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News roundup: Nearly one-quarter of the Vt. Legislature is asking the governor to reinstate statewide mask mandate

An orange 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 and more for Tuesday, Nov. 9.

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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 189 new COVID infections, three more deaths

The Health Department reported 189 new COVID-19 infections Tuesday, along with three more virus-linked deaths.

To date, the coronavirus has now claimed the lives of 387 Vermonters. Virus-linked hospitalizations dipped slightly to 53, but remain high when compared to previous months.

The state's average positivity rate climbed to 3.7%

More than 91% of eligible Vermonters now have at least one vaccine dose, and more than 81% are fully inoculated.

- Matthew Smith

Dept. of Corrections announces 3 new cases at state prison in St. Johnsbury

The Department of Corrections announced Monday that three more people held at the state prison in St. Johnsbury have tested positive for COVID-19.

There are now 19 cases among the incarcerated population at Northeast Correctional Complex.

DOC says the entire facility is scheduled to be tested four times between Nov. 8 and Nov. 19.

Four staffers at the St. Johnsbury prison have also tested positive during the current outbreak.

- Liam Elder-Connors

State officials watch hospital capacity

As the number of COVID cases increases dramatically in Vermont, state officials are growing concerned about the capacity of the state's hospitals to adequately deal with this situation.

Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak says the state's seven-day average case count has increased 46%.

And he says the number of Vermonters who have required hospitalization is also up.

Pieciak says there are now 55 Vermonters receiving hospital care, a caseload that's affecting the state's entire health care system:

"They're already at the moment under strain from COVID and issues not related to COVID, so if our case count stays at an elevated level then that's only going to add more strain to them."

- Bob Kinzel

First kids under 12 in Vermont begin getting COVID shots

The first kids under 12 in Vermont started getting their COVID shots at clinics run by the state health department over the past few days.

Some said they were excited to have sleepovers again. Others planned to celebrate by baking a cake or going for a hike.

One young boy leaving a clinic at a middle school in Springfield had just one thing on his mind.

"I want to go get candy," he said.

The Health Department is hosting clinics at dozens of schools, malls and medical centers through early January.

They're encouraging people to go to clinics in their community, but families can sign up for a clinic anywhere in the state.

Many doctor’s offices and pharmacies expect to start providing the vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 by mid-November.

- Lexi Krupp

2. Nearly a quarter of the Legislature has signed a letter asking governor to reinstate a statewide mask mandate

Nearly a quarter of lawmakers in the Vermont Legislature has signed a letter asking Gov. Phil Scott to institute a statewide mask mandate.

The request comes as COVID numbers in Vermont hit their highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic.

Gov. Phil Scott says the recent spike in COVID cases still doesn’t constitute a state of emergency in Vermont.

Lincoln Rep. Mari Cordes, who’s one of 44 lawmakers that penned an open letter to Scott on Monday, says many of her constituents disagree.

“I wonder if the governor is living in a parallel universe, because the case numbers are at an emergency point," Rep. Cordes said.

Cordes, who works as a registered nurse at University of Vermont Medical Center, says she and other lawmakers want Scott to institute a statewide mask mandate to slow the spread of the disease.

- Peter Hirschfeld

State officials call rising case counts a "concerning" trend

The Scott administration says it's "concerned" about the recent rise in COVID cases in the state.

In the past week, there have been more than 2,200 cases in Vermont.

Mike Pieciak is the commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, which tracks COVID data.

He says there's been a 46% increase in the state's seven-day average number of cases. He thinks additional safety measures could be considered if this trend continues.

"We'll have to see where the cases lead — if they continue to increase, even if they're elevated at this level, we'll just have to see what happens with them. But that would be a concern," Pieciak said.

A group of lawmakers and health officials are urging Gov. Phil Scott to impose a statewide mark mandate. The governor has said he doesn't believe such a mandate would be effective in reducing the number of cases.

- Bob Kinzel

3. Vt. border businesses look forward to return of Canadian customers

The U.S. reopened its land borders with Canada Monday for the first time since March 2020.

Fully-vaccinated Canadians can now drive down to the U.S. But to get back into Canada, they have to present a negative coronavirus molecular test. Some tests can cost $200, which could deter day-trippers. Still, some business owners are getting excited for the return of Canadian customers.

Justin Leyva manages Boutin's Market in North Troy. He says he's looking forward to seeing one Canadian regular in particular.

