News roundup: Vermont Dept. of Health reports 91 new COVID-19 cases
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, proposed changes to Vermont's Threatened and Endangered Species list and more for Tuesday, Oct. 5.
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1. Vermont Dept. of Health reports 91 new COVID-19 cases
The health department reported 91 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday. The highest case count was in Rutland County, with 33 new cases reported.
The number of people hospitalized for the virus dropped slightly. Right now, 37 peopleare now hospitalized, including 13 people in intensive care. The rate of tests that have come back positive over the past week has dipped to 2.5 percent.
As of Tuesday, 88.3% of eligible Vermonters are at least partially vaccinated, while just under 80% of Vermonters 12 and older are fully vaccinated.
— Matthew Smith
COVID-19 rates among college students fall to lowest yet this semester
The number of college students testing positive for COVID-19 has fallen to its lowest level yet this semester.
Mike Pieciak is commissioner of the state's Financial Regulation Department, which analyzes the bulk of Vermont's COVID-19 data.
He says 95% of Vermont's nearly 30,000 college students are fully vaccinated.
In the past week, only 19 students tested positive.
"Again, just a good indication that when you have a 95% vaccinated population, you see the cases stay very low even when cases are more elevated in the communities in which those colleges are located."
But while college students have a high level of vaccination, Pieciak says only about 55% of Vermonters between the ages of 18 and 29 are fully vaccinated.
— Bob Kinzel
Scott Administration pledges to address link between nursing home capacity and overcrowding at hospitals
The Scott administration says it’ll work with nursing homes and private contractors to ease a capacity issue in some Vermont hospitals.
Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith says a shortage of nursing home beds has led to overcrowding at hospitals.
“The Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living is working to staff up to 77 beds across three nursing homes across the state over the next two months," Smith said Tuesday.
Smith says those 77 beds will relieve pressure on hospitals.
Smith says the state is also working to address improve hospital capacity by opening more beds in residential mental health facilities.
He says the shortage of beds in hospitals is largely unrelated to COVID-19.
— Peter Hirschfeld
Agency of Education moves forward with increased testing in Vermont schools
The Vermont Agency of Education is moving forward with its plan to increase COVID-19 testing in schools as a way to keep more children in their classrooms.
On Friday, the agency released the details of plans to increase testing in the state’s schools.
The new "Test to Stay" program will require close contacts of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 to take a rapid test every day for a week after coming in contact with the symptomatic case.
If they’re negative, they can stay in school. Under the old system, close contacts had to quarantine outside school for a week.
The agency also has plans for in-school use of the more-accurate PCR tests.
Parents, guardians or school staff members are able to opt out of testing if they have been identified as a close contact of a positive case, but they will have to quarantine for 14 days.
The Vermont chapter of the National Education Association says that it generally supports the idea, but that there are concerns about staffing levels to carry out the tests.
— Matthew Smith
Peru schools go remote in New York's North Country
Elementary students in the the community of Peru, N.Y. are learning remotely for the rest of the week due to what the school district calls a consistent increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.
WCAX reports Peru Central School District, just south of Plattsburgh, is sending its roughly 900 pre-K-through-5th grade students to learn remotely until next Tuesday.
In an online statement to the community, Peru Central School District Acting Superintendent Scott Storms says the pivot to remote learning is at the instruction of the Clinton County Health Department.
Students in the middle and high school learn in separate buildings. They'll remain in-person.
— Matthew Smith
Federal appeals court dismisses lawsuit alleging discrimination in vaccine distribution plan
A federal appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit from a man who alleged that New Hampshire's vaccine distribution plan discriminated against residents on the basis of race.
Before he obtained a vaccine appointment, 55-year-old James Pietrangelo, who is white, sued Gov. Chris Sununu and state health officials in February to challenge New Hampshire's vaccine equity plan.
Under the plan, up to 10% of the state's vaccine supply was allocated for "vulnerable populations in areas at risk of disproportionate impact from COVID-19," including people identifying as aracial or ethnic minority.
A judge ruled against him, and he appealed to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled on Friday that his claims are moot.
