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News roundup: 5 more Vermonters have died from COVID-19, as state logs 198 new infections

A yellow 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 Wednesday, Nov. 3.

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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 198 new COVID-19 cases

Five more Vermonters have died from COVID-19, state health officials reported Wednesday, in addition to 198 new coronavirus infections in the state.

The latest virus-linked deaths bring Vermont's pandemic total to 374.

There are a total of 52 Vermonters hospitalized with virus.

More than 90% of Vermonters 18 and older are at least partially vaccinated.

With Tuesday's CDC authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine for kids between the ages of 5 and 11, state health officials have now opened vaccine sign-ups for that age group.

You can sign up here.

Matthew Smith

State officials hope vaccines will slow recent surge in cases among young kids

The Scott administration is hoping the availability of COVID-19 vaccines for younger children will help bring down the recent surge in cases in Vermont.

Mike Pieciak is the commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation — the department that's responsible for tracking the state's COVID-19 statistics.

Pieciak says federal approval for a vaccine for 5 to 11 year olds, which came Tuesday night, is good news for Vermont.

"But over the last two weeks that age group in particular — that 5- to 11-year-old age group — has been the highest per capita, consistently higher than those that are adults; higher than other adolescents as well," Pieciak said. "So that will be certainly good news, as we can protect that age group which has been seeing higher rates."

State officials opened up registration for parents and caregivers for eligible children at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Bob Kinzel

Positivity rate is on the rise

State officials say they're concerned that Vermont's COVID-19 positivity rate is on the rise.

The rate compares the number of positive cases discovered during the week to the number of tests conducted during that same seven-day period.

Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak says it's a statistic that the state needs to keep a close eye on.

"This week, we are seeing cases go up a bit, as we mentioned — about 12% over the past seven days," Pieciak said. "But we did also see testing go down 6% over the last seven days. So again, we'd rather see that inversed, obviously, but that's what we're seeing this week and the positivity rate ticked up a bit over the last couple of days."

The state's current COVID-19 positivity rate is just over 3%.

State officials would like to see this rate dip below 2.5% in the coming weeks.

Bob Kinzel

2. Kids 5-11 are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in Vermont, starting today

Vermont health officials say families and caregivers of kids between the ages 5 to 11 can sign their kids up for a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine starting this morning.

The announcement from Gov. Phil Scott's administration came just hours after the CDC's approval of a kids's dose of the vaccine Tuesday night.

Vermont Dept. of Health to hold 96 school based vaccination clinics over the next 6 weeks

The Vermont Department of Health will hold 96 school-based vaccination clinics over the next six weeks as it tries to immunize youngsters before the holiday break.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith says the state will concentrate vaccine clinics for 5 to 11 year olds in regions that have less access to health care services.

“Many of our school clinics are in places where there are fewer pharmacies or other ways to get the vaccine. We’re also set up in areas where we know families may struggle with transportation," Smith said.

The Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children between the ages of 5 and 11 get vaccinated against COVID-19.

You can sign up here.

Peter Hirschfeld

Pediatricians to hold virtual information sessions starting next week

Vermont pediatricians will be holding virtual forums for parents who want to learn more about the new COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds.

Dr. Rebecca Bell, head of the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says members of her organization will be available via Zoom to field inquiries from parents twice a week in November and December.

"Many families will have questions about the vaccine and pediatricians are ready to answer them," Bell said.

The first forum is at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 8.

Parents interested in attending the forums can find a schedule and meeting information at the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics web page.

Registration for vaccine appointments for 5- to 11-year-olds in Vermont opened Wednesday morning.

Peter Hirschfeld

Kids are less likely than adults to experience side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine

Five- to 11-year-olds who get vaccinated against COVID-19 are less likely than adults to suffer serious side effects from the shot.

Dr. Rebecca Bell is head of the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

She said the American Academy of Pediatrics has reviewed data on the vaccine, and concluded that it’s both safe and effective for young kids. 

“So we unequivocally recommend this vaccine for every Vermont child who is age eligible. We believe the benefit of this vaccine will provide protection for every Vermont child,” Dr. Bell said.

Bell said children are less likely than adults to get severe side effects as a result of getting vaccinated

She says a clinical trial of the vaccine showed that young kids were less likely than adults to come down with flu-like symptoms after being immunized.

And she says none of the children in the trial suffered lasting health conditions.

“There were no serious adverse events related to vaccination," Dr. Bell said. "This includes zero cases of anaphylaxis and zero cases of myocarditis.”

