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News roundup: Vermont Dept. of Health reports 140 new COVID-19 infections Monday

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

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Monday, Oct. 25.

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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. More than 500 people tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend

The health department reported 140 new COVID-19 infections Monday.

That's after the weekend saw more than 500 new cases, including 257 on Saturday and 265 on Sunday.

The state's positivity rate — the percentage of tests that came back positive over the last week — dropped to 2.6, compared to 3.4% a week ago.

As of Monday, 47people are hospitalized with the virus, 13 of whom are in intensive care.

More than 80% of Vermonters 12 and older are now fully vaccinated.

Matthew Smith

Manchester, N.H. correctional facility sees COVID-19 outbreak

The largest county correctional facility in New Hampshire is experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19.

New Hampshire Public Radio reports that recently released state data shows there are 120 cases within the Hillsborough County jail, plus six cases among staff.

The jail in Manchester housed about 250 people last month. Most are now quarantining.

Last winter, more than 100 incarcerated people and about 40 staff tested positive there.

The jail superintendent said the COVID-19 vaccine was offered a few weeks ago, but only a dozen people got it.

The Associated Press

2. Vermont cleared to welcome more than 100 refugees from Afghanistan this fall

Vermont has been cleared to welcome more than 100 refugees from Afghanistan this fall.

Historically, most refugees have been resettled in the Burlington area.

But the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in Vermont says it will be placing many of these families in other parts of the state.

Director Amila Merdzanovic spoke about the program on Vermont Edition friday.

"And some of those families — particularly Afghans — we'll be looking to place them outside of Chittenden County, namely in the Rutland region, southwestern Vermont and central Vermont," Merdzanovic.

Merdzanovic says the refugee resettlement program is rebuilding after the number of refugees coming to the state dropped during the Trump administration.

Brattleboro will soon be home to major refugee resettlement organization

Brattleboro will soon be home to a major refugee resettlement organization's newest field office. The Ethiopian Community Development Council will open its outpost there on Friday.

The new director, Joe Wiah, spoke to Vermont Edition last week about his efforts to build bridges with community partners.

"I have reached out to the town of Brattleboro, I  went to the Rotary Club, I met with SIT. I will be going to churches," he said.

SIT is the School for International Training, a private university in the area.

Wiah says his office projects they will resettle 35 refugees between November and March. Most will be from Afghanistan.

Listen to the full episode.

Mikaela Lefrak

3. Vermont's unemployment rate dropped slightly in September

Vermont's unemployment rate went down slightly in September, but the number of people participating in the labor force remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

The unemployment rate ticked down by a tenth of a percentage point — to 2.9%, according to state data released Friday. [That's below the national average of 4.8%.

The number of people with a job in the state grew by about 1,300, while the number who are unemployed dropped by nearly 600.

The overall labor force grew by about 800 people last month, but it's still significantly smaller than before the pandemic. According to the Department of Labor, there are about 24,000 fewer people participating in the job market now, compared to early March of 2020.

Henry Epp

4. Vermont teacher of the year hopes to raise awareness of equity issues in tech education

Karen McCalla is Vermont's 2022 Teacher of the Year — the first librarian in Vermont's history to receive this award.

McCalla has been at Mill River Union High School in Clarendon for 19 years.

She told Vermont Edition, she plans to use her new platform to bring awareness to equity issues in STEAM, science, technology, engineering, arts and math. She says the focus in equity is often on girls, which continues to need attention, but in Vermont, barriers aren't always gender related.

"In Vermont we also have geographic inequities. So depending on what school you go to and what community you live in, you might have really wonderful STEAM opportunities or no STEAM opportunities," McCalla said. "So that's something I'm hoping on working on addressing. And then socioeconomic stuff."

The 2022 National Teacher of the Year will be announced next spring at the White House.

Connor Cyrus

5. Vermont could soon be one of the first state's to include a social equity policy in its retail cannabis law

Vermont is on track to become one of the first states in the country to implement a retail cannabis law with a comprehensive social equity policy.

Under the proposal, the state's Cannabis Control Board will waive most licensing fees for eligible applicants, as well as make substantial loan money available.

BIPOC Vermonters, who are Black, indigenous or people of color, or other individuals who have been disadvantaged by the criminalization of cannabis over the years are eligible.

House Judiciary chair Maxine Grad says the policy is needed to acknowledge that people of color have unfairly faced a much higher arrest rate for cannabis possession in Vermont over the years.

"It's important to try and repair and mitigate the harm that the War on Cannabis has caused to communities of color," Grad said.

The board hopes to issue some provisional cultivation and retail licenses in the coming months.

Vermont likely to receive $45-50 million in cannabis revenue during first year of retail

The state will receive between $45-50 million in new cannabis revenue in the first full year of retail sales. That's according to the Cannabis Control Board.

Initially, there will be two statewide taxes imposed on all retail sales; a 14% excise tax and the 6% sales tax.

Board chairman James Pepper says he doesn't think the tax rate will reduce sales because he expects that tourists will be the primary customers.

"They want to know that a product has been tested and they want to purchase it from a store," Pepper said. "And I think they're willing to pay a little bit of a premium to come to Vermont, just like they do with our craft beer and our craft maple syrup and cheese, and pay a little bit extra for a specialty product here in Vermont."

The board hopes to have a full retail marketplace operating by the fall of next year.

Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: What's The Timeline For Pot Shops?: A Check-In With Vermont's Cannabis Control Board

6. Vermont headed for another La Niña winter

We're headed into another La Nina winter this year, the National Weather Service announced this week.

