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News roundup: Vermont Dept. of Health reports 222 new COVID-19 infections Monday

A red background with the words Vermont News Roundup, with a green logo of Vermont on the "R"
Elodie Reed
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VPR

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, Sen. Patrick Leahy's announcement today that he will not seek re-election to the U.S. Senate and more for Monday, Nov. 15.

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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 222 new COVID-19 cases

Vermont'sCOVID-19 positivity rate and hospitalizations remain elevated today Monday, as the health department reported 222 new infections one one additional virus-linked death.

That average positivity rate over the last week is 4.3%, as the state added more than 700 new cases this weekend.

The number of people hospitalized rose to 52, including 11 people needing intensive care.

As of today, 80% of Vermonters 5 and older are at least partially vaccinated against COVID, including 11% of children between the ages of 5 and 11.

Matthew Smith

Weekend COVID-19 cases remained high

The Vermont Department of Health reported almost 300 cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, and over 460 on Saturday.

COVID-19 cases in Vermont almost doubled during the first two weeks of this month, going up by 91%, and Orleans and Essex Counties are seeing more case growth than anywhere in the northeast, according to data from the New York Times.

Caledonia, Bennington and Rutland counties are also seeing a significant increase in cases.

Matthew Smith

NAACP of Windham County says it's working to ensure equal vaccine access for BIPOC residents and children

Now that the Pfizer shot has been approved for kids 5 to 11, one group in Vermont is working to ensure fair and equal access to the vaccine to children of color.

WCAX reports the NAACP of Windham County - while not providing vaxx clinics for Black, Indigenous and kids of color - IS working with Vermont schools and the Vermont Department of Health to direct parents on where to get children vaccinated.

The group also plans to monitor vaccine equity in Windham County.

The group is also hosting BIPOC vaccine clinics for adults looking to get boosters and also flu vaccines this weekend and next.

Mary Engisch

Citing potentially waning immunity, health commissioner urges Vermonters over 65 to get their boosters

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine is urging Vermonters 65 and older to get a COVID-19 booster shot because he says their protection from the virus from their initial vaccinations is most likely starting to decline.

Recently, a number of studies looking at the effectiveness of the vaccinations found their protection waned by roughly 20% about five months after getting the second shot.

Levine says older Vermonters should seriously consider getting a booster shot as soon as possible.

"That their immunity is likely waning and as one of the oldest states, the percentage of Vermonters in this situation is higher than in most other parts of the country," Dr. Levine said.

Based on recent statistics, Levine says roughly half of all fully vaccinated Vermonters who are 65 and older have gotten a booster vaccine.

Bob Kinzel

2. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy will not seek a ninth term in office

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy will not seek an ninth term in office. The 81-year old senator made the announcement Monday in Montpelier.

"It's time to put down the gavel. It's time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter, who will carry on this great work for this great state. It's time to come home," he said.

Leahy will step down next year at the end of his term.

The longest serving member of the US Senate, Leahy was first elected in 1974. He's the only registered Democrat that Vermont has ever elected to the Senate. 

Read or listen to the full story, here.

Liam Elder-Connors

3. Recycling is profitable again in New England

The average value of one ton of recycling across 11 Northeast states topped more than $184 in the third quarter this year.

That's according to the Brattleboro based Northeast Recycling Council, and that price is helping make recycling profitable.

Over the past few years, the group has calculated the value of recycling in this region, starting back when the value was really low, and companies were actually losing money on recyclables.

Now though, prices are up significantly — 43% in the third quarter of this year compared to the second quarter. And recycling is profitable again.

The NERC finds that the value of recyclables is about twice as much as it costs to process. Back in 2019, the opposite was true. The value of recycling was less than half the processing cost.

Matthew Smith

4. Vermont Apportionment Board weighs changes to Vermont House districts

A state board could soon make big changes to  the composition of Vermont House districts.

The Vermont Apportionment Board has to redraw district lines based on the results of the 2020 census.

In its preliminary House map, the Board created 150 single-member districts. That represents a big change because currently about half of all House members are elected from two-member districts. The change could force several incumbents to run against one another.

Board chairman Tom Little says many officials from two-member districts object to the new approach.

"We'll see whether that sticks or whether the Apportionment Board will be looking at some combination of two-member and one-member districts, as the Board did in its final proposal 10 years ago," he said.

The Board will make a final decision by the end of the month

The Northeast Kingdom could soon have less representation in the Statehouse

The Northeast Kingdom could soon have less representation in the Statehouse.

Vermont's Apportionment Board chairman Tom Little says a number of Senate district lines need to be adjusted because the new Census shows southern counties and the Northeast Kingdom are losing population to the growing northwestern region.

Little says this means that it's likely that one of the four senators from the Essex-Orleans and Caledonia districts will be moved over to the Chittenden and Franklin districts.

"The Constitutional directive here is to focus on population, saying that the senators represent people and that's really what's pushing us in this direction," Little said.

The Board's recommendations are subject to Legislative approval.

Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: Reapportionment? Redistricting? We 'Ask Bob' About What The 2020 Census Means For Vermont's Political Map

5. Gov. Scott in Bennington Monday to celebrate new municipal wastewater system

Gov. Phil Scott will be in Bennington Monday to celebrate the completion of a new municipal water system that serves homes whose wells were contaminated with the chemical PFOA.

The company Saint-Gobain owned the factory in Bennington that used the chemical, and Vermont reached an agreement a few years ago to have them pay for the waterlines.

Scott joined other state and local leaders Monday to mark the end of the project, which connects 445 homes to the town’s water system.

PFOA is one of the so-called "forever chemicals" because it doesn't break down in the environment.

Exposure to PFOA has been linked to testicular cancer, liver damage and thyroid disease.

Howard Weiss-Tisman

6. First Afghan refugees arrive in Vermont

The first three of up to 100 Afghanistan evacuees are now in Vermont.

WCAX reports three men are now staying with host families: two in Chittenden County and one in southern Vermont.

Officials with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants said Friday the men are happy to be here and very eager to hit the ground running and start working.

The program helps provide case management, English instruction and other assistance to get newcomers into the labor force.

Gov. Phil Scott announced in September that Vermont was approved to welcome up to 100 Afghan refugees.

The Associated Press

7. Electric school buses to hit the streets in Barre

School officials say two electric school buses could be on the roads in Barre in a couple of weeks.

The Times Argus reports that the buses are part of a pilot project to test their effectiveness in colder climates.

Last month, Gov. Phil Scott and education leaders celebrated the introduction of electric buses in Fairfax.

The buses are also being used by the Champlain Valley School District.

Officials say the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately save school districts money.

An emissions settlement with Volkswagen is funding most of the project.

Matthew Smith

Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.

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