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News roundup: Vt. officials report four more people have died from COVID, and 262 more infections

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Elodie Reed
/
VPR

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, a shortage in the education workforce, Burlington postponing the enforcement of a trespass order at Sears Lane and more for Friday, Oct. 29.

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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. Vt. health officials report four more people have died from COVID, plus 262 new infections

The Health Department reported 262 new COVID cases Friday and four new deaths.

That brings the number of Vermonters who have died of the coronavirus to 364.

Some 60 people are hospitalized, 12 of whom are in the ICU.

A total of 89.9% of Vermonters aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

Just over 80% are fully vaccinated.

- Brittany Patterson

Gov. Phil Scott gets a booster shot in Newport

Gov. Phil Scott was in Orleans County Thursday, where he rolled up his sleeve and got a COVID-19 booster shot to promote the vaccine in the region of the state being hardest hit by the virus.

Scott made the pitch outside North Country Hospital in Newport.

While Vermont continues to be a vaccine leader in the country, a recent surge in cases has hit Orleans County hardest.

Statewide Thursday, there were a total of 316 new cases of the virus, but 23% were in Orleans County, where just 4% of Vermonters live.

The high number of cases spill into northern New Hampshire and parts of northern Maine, although the Orleans County infection rate leads all those other locations.

Scott says his visit wasn't meant to shame but to inform, and pledged to increase vaccination opportunities in the region.

 - Associated Press

2. Education officials say a workforce shortage in Vt. schools is overwhelming administrators, teachers and staff

Education officials say a workforce shortage in Vermont schools is overwhelming administrators, teachers and support staff.

Jeff Francis, with the Vermont Superintendents Association, told lawmakers this week that the stresses of the pandemic have pushed some educators to the brink.

“Yeah, I never in the 20-plus years that I have been working for the superintendents association have heard people just basically stating that they’re not going to come to work the next day,” Francis said. “I mean there are literally examples of people who have said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”

Francis and other education officials are asking lawmakers and the Scott administration to boost support for school districts.

They say many districts have been overburdened with COVID-related obligations such as contact tracing and testing.

- Peter Hirschfeld 

American Academy of Pediatrics declares national state of emergency in children’s mental health

The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared a national state of emergency in children’s mental health.

And officials in Vermont say students here are showing symptoms of mental stress due to social and educational disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jay Nichols is the executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association.

“Children on average, based on principal comments, are really struggling,” Nichols said. “There’s a lot of issues around self-regulation, executive functioning. Students are a lot less mature.”

Nichols told lawmakers this week that staffing shortages in Vermont schools have made it even more difficult to address students’ needs.

Nichols and other education officials are asking lawmakers and Gov. Phil Scott to increase support for public schools.

- Peter Hirschfeld

3. Burlington postpones trespass order enforcement as Sears Lane residents search for new homes

The Sears Lane encampment in Burlington's South End has been almost completely cleared.

On Tuesday, city officials postponed the enforcement of a trespass order for those receiving assistance from the city, while they searched for a temporary home.

Mayor Miro Weinberger tells Vermont Edition the city tried working with nonprofit organizations to provide more stable housing, but none were able to participate in the two-week window the city gave when it announced plans to close the camp.

The mayor says he's hopeful for a more permanent solution to homelessness.

“I absolutely am committed and will continue to be persistent in ensuring that homelessness in Chittenden County is rare,” he said. “And when it does happen, it's brief.”

Weinberger's office says all former residents of the camp have accepted rehousing services except one, and they're working with that individual.

Hear the full conversation.

- Marlon Hyde

4. Multi-agency police search continues for missing woman in New York's Clinton County

A multi-agency police search in New York's Clinton County continues to search for a missing woman.

North Country Public Radio reports 78-year-old Rita Wilson of Redford, just west of Plattsburgh, was last seen Tuesday morning at her home wearing blue jeans, loafers, and a red jacket bearing the word "Cortland."

Police say Wilson has dementia and her family is concerned for her welfare. It's believed she left her home on foot.

Police searched on foot with a bloodhound Tuesday and Wednesday, with a police drone and police helicopters searching from the air.

