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News roundup: Vermont Health Department reports 222 new COVID cases on Monday

A red background with vermont news round up written, with a small green graphic of vermot on the R of roundup
Elodie Reed
/
VPR

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, Indigenous Peoples' Day and more for Monday, Oct. 11.

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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. Vermont officials reported 222 more COVID cases Monday

The Health Department reported 222 new coronavirus infections Monday.

That's after health officials recorded more than 460 new COVID cases over the weekend.

The number of people hospitalized due to the virus rose to 41, including 12 people in intensive care.

The positivity rate — the percentage of tests that came back positive over the past week — climbed to 3.1%.

The inoculation rate of eligible Vermonters, last updated Saturday, shows 88.6% have now gotten at least one vaccine dose, while more than 79% are fully vaccinated.

- Matthew Smith

Health officials set up a vaccine tent at Stowe’s Indigenous Peoples Day Rocks celebration

At Stowe’s Indigenous Peoples Day Rocks celebration Saturday, health officials set up a vaccine tent among the craft and food vendors.

WCAX reported that Vermont health officials say to date that only 30% of Native American, Indigenous, or First Nation Vermonters are vaccinated.

According to the Vermont Department of Health, that’s about 658 people.

Nulhegan Abenaki Chief Don Stevens invited health officials to host a clinic at the Stowe event.

The clinic administered five Pfizer booster shots Saturday as well as three Johnson & Johnson doses.

- Mary Engisch

Brattleboro Retreat announces employees must get vaxxed by next week or lose their jobs

The Brattleboro Retreat psychiatric hospital is telling its employees they must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by next week or they will lose their jobs.

The organization-wide mandate was issued Wednesday and requires workers to get their first shot by Oct. 18.

Hospital President and CEO Louis Josephson says the mandate comes after an unvaccinated staff member caused an outbreak at the hospital by infecting other staff and patients.

Josephson said avoiding mandated vaccinations hasn't worked and unvaccinated staff are "a significant reason for disruption, illness, exceptional cost and effort related to the outbreak."

The Brattleboro Reformer reports three patients in the Retreat’s adolescent unit have been infected with COVID-19 and more than 100 Retreat staffers have tests that are pending.

Most hospitals across Vermont have imposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates on their employees during the pandemic.

- Associated Press

Medical reserve corps volunteers supporting COVID booster shot rollout

Members of Vermont’s Medical Reserve Corps are supporting the rollout of Pfizer’s new COVID booster vaccine.

The MRC operates nationwide, and recruits volunteers from any profession to help during public health crises and natural disasters. Many are recently retired.

In Vermont, about 1,000 MRC volunteers have been helping staff COVID testing sites and vaccine clinics, and now they’re adding Vermonters to their ranks to help give booster shots.

Ken Schatz is a retired lawyer and former commissioner of the Vermont Department for Children and Families.

He applauds the efforts of Vermonters to do this crucial work.

"By providing volunteers, including vaccinators, the people who actually give the shots, has really helped recognize that this is a community problem requiring a community solution,” he said.

Residents interested in joining the MRC can sign up at oncallforvt.org.

This story was written by Community New Service reporter Noah Lafaso. You can find Noah’s full story on the Community News Service website.

2. Two years after Vermont replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day, Biden issues proclamation to mark day nationally

A decades-long effort to recognize Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples' Day has finally gotten traction on the federal level.

On Friday, President Biden issued a proclamation marking the day as one that honors Native Americans and their contributions to American society.

Two years ago, Vermont joined a handful of other states and cities in eliminating Columbus Day from the list of official state holidays and replacing it with a new holiday, called Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Columbus Day remains a federal holiday.

- Brittany Patterson

3. Cannabis Control Board approves social equity provisions

The Vermont Cannabis Control Board has given its approval to some of the most comprehensive social equity provisions of any state in the country.

Under the new policy, reduced fees and loans will be available to anyone who qualifies for the program.

The board says that includes people of color or anybody who can demonstrate that they're from a community that has historically been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition.

Board Chairman James Pepper supports the approach.

"You know the criteria is actually pushing a boundary that few states have ever done before, and it's an important one,” he said.

Pepper says the board is also committed to creating special financial programs to assist low-income applicants.

- Bob Kinzel

4. Gov. appoints CIA employee to oversee Vermont prison system

Gov. Phil Scott has appointed a CIA employee to oversee Vermont's prison system.

Scott announced Friday that Nicholas Deml will take over as commissioner of the Department of Corrections on Nov. 1.

