News roundup: Vermont Dept. of Health reports 187 new COVID-19 cases, 1 new death
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Tuesday, Nov. 16.
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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 187 new cases Tuesday
Vermont's pandemic linked hospitalizations ticked up to 59 Tuesday, continuing a trend of elevated hospitalizations the state has seen since September.
State health officials also report 187 new infections, and one more virus-linked death.
COVID-19 tests coming back positive over the last week remained at 4.3%.
81% of Vermonters 5 and older have now gotten at last one dose of a COVID vaccine, including 17% of kids between the ages of 5 and 11.
— Matthew Smith
Many Vermonters who test positive for COVID-19 will have to do their own contact tracing, due to surge in cases
The Vermont Department of Health will not be contact tracing for every positive COVID-19 case.
Instead, they’re prioritizing following up with high-risk groups — like seniors, people in healthcare settings and long-term care facilities, and schools.
That means many Vermonters will have to isolate and get in touch with close contacts themselves, says deputy health commissioner Kelly Dougherty.
"We really want people who are testing positive to understand that if they’re not in one of those high-risk categories, they might not hear from us, which means we won’t know who your contacts are, so they’re not going to be notified either," Dougherty said.
She says anyone who tests positive should figure out when their infectious period started — that’s two days before symptoms start, or two days before testing positive.
They should reach out to anyone who was a close contact during that time and plan to isolate for 10 days.
"So we will ask people to write down the names, think back, look at their calendar, social media, so they can remember ... who they were in close contact with," Dougherty said. "And how we define that is within six feet for combined total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. And that's even if you were wearing a mask."
The change comes after record-high COVID-19 cases last week created a backlog for the state’s contact tracers.
— Lexi Krupp
2. Governor agrees to bring lawmakers back into session to weigh masking policies
Gov. Phil Scott says he'll bring state lawmakers back into session to let them work out a mask mandate for Vermont.
VTDigger reports the governor offered the option in a letter to lawmakers last Monday night, as the state has seen days of record new new COVID-19 infections.
In the letter, Scott said he'd only support a legislative mask mandates if lawmakers agreed to end them by April, and if local city and town officials could choose to extend — or end — any mask policies.
Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint told VTDigger that lawmakers plan to accept the governor's offer.
Balint and House Speaker Jill Krowinski have been among several lawmakers and policy advocates calling on Gov. Scott to impose some form of a statewide mask mandate.
— Matthew Smith
3. Attorney General's Office will not bring charges against a Hartford police officer who fatally shot a man in August
The Vermont Attorney General's Office will not bring charges against a Hartford police officer who fatally shot a man in August.
In a press release, the Attorney General's Office wrote that Corporal Eric Clifford responded to a call on Aug. 5. The caller said a man, Joseph Howard, was in his driveway and refused to leave. When Clifford arrived to the scene, Howard walked "aggressively" towards him, knocked him to the ground and strangled him, according to the AG's office.
Clifford broke away, but the AG's office says he was knocked down again and choked before he fired two shots at Howard.
The AG's office says its review determined that Clifford's shooting was justified because he quote "reasonably believed" he was in imminent danger of being killed.
— Liam Elder-Connors
4. Sen. Patrick Leahy's decision to not seek reelection sparks 'seismic shift' in Vermont's political scene
NAACP says Patrick Leahy’s decision to retire from politics creates an opportunity for a new kind of leadership in Washington, D.C.
Mia Schultz says that, up until now, Vermont’s congressional delegation has been composed exclusively of white men.
She says Vermonters should seize the congressional opening as an opportunity to better represent under-served constituencies.
"And what that means to me is: Who can represent Black and brown communities? Queer communities? And really invest in all of us, and represent us?” Schultz said.
At least one woman of color — Chittenden County Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale — has already expressed interest in running for Congress.
Several other female Democrats are also considering a run.
Unclear who will emerge as Republican candidate
A former Republican leader in the Vermont Senate says voters can expect a crowded field of contenders for the new opening in Vermont's congressional delegation.
Caledonia County Sen. Joe Benning says he isn’t aware yet of any Republican candidates who plan to vie for the U.S. Senate or House seat.
But he says that will almost certainly change.
"The slugfest, if you will, that is going to open up as a result of his decision will probably be one of the most interesting things to watch in my political career," Benning said.
Sen. Patrick announced Monday that he won’t seek a ninth term in the U.S. Senate.
Several Democratic candidates have expressed interest in filling Leahy’s spot in the delegation.
Scott Milne, the Republican who challenged Leahy in 2016, didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry on Monday.
— Peter Hirschfeld
5. Audit report finds the cost of state employee health care finds costs have jumped
An audit of the cost of Vermont state employee health care found costs jumped in the past decade.
The Burlington Free Press reports State Auditor Doug Hoffer released the report Friday, and found that the cost of annual medical reimbursements for state employees, retirees and their families increased 51% in that time, from $94 million to $142 million.
One reason the report identified for the increase was that different health providers charged different amounts for the same care.
The reports suggests the state move to reference-based pricing, where the state would set a maximum price for any service, instead of paying the price negotiated by the health care provider and insurance company.
Hoffer says such a change save the state more than $16 million annually.
A second suggestion is to provide state workers, retirees and their families cash incentives to use less expensive care options.
— The Associated Press
Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.