— The Associated Press
2. Vermont is looking at de-listing the Bald Eagle, and for the first time protecting habitat — along with 4 new Threatened or Endangered species
For the first time since 2015, Vermont's Endangered Species Committee is calling for four species — one bird, one bumble bee and two plants — to be added to the state's Threatened and Endangered Species List. And they want to protect some places at-risk species call home.
For the first time, the state is pushing to designate three small, rocky islands in Lake Champlain, along with four beaches favored by nesting Spiny soft-shelled turtles as "critical habitat." A large cave in Dorset is also up for review.
All of those locations are home to state-listed species, and Vermont Fish and Wildlife says the added protection would boost the state's ability to protect the Common terns, Little Brown Bats and turtles that reside there.
Members of the state's Endangered Species Committee are recommending that the Bald Eagle be taken off Vermont's endangered species list.
Wildlife managers say the eagle has made a remarkable recovery. Last year, 64 fledgling eagles were identified in Vermont.
But one grassland bird — the Eastern meadowlark — is recommended for "Threatened" status.
Rosalind Renfrew manages Vermont's Wildlife Diversity Program.
She says, as climate change accelerates habitat loss, Vermont farmland offers refuge habitat for many grassland birds — even if our landscape was historically more forested than it is today.
Listing the species is incredibly important, because when you think about it, it's the last stop on the way to extinction," Renfrew said. "It's your last chance to sort of keep a species from blinking out."
Four other species — including the American bumble bee — are also candidates for listing.
— Abagael Giles
3. Court documents show draft purchase agreements have been exchanged for Jay Peak
Jay Peak ski resort's leaders are "actively engaged" in sale discussions with several potential buyers, according to recently filed court documents.
Michael Goldberg, the court-appointed receiver who runs the resort, wrote in Friday's filing that draft purchase agreements have been exchanged — though he didn't say how many.
The process of selling the ski resort ground to a halt last year due to the pandemic. Goldberg restarted the search earlier this year.
Jay Peak has been managed by Goldberg since 2016, after owner Ariel Quiros and developer Bill Stenger were accused of misappropriating more than $200 million from foreign investors.
— Liam Elder-Connors
4. Lake Champlain Ferries looks to relocate operations to Grand Isle
The Lake Champlain Ferries is hoping to move most of its maintenance operations from the Burlington waterfront to Grand Isle.
The new location is three acres, and adjacent to the dock where ferries run between Vermont and Cumberland Head, New York, 24-hours a day, seven-days a week, year round.
A ferry has operated in the area since 1796.
The Burlington Free Press reports the Grand Isle Development Review board voted 3-to-2 in favor of the plan last week.
The decision included stipulations to upgrade landscaping and ensure adequate safeguards against noise and water pollution.
The Grand Isle-Cumberland Head route is one of three the ferry company operates, with a second running between Charlotte and Essex, N.Y. A third route between downtown Burlington and Fort Kent, N.Y. did not operate this year.
— The Associated Press
5. Vermont snowboarding to be honored with new coin
Vermont's snowboarding culture is being honored on a new coin issued by the United States Mint.
As part of it's American Innovation series, the mint announced four new one dollar coins Monday.
The coin honoring Vermont features a young female snowboarder performing a trick called a "melon grab" set against a mountainous background.
The late Jake Burton Carpenter, who is widely credited with popularizing snowboarding globally, started building boards out of a barn in Londonderry in 1977.
Nearby Stratton Mountain became the first major resort to allow snowboarding, in 1983.
— Mark Davis
6. Single wind turbine proposed on Grandpa's Knob in Castleton
A renewable energy developer wants to put a single wind turbine atop a mountain outside of Castleton, and share the profits with surrounding towns.
The Rutland Herald reports the developer told the Castleton Select Board late in September the project atop the mountain known as "Grandpa's Knob" is about a year away from filing for a permit from the Public Utility Commission.
The project is being proposed by David Blittersdorf, president of Williston solar company AllEarth Renewables, as a way to honor Palmer Putnam, who built the country's first megawatt-sized wind turbine project on the same site back in 1941.
Nearby towns of Hubbardton, Pittsford and Proctor will review the proposal in the coming weeks.
— Matthew Smith
Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.