Police are asking area residents with security and trail cameras to check their footage for any sign of Wilson.

- Matthew Smith

5. Vermont Dept. of Corrections agrees to better support incarcerated people with disabilities following investigation

The Vermont Department of Corrections has agreed to make changes in order to better support incarcerated people with disabilities.

The settlement with the Department of Justice was announced Thursday. It closes an investigation the DOJ launched into Vermont's correctional facilities following complaints.

Under the agreement, Vermont DOC will update its training, policies and facilities to ensure inmates with disabilities have equal access to prison programs and facilities.

The agreement also notes that incarcerated individuals who need things like hearing aids should get them.

The DOC will pay $80,000 to current and former inmates who were harmed.

- Brittany Patterson

6. Sen. Bernie Sanders says he'll continue fighting for stronger Medicare provisions in "social" infrastructure bill

Sen. Bernie Sanders says he'll continue his fight to include stronger Medicare provisions in President Biden's new compromise "social" infrastructure bill.

The proposal unveiled by the president Thursday morning doesn't include a top Sanders priority: allowing the federal government to negotiate Medicare drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry.

Sanders told reporters that he wants this provision restored to the compromise plan before he votes on it.

"There is to the best of my knowledge no language in there that takes on the pharmaceutical industry, demands Medicare negotiating prices that lowers the cost of prescription drugs in America,” he said. “And that's a major problem in the bill."

Sanders is urging House Democrats not to vote on a bipartisan "physical" infrastructure bill until these Medicare issues have been worked out in the Senate.

Hear/read the full story.

- Bob Kinzel

7. Vt. Republican Party chair will not seek reelection

The chair of the Vermont Republican Party will not seek reelection when her term ends next month.

Seven Days reports Essex Junction resident Deb Billado won't seek another term leading Vermont Republicans, citing four years of more-than-full-time work required of the unpaid position.

Billado cited new job responsibilities that would make her unable to dedicate the time needed for the post.

Billado did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

Vermont Republicans will elect a new chair at their next meeting, on Nov. 6.

- Matthew Smith

8. Rutland reaches agreement with city police department, includes changes to police pay

The city of Rutland has reached an agreement with the Rutland City Police Department that will include changes to police pay and boost efforts to recruit new officers.

The Rutland Herald reports the changes include an annual "step" pay raises for officers, rather than raises only given when officers hit a certain number of years of service.

It's a move city and police officials say will make the department more competitive for hiring new recruits.

Earlier this year, the department had as many as eight openings, about a fifth of its 40 positions.

The new contract runs through June 2024.

- Matthew Smith

9. Castleton University receives $500,000 to continue archeological work at historic Granger House

Vermont's Castleton University has received a half-million-dollar federal grant to continue archeological work at the historic Granger House.

The funds, from the National Endowment for the Humanities, will pay for up to 40 paid internships, a museum, learning laboratory and summer field school.

Located on campus, the Granger House was built around 1800. University officials say the building also sits near Native American archeological sites and may have had ties to the Underground Railroad.

- Brittany Patterson

10. More than 200 people participate in 29029 Everesting event at Stratton Mountain

Earlier this month, more than 200 participants laced up their sneakers and turned on their headlamps to begin a 36-hour journey.

The goal: hike up Stratton Mountain, take the gondola down and repeat ... 16 more times.

The event is called 29029 Everesting. It’s an endurance challenge dedicated to hiking the vertical equivalent of Mount Everest, 29,029 feet.

It began in 2017 on Stratton Mountain. Now, multiple challenges are hosted across North America annually. For many participants, 29029 is about challenging yourself, both mentally and physically: you versus you.

Grace Dooby said she needed that “find yourself” moment.

“You really can’t describe it,” she said. “You can’t describe all the emotions, like they say you will go through everything. You will go through happiness, you will go through sadness, you will question, ‘Why am I doing this, what am I doing this for,’ like, ‘Who am I.’ You will find all of these answers that you did not know you were even questioning.”

This year, 160 people braved rainy conditions to finish all 17 ascents. Dozens of volunteers and participants cheered the athletes on. Their reward: the exclusive red finishers hat.

- Mae Nagusky with the Community News Service

Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.

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