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News roundup: One more person has died from COVID-19, health officials report Tuesday

An orange 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, homelessness and more for Tuesday, Nov. 2.

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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 Dept. of Health reports 168 new COVID-19 cases

Vermont health officials reported another 168 new coronavirus infections in the state today, and one more virus-linked death.

The percentage of tests that came back positive over the last week jumped to 3.1%.

Hospitalizations grew to 49, including 14 people in intensive care.

90.4% of eligible Vermonters are now at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19.

- Matthew Smith

Nine people have tested positive for COVID at a prison in St. Johnsbury

At a prison in St. Johnsbury, nine people have tested positive for COVID in a little over a week.

The entire facility has been put on lockdown as of Sunday. That means no outside visitors and people who are incarcerated are only allowed to leave their cells for limited activities, like phone calls or showers.

The prison has the state’s only positive COVID cases among incarcerated people, according to the Department of Corrections.

Staff members at several facilities across the state have also tested positive.

- Lexi Krupp

2. The U.S. Senate last night approved the appointment of Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson

The full U.S. Senate last night [on Monday evening] gave its approval to the appointment of Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson to the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Robinson will be the first openly LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal appeals court.

The vote was largely along party lines, with all of the Democrats voting for the nomination, and most of the Republicans opposing it.

Sen. Patrick Leahy urged his colleagues to support Robinson's nomination:

"And I see her tenure as being a display of a commitment to the rule of law. Her unwavering decade long dedication as a jurist and her loyalty to the law above all else has made Beth Robinson an outstanding Vermont Supreme Court Justice," Leahy said.

Robinson's confirmation now leaves a vacancy on the Vermont Supreme Court that will be filled by Governor Phil Scott.

- Bob Kinzel

3. Commissioner Pieciak supports jail time for men responsible for the EB-5 scandal

Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak says the men at the center of the EB-5 scandal should get jail time.

Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger have pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges connected to a scheme to misappropriate money from foreign investors. The funds were supposed to used for development projects in the Northeast Kingdom

Pieciak, in 2015, led the state's investigation the projects.

Pieciak, in an interview with VPR, said Quiros and Stenger perpetrated the biggest fraud in Vermont's history.

“With no doubt, that needs to be rectified and justice needs to be served by seeing jail time for both individuals,” he said.

Quiros and Stenger, along with another associate who pleaded guilty to federal charges, are awaiting sentencing.

- Liam Elder-Connors

More from VPR: Reporter debrief: DFR Commissioner Michael Pieciak says EB-5 fraudsters should get jail time

4. Vermont state employees return to offices yesterday for the first time since the start of the pandemic

Thousands of Vermont state employees returned to their state offices yesterday for the first time since the start of the pandemic, but some will continue working from home in some form.

Telework policies for state employees went from informal to formal yesterday, WCAX reports.

As of Friday, some 2,800 state employees — or about 30% of the workforce — have been approved for telework, with many opting for a hybrid model, averaging about three days a week remotely.

The Vermont State Employees Association wanted to push back the deadline for people to return to their offices until Jan. 1.

That would have let the delta wave of the coronavirus run its course, and allowed time for kids to get vaccinated and parents to make child care arrangements.

More than 88% of state employees are now vaccinated, and unvaccinated workers have to wear masks and get tested.

 - The Associated Press

5. A protest to draw attention to homelessness has entered its third week

A protest to draw attention to homelessness in Vermont has entered its third week.

Former Democratic candidate for governor Brenda Siegel, along with other housing advocates, have been sleeping on the Statehouse portico since Oct. 14.

She says a lack of emergency housing beds in the state could turn life threatening as temperatures drop.

Siegel adds, “I have been criticized for saying that the governor is willing to let people die. But what do you call it when you have the tools to do something different and you don’t?”

At a press conference on Monday, Siegel and other advocates called on Gov. Phil Scott to provide motel housing to anyone in Vermont who’s experiencing homelessness.

Scott says motels don’t have enough available beds to shelter the unhoused.

He says his administration will build more emergency shelters before winter arrives.

- Peter Hirschfeld

6.  A new Target store is coming to The Upper Valley.

The Upper Valley will soon get its first Target store.

The retailer will open its latest location in West Lebanon, along Route 12A, this coming Sun., Nov. 7.

The Valley News reports the new store, along with a Sierra store offering outdoor gear, will replace a Kmart that closed last spring, and a Sears Appliance store that closed in 2017.

Similar fanfare accompanied the Vermont's first Target store, which opened in South Burlington in 2018.

 - Matthew Smith

7.  Vermont’s Minimum wage is on the rise

Vermont's minimum wage is increasing almost 7% next year, to $12.55 an hour.

The Labor Department announced the increase today. It will give workers an extra $0.80 an hour. Vermont's rate remains well above the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage.

The state minimum wage for tipped employees is also increasing, from $5.88 to $6.28 an hour.

 - Mark Davis

Marlon Hyde compiled and edited this post.

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