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News roundup: Vermont Dept. of Health reports 505 new COVID-19 cases

A blue background with the words Vermont News Roundup with a green Vermont icon over the "R"
Elodie Reed
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VPR

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, Nov. 12.

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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 505 new COVID-19 cases

Vermont saw another high day of COVID-19 cases. The health department reported 505 new COVID-19 cases Friday, and no new deaths.

To date, 393 Vermonters have died of the coronavirus.

The state's seven-day positivity rate remains high. As of Friday, 4.2% of COVID-19 tests being conducted are positive.

Right now, 52 people are hospitalized.

Data, last updated Thursday, shows 81.3% of Vermonters aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

Brittany Patterson

Health commissioner says low vaccination rate among 18-29-year-olds is partly to blame for rising case counts

While Vermont has one of the highest overall COVID-19 vaccination rates of any state in the country, health officials are still struggling to find ways to persuade people between the ages of 18 and 29 to get vaccinated.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says roughly 94% of all Vermonters over the age of 60 are now fully vaccinated but the rate for the 18- to 29-year-olds is closer to 56%.

Levine says that's one reason why Vermont has experienced a surge of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

"And believe me, this virus is very effective at finding them. our least vaccinated age group — those in their twenties — have had their own surge in the past week," he said.

Levine is urging Vermonters to wear masks in all indoor settings, and to practice other COVID-19 safety protocols.

Bob Kinzel

Just half of Vermonters over 65 have gotten a booster

A new report shows that while over 95% of people over 65 in Vermont are fully vaccinated from COVID-19, only half of Vermonters in this age group have gotten a booster shot.

Mike Pieciak is the commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation — that's the state agency that tracks COVID statistics.

He says that while Vermont's booster vaccine rates for older adults are among the highest in the country, he still thinks many older Vermonters would benefit from the protection of a booster shot.

"It will be critical to get that number up as high as we can go, to make sure those most vulnerable have the greatest degree of protection," Pieciak said.

The Scott administration is urging all Vermonters over 18 to get a booster shot if the individual feels that they have, quote, "any risk of being infected."

Bob Kinzel

2. Democratic legislative leaders continue calls for a statewide mask mandate

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are again asking Gov. Phil Scott to impose a statewide mask mandate after Vermont set a record for daily COVID-19 cases on Thursday.

House Speaker Jill Krowinski says she isn’t asking the governor to limit business operations or institute travel restrictions.

“We don’t have to close everything down," Krowinski said. "We don’t need to go all the way back, but let’s use a tool that’s helpful, that we know works, and that’s with masks.”

Krowinski says she won’t ask the governor to call the Legislature back into session to pass a mandate of their own if he refuses.

“If he doesn’t support it right now, and again I hope that he will reconsider, bringing us back to pass something that he doesn’t and will just veto isn’t going to be a solution for anyone," she said.

Krowinski says if Scott refuses to institute a mask mandate, then lawmakers will consider passing a statewide mandate of their own when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Earlier this week, Scott urged Vermonters to mask in indoor spaces, whether they’re vaccinated or not, but he said he doesn’t think a mask mandate would increase the number of Vermonters who wear facial coverings.

Scott’s spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry Thursday, but the governor said as recently as Tuesday that he doesn’t think current case counts warrant a mask mandate.

Peter Hirschfeld

3. Housing advocates decamp from Statehouse steps, following extension of motel housing program

Housing advocates have decamped the Statehouse steps after a 28-day protest of Gov. Phil Scott’s emergency housing policy.

But while Scott’s latest proposal will provide motel housing for all homeless Vermonters this winter, advocates say they’ll continue to push for more.

Newfane resident Brenda Siegel says Vermonters experiencing homelessness need more permanent housing options.

“You can buy up motels and make them into housing. We can take abandoned buildings and renovate them into housing. Tiny homes are actually not that expensive to get and build and bring land together," Siegel said.

Unhoused Vermonters who meet income eligibility guidelines will be allowed to reside in motel rooms free of charge from Nov. 22 until March 1.

Federal FEMA funds will cover the cost of the expanded motel housing program.