In a press release, the Scott administration said Deml has worked in "leadership and operational capacities" within the CIA since 2014. Prior to that, he was a staffer in the U.S. Senate.

Deml will replace Interim Commissioner Jim Baker, who's led the department since January 2020. He had planned to serve in the role for about three months, but continued serving as the pandemic hit.

- Henry Epp

5. Red Cross blood, platelet supplies drop to lowest post-summer levels since 2015

The American Red Cross is experiencing an emergency blood and platelet shortage, with supplies dropping to their lowest post-summer levels since 2015.

Mary Brant is regional communications manager for the Northern New England chapter of the Red Cross. She says it’s typical for blood donations to drop in summer.

But this year, donor turnout has sharply declined — by about 10% — while patient needs remain high.

"One of the things that has been linked to is that that time period, late August, early September, was when we began to see a jump in the COVID-19 delta variant cases," Brant said.

She says the Red Cross needs to collect about 10,000 additional blood products each week over the next month to overcome the current shortage and meet the needs of patients in hospitals in Vermont and across the country.

- Mary Engisch

6. Green Mountain Power agrees to update onsite training after third environmental violation in five years

The state’s largest utility has agreed to update its onsite training program after facing its third environmental violation in five years from the Public Utility Commission.

Earlier this year, a contractor working for Green Mountain Power cut down some trees in a deer-wintering area while working on a project near Molly’s Falls Dam in Cabot.

GMP spokeswoman Kristin Carlson says the utility is working with state regulators to make sure everyone who’s working on a project is aware of the environmental guidelines.

“This is definitely a learning experience, and we’re going to work to be even better so that these three situations in the last five years can get to zero moving forward,” Carlson said.

GMP will pay $15,000 for the most recent violation. But the hearing officer in his ruling said higher penalties might be warranted in the future if GMP fails to follow environmental rules moving forward.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

7. Fungus in southern Vermont making trees lose leaves early this year

Heavy rainfall across southern Vermont this summer has led to the spread of a fungus — which is causing some trees to lose their leaves early this year.

That's according to the Brattleboro Reformer.

But Abby van den Berg, a UVM researcher who focuses on trees, says the fungus won't do much permanent damage.

"Fortunately, for most of the trees to which this happens, it's not a huge stress in the long term of the tree,” she said. “But for the human beings experiencing that, it's definitely not what we expect to see from our beautiful maple trees, especially those that are out by the road side."

Meanwhile, the northern part of the state experienced drought conditions for much of this year, and van den Berg says in some cases, dry weather can enhance the colors of fall foliage.

Read/hear the full conversation.

- Henry Epp

8. Man accused of threatening Vt. House speaker has been arrested

A Williston man who allegedly threatened House Speaker Jill Krowinski has been arrested.

VTDigger reports Kyle Wolfe was arrested by Capitol Police on Tuesday. Law enforcement said they found a rifle in his car. He was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

In an email to lawmakers Thursday, Krowinski said she had previously received threatening emails from Wolfe.

Capitol Police say Wolfe was screened by Washington County Mental Health and admitted under a mental health warrant. Police say further court action is pending.

- Brittany Patterson

9. Vermont Fish and Wildlife Dept. honor hunter education instructor with first-ever lifetime achievement award

A Guilford resident has been honored with the first-ever lifetime achievement award from Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

Herb Meyer has led hunter education classes for more than 50 years, and the Bennington Banner reports he taught his own class before the state had one.

When the Fish and Wildlife Department developed its own course, Meyer was one of the original instructors. In the past half century, he's taught hunter safety to thousands of Vermonters.

The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife gave Meyer the lifetime achievement award for “outstanding, significant contributions to the Vermont Hunter Education Program."

- Anna Van Dine

10. Craftsbury Historical Society member documents town stories

A town in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom wants to document stories from every person who lives there.

The project is called “Craftstories” and it’s the brainchild of Craftsbury Historical Society member Don Houghton.

The idea is to both reconnect citizens with the town’s history and help new residents feel a part of the community.

"It's an amalgam of Craftsbury and history and stories," Houghton said. "There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of families whose stories comprise Craftsbury's history that aren't apparent here."

Houghton hopes to record stories from the town's roughly 1,200 residents. The interviews are being archived online for now. He hopes one day to display them at the historical society’s headquarters.

Since the project launched in August, Houghton says he’s collected about a dozen interviews.

This story was written by Community New Service reporter Kate O'Farrell. You can find Kate's full story on the Community News Service website.

Marlon Hyde and Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.

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