"There is a gentleman by the name of George who comes and gets sub sandwiches," he said. "And I really do miss him. I miss the conversations I had with him. He lived right on the other side of the border, three houses in."

Despite the slow start, many business owners say they think Canadian tourism will ramp up once ski season kicks off in earnest.

- Mikaela Lefrak

4. Sen. Sanders, Rep. Welch praise passage of infrastructure bill

The state of Vermont is expected to receive just over $2 billion as part of the infrastructure bill that passed the U.S. House late Friday night.

The legislation is now headed to President Biden for his signature.

The bill includes $1.4 billion for highway programs, $225 million for bridge repairs, $83 million to expand public transportation options and $100 million dollars to expand broadband services.

Congressman Peter Welch says the broadband funds are one of the most important parts of the bill.

"We cannot be in the 21st century economy without high-speed internet throughout the state, and we know we need it just like we needed electricity in the '30s," Welch said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, says the nation's transportation system is in dire need of major work.

"This is a significant piece of legislation, and I think in terms of infrastructure, it is probably the most significant bill since the Eisenhower era, when we built the interstate highway system," Sanders said. "This is enormously important as a nation and as a state, our infrastructure is in disrepair."    

The plan also allocates $21 million to expand electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state.

- Bob Kinzel

With passage of "traditional" infrastructure bill, Welch urges "social" infrastructure bill before end of month

Congressman Peter Welch says it's critical for Congress to give its approval to President Biden's "social" infrastructure bill — or the "Build Back Better" plan — before the end of the month.

On Friday, the U.S. House ended weeks of negotiations and passed the more-than-$1-trillion "traditional" infrastructure bill that includes money for roads, bridges and broadband.

In voting for the bill, many House Democrats were assured that a number o fkey elements of the larger "social" infrastructure bill would receive the support of all 50 Democrats in the Senate.

Welch says it's time for the Democrats to stop their "infighting" and pass this second bill in a timely manner.

"You know, people want to see progress, and watching the process is not what they want," Welch said. "You know we've been at first-and-goal for several weeks, and they want to see the touchdown."    

Welch also wants the bill to include a provision that allows Medicare to negotiate prices with the major drug companies.

- Bob Kinzel

5. Former Vt. National Guard soldier dies of cancer linked to military burn pits

A former Vermont National Guard solider, battling cancer linked to his exposure to toxic military burn pits while serving overseas, has died.

Wesley Black, 36, died Sunday, according to his fellow firefighters at the Hartford Fire Department.

The Valley News reports Black reached a $3 million settlement with the U.S. government this summer, in which he said the smoke he breathed from open-air burn pits while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan caused his cancer.

Black had sued the White River Junction VA Medical Center in federal court for failing to diagnose his cancer, and to take his burn pit exposure into account.

The Department of Defense now admits the burn pits, where military bases incinerated everything from human waste to plastic and old uniforms, were once common practice. They say they have closed, or soon will close, any remaining burn pits.

A 2020 survey by the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found 86% of its members were exposed to burn pits or other airborne toxins.

- Matthew Smith

6. Gas prices rise again in New England over last week

Gas prices rose once again in northern New England over the last week.

Prices in Maine went up the most over the past week, nearly 3 cents, to $3.41 a gallon.

That's the same price for a gallon of gas that Vermont drivers are now paying, on average, according to GasBuddy's surveys of thousands of fueling stations.

Gas was cheaper but still inched higher in New Hampshire, where Granite State drivers are averaging $3.34 for a gallon of gas.

According to Drive Electric Vermont, recharging an electric car — based on the average cost of electricity in the state and the average efficiency of EV — has a cost equivilent to about $1.50 per gallon. That would fully charge most electric cars for less than $15.

- Associated Press

7. Chris Sununu to seek a fourth term as New Hampshire governor

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu will seek a fourth term in office next year.

New Hampshire Public Radio reports the Republican declared Tuesday he'll seek another term as governor, defying expectations he'd run for the U.S. Senate.

Voters will decide on the next Granite State governor in November of 2022.

- Matthew Smith

Abagael Giles and Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vprnet.

Corrected: November 9, 2021 at 4:46 PM EST
A previous version of this story reported that nearly one-third of the Legislature had signed a letter calling on the governor to reinstate a statewide mask mandate. Almost one-quarter of the Legislature signed the letter. The story has been corrected.
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