Peter Hirschfeld

4. Environmental advocates raise concerns about proposal to allow GlobalFoundries to become its own utility

Environmental advocates say a proposal by GlobalFoundries could allow the company to get out of carbon emission cuts required by Vermont law.

The computer chip manufacturer is proposing to become its own utility — buying power directly from the regional transmission grid.

As part of that process, GlobalFoundries has agreed to emissions cuts through 2025, but not beyond that.

Elena Mihaly is the director of the Conservation Law Foundation in Vermont. She says the company should be held to stricter standards.

"This is a very wealthy corporation," she said. "And it is our responsibility to hold this kind of industry responsible to the climate laws that were universally, very popularly passed in the state."

State environmental regulators argue they can create regulations in the future that could force GlobalFoundries to cut its emissions.

Frank Cioffi with the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation argues GlobalFoundries has already proven its committed to clean energy and cutting carbon emissions.

"They're doing it. They have been doing it," he said. "I think we look at their past performance, and their past performance says that they will exceed their own goals."

Environmental groups argue the company is seeking to skirt the state's clean energy standards for electric utilities. GlobalFoundries argues they can stick to those standards voluntarily.

The company's case is currently before the Public Utility Commission.

Read or listen to the full story.

Henry Epp

5. $34 million agreement reached in Bennington PFOA suit

A chemical company has agreed to pay $34 million to compensate residents in the Bennington area for chemical contamination in groundwater and soil.

The Bennington Banner reports the ChemFab plant in Bennington, owned by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, used industrial chemicals that spread throughout the town and into the groundwater supply.

The plant was closed in 2002, but PFOA, one of a group of contaminants often known as “forever chemicals,” was discovered in 2016 after a similar situation in a nearby New York town.

PFOA has been known to cause kidney, testicular and other cancers and diseases.

Saint-Gobain will also provide up to $6 million for continued medical monitoring for those who have higher-than-usual background levels of PFOA in their blood.

A spokesperson for the plaintiffs said that the settlement will provide the compensation necessary to aid “the Bennington community affected by the PFOA contamination, and we strongly support it.”

A judge must approve the settlement before the funds are allocated.

The Associated Press

6. Ski areas struggle with staffing shortages ahead of the coming winter season

Ski season is just around the corner, and many of Vermont's ski resorts are still rushing to hire enough employees amid the broader worker shortage.

Molly Mahar is the president of Ski Vermont, a nonprofit that advocates for the state's ski industry. Speaking on Vermont Edition Thursday, Mahar said many ski areas have had to raise their wages in order to compete with other industries.

"We're definitely seeing that pressure on wages, up in this competitive environment, and we have several areas in the state that have set a minimum wage of $15 an hour," Mahar said.

Other resorts are offering subsidized housing, end-of-season bonuses and referral bonuses to try to attract more workers.

Listen to the full conversation.

Marlon Hyde

7. Vermont dairy program to see $6 million in federal funding

Federal officials announced Wednesday that a Vermont program focused on dairy business innovation has been awarded more than $6 million.

Laura Ginsburg leads the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center.

She says some of this new funding will be set aside for the organic dairy industry after Horizon Organic announced it would be pulling out of the region next year.

“We do have about half a million dollars dedicated to farms and processors who have been impacted by the Horizon circumstance,” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg says there is also about $1 million worth of funding currently available for service providers who work with impacted dairy farms on things like business plans, operations, marketing and processing.

Elodie Reed

8. Franklin County honors veterans with annual parade, featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders

The Franklin County town of St. Albans held their annual veterans parade Thursday, in honor of those who have served in the U.S. military.

Veterans, community members and Sen. Bernie Sanders marched down Main St. carrying flags and banners. The parade route passed under a humongous American flag hoisted into the air by fire truck ladders..

Speaking to hundreds of people, Bernie Sanders said the support from the young members of the community felt incredible.

“This is a wonderful, wonderful turnout. And I thought the event was just really well done, and it's especially good as you can see, to see so many young people coming out to honor our veterans," he said.

After the parade, an hour-long ceremony was held in Taylor Park to pay tribute to U.S. service members.

Marlon Hyde

Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.

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