State health officials say parents and caregivers can sign up for vaccines for children between the ages of 5 to 11 today at the health department's website.

The state expects to have 23,000 doses of the children’s vaccine in hand by the end of the week.

You can sign up here.

Peter Hirschfeld

Kids who are vaccinated will be less likely to have to quarantine after exposure

Gov. Phil Scott says protection against COVID-19 isn’t the only reason that parents should get their 5 to 11 year olds vaccinated against the disease.

Scott says young children who receive the COVID-19 vaccine will also be immune from many of the quarantine requirements currently in place at most elementary and middle schools.

"Vaccinating kids reduces the need for quarantines after potential exposures, which will keep your kids in school, learning from teachers and being with their friends and reduce the challenge of finding childcare, and staying home with them as well," Scott said.

Peter Hirschfeld

3. Vermont hospitals continue to operate at close to full capacity

Many hospitals are treating a surge of sick patients who delayed care during the pandemic while simultaneously facing staffing shortages and limited ability to transfer or discharge patients. That’s the case for Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury.

“We’re in our busiest phase right now of the whole pandemic,” said Michael Rousse, the chief medical officer there. At times, they’ve had to divert ambulances to other hospitals when their emergency department has been full.

They’re not alone. “Like all Vermont and upstate New York hospitals, we continue to function at very close to full capacity on a daily basis,” Jonathan Billings, of Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans, wrote by email.

Community hospitals like these are dealing with a compounding set of issues, Rousse explained. Many patients have severe medical problems that need a higher level of care than they typically provide. But big health care providers like the University of Vermont Medical Center and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center are also full. So they’re transferring complicated patients as far away as Portland and Boston. Then their EMS service is not available to the community.

They’re also caring for mental health patients and people in need of skilled nursing care who can’t get into the proper facilities — sometimes housing them for days or weeks.

“When you add all those together we have some capacity issues,” Rousse said. “We’re feeling the strain.”

What’s more, several of the nursing staff at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital have left. Rousse said for many, that’s to work as traveling nurses, where they can make more money.

“It’s like the whole system has turned upside down,” he said. “The demand for the more expensive traveler nurses is through the roof because everyone is in the same position.”

Lexi Krupp

4. The Scott administration has no plans to expand eligibility for its emergency motel housing program

The Scott administration has no plans to expand eligibility for its emergency motel housing program.

But Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith says the state will soon unveil changes to a program that provides shelter when temperatures dip below 20 degrees.

“So it will enhance the opportunities for various people who are homeless to have shelter over the winter," Smith said.

Smith says the new cold weather housing guidelines will allow more people to enroll in the program.

Housing advocates have called on Gov. Phil Scott to provide emergency motel housing to all Vermonters experiencing homelessness, regardless of outside temperatures.

Peter Hirschfeld

5. Rutland City mayor wants to defund 7 unfilled police officer positions

Rutland City Mayor David Allaire wants to defund seven unfilled officer positions from the Rutland City Police Department.

The cuts are part of the mayor’s proposed budget for next year — which is up 2.8% from last year's.

Allaire says the police force currently has 13 vacancies and has been struggling to fill them. It's a situation he doesn't expect will change next year.

“I didn’t feel, in good conscience, I could go to the taxpayers knowing that and ask them to fund those positions," Allaire said.

No layoffs will be made and six sworn officer positions will be funded along with a new civilian position to handle noise complaints.

Allaire is also proposing to add a staff person in the city's building and zoning department as well as an assistant city attorney. 

Rutland City’s Board of Aldermen have until the end of the year to sign off on the budget.

Nina Keck

6. Sen. Leahy calls on House Progressives to pass physical infrastructure bill

Sen. Patrick Leahy is sending a clear message to his Progressive colleagues in the U.S House that their strategy of delaying a vote on the so called "physical" infrastructure bill is a mistake.

House Progressives are insisting that all 50 Democratic senators publicly support the President's "social" spending plan before they vote on a $1 trillion traditional infrastructure bill that provides money for roads, bridges and an expansion of broadband.

Leahy says that strategy will unnecessarily delay many projects.

"You have to get out contracts and do things if you're a state like ours, where you have a construction season that can be interrupted by weather — you can't just sit around and wait."

Leahy says the House doesn't need to use the physical infrastructure bill as leverage because he's confident that the Senate will pass the president's social budget plan in the near future.

Bob Kinzel

Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.

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