And while many northern states could see wetter and warmer weather — the picture is more complicated for the Northeast.

Scott Whittier is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington. He says Vermont's winter weather is shaped heavily by systems in the Arctic and Atlantic, which change weekly. But:

"I would say we're probably gonna be closer to normal on snowfall this year than we were last year," Whittier said. "Last year we were below normal."

Whittier says even if that precipitation falls as rain, it will still improve drought conditions.

Drought conditions continued to improve last week in northern Vermont

Drought conditions improved this week in northern Vermont. Grand Isle County is no longer experiencing abnormally dry conditions.

Parts of four Vermont counties — that's Franklin, Orleans, Essex and Lamoille — are still experiencing moderate drought.

The National Weather Service last week announced a La Nina climate pattern could bring wetter than normal conditions to many northern states.

Scott Whittier is with the NWS in Burlington. He says it's hard to predict weather for a whole season in Vermont. But:

"And during the winter time is generally when we'll make some headway towards improvements, if we see normal or above normal precipitation," Whittier said.

He says it doesn't matter whether that precipitation falls as rain or snow. But if it's snow, wells and lakes may not rebound until spring.

Abagael Giles

7. New program at Champlain Valley Union High School aims to equalize students' access to extracurriculars

A new program at Champlain Valley Union High School this year aims to give every student the chance to follow their own interests.

The C3 Time program stands for “connect, clubs and community."

Students use built-in time during the school day — instead of after school — to connect with educators or participate in a variety of clubs and communities.

CVU Principal Adam Bunting says that the main goals of the program are to increase equity, and to help students discover and explore interests that may fall outside of their typical education.

“The more opportunities that you give students over their years in high school, where they have to make choices about what their interests are, the more likely it is you're going to get them in tune with some of those values,” Bunting said.

Bunting says this year, there are almost 60 activities students can choose from — everything from Girls Who Code to an investment club. CVU says it hopes to make C3 Time permanent.

Doug Phinney, Community News Service

You can find Doug's full story on the Community News Service website.

8. Scott Administration awards $10 million to four municipalities to address sewer overflows

The Scott administration is awarding $10 million to four municipalities to deal with sewer overflows.

The money comes from the huge pot of cash the state received earlier this year from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Montpelier, Northfield, St. Johnsbury and Vergennes will receive the funds to upgrade their combined sewer systems.

Those systems collect sewage and runoff from streets and parking lots together. That usually works fine, but when the area gets hit with lots of rain or snowmelt, the pipes can get overwhelmed and local water systems will let that stormwater — and untreated sewage — flow directly into rivers and streams.

The federal money is designed to upgrade the water systems to stop overflows from happening.

Henry Epp

State seeks input on how to spend $47 million to address water pollution

Vermonters are being asked for their input on how to spend nearly $47 million to clean up water pollution in the state.

The Vermont Clean Water Board is seeking feedback in an online questionnaire on funding, and the board’s prioritization of projects.

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation says the money available for the 2023 clean water budget is an all-time high, in part due to federal coronavirus relief funds.

The funding will help municipalities, farmers and others create projects that reduce pollution washing into waterways.

The funds can go to help farmers plant cover crops to reduce soil erosion or municipalities to stabilize roadside erosion.

The board’s draft budget is available online, and input can be sent through the questionnaire to the Clean Water Board through Nov. 19.

The Associated Press

9. Vt. Agency of Education releases recommendations about how to distribute free condoms at middle and high schools

The Agency of Education has issued new guidelines to make sure every secondary school student has access to free condoms.

The bill, passed last year, says that middle and high schools must make free condoms available to all students.

This week, the Agency of Education released recommendations on how it would like to seethe program roll out.

The state wants condoms available in locations that are “safe and readily accessible,” without barriers or stigma.

And schools are required to provide information about proper condom use that is inclusive of gender identity, sexuality and ethnicity.

Vermont is the first state in the nation to make free condoms available to any student in the seventh grade, or above.

Howard Weiss-Tisman

More from VPR: Vermont First State Requiring Secondary Schools To Give Out Free Condoms

10. Woodstock ice rink approaches financial stability by getting to net-zero emissions

An ice rink in Woodstock won’t have any heating or electric bills to pay this year.

That’s because the building, the Union Arena, will generate as much energy as it uses, what’s called net-zero emissions.

That’s possible because of a new solar array and major efficiency upgrades, for things like the air handling and de-humidification systems, cooling tower and refrigeration plant and other equipment tweaks.

EJay Bishop, the director of the rink, says this is no small feat, because ice rinks traditionally use a lot of energy.

"So obviously you can’t completely eliminate energy consumption when you run an ice rink," Bishop said. "But we managed to eliminate about 65%. Then we’re supplementing the costs with the credits that we get from our solar panels."

Bishop says heating and electricity usually accounted for about a third of the facility's operating costs.

The project helps set up the rink to be financially stable going forward.

Lexi Krupp

11. Health Department aims to test every child care center, school in state for lead

The health department is trying to meet a deadline for testing the water at every school and childcare center for lead.

The state started testing schools and childcare centers for lead in 2019, and a new law gives them until the end of this year to complete the task.

The health department sent out a survey this week asking childcare centers to respond before Nov. 5 to see if there are locations that still need to be tested.

According to state data, about 20% of the taps tested at child care centers contained enough lead to require remediation.

At the public and private schools, 27% had lead in its water in at least one tap.

Howard Weiss-Tisman

Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.

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