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News roundup: Vermont Dept. of Health reports 4 more Vermonters have died, as the state sees 283 new COVID-19 cases

A blue background with the words Vermont News Roundup with a green Vermont icon over the "R"
Elodie Reed
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VPR

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, fall foliage and more for Friday, Oct. 8.

1. Vermont Dept. of Health reports 4 more Vermonters have died from COVID-19

The health department on Friday reported four more Vermonters have died from COVID-19, as the state saw another near-record high of coronavirus infections.

Health officials counted 283 new cases today, just under yesterday's total and the third-highest number of new infections in a single day in all of the pandemic.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus dropped to 32, including 7 people in intensive care.

The positivity rate — the percentage of tests that came back positive over the past week — climbed to 2.8%.

Matthew Smith

UVM researchers chip away at unpacking long COVID

Medical professionals at UVM Medical Center say they're continuing to learn more about the long-term effects of COVID-19, often called long COVID.

That’s where someone continues to show lingering signs of the virus months after a diagnosis, with symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, and brain fog. 

Dr. David Kaminsky is a pulmonary specialist at the medical center, and says national research has been slow to come together.

"We don't know yet how to intervene and so therefore, there will be meticulous work [to be] done — gathering information on symptoms, looking at the functions of all the different organs in the body," Kaminsky said. "So that's going to take a log of time to gather that information. But there are a lot of smart people out there who are working on this."

If you are a long hauler with symptoms, Dr. Kaminsky suggests you talk to your primary care physician. 

The UVM Medical Center also has a support group for people with long COVID.

Connor Cyrus

WHO defines long COVID

A new definition by the World Health Organization for long COVID' could help raise awareness around the condition.

The agency released the details Wednesday. The WHO now defines long COVID as a condition that affects people three months after having an initial coronavirus infection, with symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, and brain fog persisting fortwo months or more.

Dr.David Kaminsky is a pulmonary specialist at the UVM Medical Center who's conducting a study on the effects of long COVID.

He says the definition is key to developing our understanding of the disease.

"The medical profession is learning and we are beginning to hear," he said. "You I want to say, 'We hear you,' but I'm not sure we're quite at that level yet. But as far as long COVID goes, we are definitely beginning to hear you”

WHO officials say the delay on releasing an official definition of long COVID was due to the wide variety of linked symptoms associated with it.

Marlon Hyde

Scott Administration plans to offer vaccine clinics in schools, once Pfizer vaccine is approved for kids 5-11

The Scott administration says it will be ready to distribute COVID vaccines to children between the ages of 5 and 11 as soon as it's approved by federal regulators.

The Food and Drug Administration is set to meet at the end of this month to review Pfizer's application.

Scott says the state will be ready with community and school based clinics sothat the vaccines can be administered as quickly as possible.

"We're hoping that the approval will be soon and then we'll have a high response rate for vaccination in that category," Scott said this week. "But we'll take that one step at a time." 

The latest state data shows that almost 70% of people between the ages of 12 and 17 have been fully vaccinated.

Bob Kinzel

2. Vermont hospitals are squeezed, with emergency room visits up and capacity shortages in mental health, nursing homes

Many Vermont hospitals are squeezed because of staffing shortages and an influx of urgent care and emergency room visits.

Northwestern Medical Center has canceled elective surgeries until more hospital beds open up.

Staff at the St. Albans hospital decided last week to cancel elective procedures — things like a knee replacement surgery.

Dr.John Minadeo, Northwestern’s chief medical officer, says that’s due to a confluence of factors, and COVID-19 patients are just one.

There’s a surge in demand, likely from patients who delayed care during the pandemic.

And because of limited spots in nursing homes, rehab centers, and psychiatric facilities — there are some patients who don’t need hospital-level care, but have nowhere else to go.

"It's not just our hospital …. our friends and partners at UVM, and Dartmouth and  the other community hospitals ... they're all experiencing the same thing," Minadeo said.

He said the hospital is full for many reasons, including limited capacity to transfer patients to nursing homes and psychiatric facilities.

"The upstream effect of that is that patients are not able to be moved out of an acute care setting. So even though they no longer need hospital care, they have to remain in an hospitalized bed," Minadeo said.

Dr. Minadeo says many larger hospitals are having the same issues, and have limited the number of transfers they’ll accept.

That means community hospitals are treating complicated patients they might not typically care for.

Dr. Minadeo hopes they’ll be back to operating as normal in a few weeks.

Lexi Krupp

Rutland County to see nearly $1 million in federal funds to expand mental health care, geriatric services

Nearly $1 million in COVID-19 relief funds will be used to expand mental health and geriatric services in Rutland County.

Michael Gardner is the CFO of Community Health. He says they currently have 170 patients waiting to see counselors.

The federal money will allow the federally qualified health center to renovate a former U.S. Forest Service building in Rutland and create a new care site.

“Right now, to add six behavioral health providers, we don’t have space for that. To start a new service line for geriatric? … [We] don't have space,” Gardner said.

But he says once renovations on the 20,000-square-foot building are complete next summer, they will. 

Nina Keck

3. Just a few weeks remain for pandemic-related utility assistance programs — even though just about half the available funds have been used

There are only a few weeks left for customers who’ve been impacted by COVID-19 to get help paying their utility bills.

The Legislature put $15 million in federal COVID relief money into a special fund to help people pay their utility bills.

Less than half the money has been used, and the application deadline is Oct. 24.

Eligible residential customers can get up to $10,000 to cover past due electric, heat, water, gas or landline telephone bills.

Renters and homeowners can apply for the assistance.

Business are also eligible to receive up to 50,000.

Applications and more information are available at the Department of Public Service website.

— Howard Weiss-Tisman

4. School leaders investigate racist slurs directed at student athletes during South Burlington-Burlington girls' volleyball game

South Burlington High School leaders are investigating whether school policies were violated when racist and transphobic slurs were directed at Burlington High School student athletes during a girl's volleyball game.

The incident occurred on Wednesday night. Burlington players left the game after the slurs were said, and South Burlington has now offered to forfeit the contest, according to a joint statement from the two high schools.

Members of both teams met together on Thursday to process the incident.

The athletic directors of both schools called on several statewide education groups, including the Agency of Education, to do more to support students and schools when discrimination occurs.

Meanwhile, the Vermont Principals Association is investigating a separate incident last month, where students and spectators in Enosburg Falls directed racial slurs at players from Winooski.

Henry Epp

5. State of Vermont moves to delist the Bald Eagle

The state of Vermont is proposing to remove the bald eagle from the state's listing of threatened and endangered species.

The move comes 13 years after Vermont became the last state in the continental United States to see the return of breeding bald eagles.

Since 2008, the number of breeding eagles have grown to where, last year, biologists discovered 64 young eagles in the state. And more than 75 were found in a recovery region, which includes portions of New Hampshire and New York.

Officials say the successful restoration of bald eagles in Vermont was the culmination of work at the state, regional and national level.

The Associated Press

Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.

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