller one in Manchester.
VTDigger reports the commission, which oversees where energy projects can be located, made the decisions Friday.
A 500-kilowatt solar project in Manchester, proposed by MHG Solar, was denied approval because the commission said the solar panels would "have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics."
At the same time, the commission approved a 5,000-kilowatt solar array over 30 acres of land in Middlebury by Burlington-based Encore Renewable Energy. That's despite concerns the project could affect grassland bird breeding habitat.
Vermont's climate goals require a 26% reduction in greenhouse gas emission by 2025. Many power suppliers say that will require more renewable energy projects, including large-scale solar arrays.
- Matthew Smith
6. Cannabis Control Board considering provisional licenses to small cultivators
The state's Cannabis Control Board wants to know if small, local growers will be able to meet the demand for products when the state opens its retail market in roughly a year.
That's why the board is strongly considering issuing provisional licenses to small cultivators in the coming months.
Board chairman James Pepper says provisional licenses will give the state an early indication of interest among small growers before they have to meet other regulatory requirements.
"It really helps with what's being referred to of course as the entrepreneurial demand,” Pepper said. “We really want to rely on small and craft cultivators -- are there going to be enough of them out there?”
The board is scheduled to release a draft plan outlining tax and fee policies for cannabis products by the mid-October.
- Bob Kinzel
7. Lamoille County radio station among companies affected by Russian cyber attack
A Lamoille County radio station is among the companies affected by a Russian cyber attack on a company that manages advertisements.
WCAX reports WVLB, a country music station in Morristown, was among those impacted by the hack of software maker Marketron, which had all its software systems knocked offline yesterday by the hack.
The company emailed customers, including the Vermont radio station, alerting them to the hack by a Russian criminal organization known as BlackMatter.
By the end of business hours Monday, Marketron announced their systems were back up and running.
The FBI is investigating the hack.
- Matthew Smith
Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.