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News roundup: All adults in Vermont are now eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot

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 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. All Vermont adults are now eligible for a booster shot

Vermont is the latest state to expand eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine booster to all adults.

That means anyone at least six months from their second Pfizer or Moderna dose, or two months from the Johnson and Johnson vaccine can get a booster shot.

At a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott said Vermont leads the nation in booster rates among seniors.

He thinks that might explain why COVID-19 cases for Vermonters 65 and over have declined, while cases have surged in the rest of the population over the past month.

"So please get your booster," Scott said. "Make it a priority."

Ina statement released Wednesday, he said the health department will simplify online registration for booster shots and allow walk-ins at state-run vaccine clinics.

Lexi Krupp

Vermont Dept. of Health reports 245 nw COVID-19 cases

Daily COVID-19 cases shot up Wednesday alongside a rise in Vermont's 7-day positivity rate.

Over the last week, 4.4% of COVID-19 tests came back positive. Vermont's positivity rate has continued to rise for more than two weeks.

Health officials reported 245 total new infections, and three new virus-linked deaths.

Hospitalizations remained high, at 58.

As of Wednesday, 18% of Vermont children between the age of 5 and 11 had gotten their first vaccine dose.

Overall, 81% of Vermonters are partially vaccinated, while 74% are now fully vaccinated.

To date, 31% of eligible Vermonters have gotten a vaccine booster shot.

Matthew Smith

Health officials say recent surge of COVID-19 cases will continue for at least another month

Vermont health officials believe the recent surge of COVID-19 cases will continue for at least another month.

Mike Pieciak leads the Department of Financial Regulation — the state agency that analyzes COVID-19 data.

Pieciak says cases have increased 64% in the last two weeks, and he predicts this trend will continue into December.

"We trended on the higher end of what we were expecting," Pieciak said. "So this week, the forecast continues to show some elevation. There's also the uncertainty with the Thanksgiving holiday that we have to contend with as well. So bottom line on that front: not expecting the cases to go down at this point."

State officials are encouraging Vermonters to be extra cautious over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and to follow all masking and social distancing guidelines.

Bob Kinzel

Health commissioner asks Vermonters who test positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate, identify and reach out to close contacts themselves

Many Vermonters who come down with COVID-19 will have to do their own contact tracing from now on.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says that, due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in Vermont, his department will focus its contact tracing resources on higher-risk populations.

“So if you test positive, take the following actions: Immediately begin isolating at home, away from others. Immediately start reaching out to your close contacts to let them know that they may have been exposed to COVID," he said Tuesday.

Levine says Vermonters can visit the Department of Health website to learn about what constitutes a close contact, and what to tell contacts when you call them.

COVID-19 case counts in Vermont have jumped by 64% over the past two weeks.

Peter Hirschfeld

Rising case counts in Rutland County strain local schools and families

Rutland County's rising COVID-19 infections are straining area schools and families.

Rutland has seen more than 700 cases in the last two weeks — the second highest total after Chittenden County.

Jeanne Collins, superintendent of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, says elementary schools have been hardest hit.

She says they’ve had to shut down more than half a dozen classrooms in the last 10 days.

"And that impacts their instruction, their ability to learn," Collins said. "It also impacts families, as they need to take time off to be with their students. And we move to remote learning and it impacts the stress of staff, who need to pivot immediately with maybe 12 hours notice that, you know, tomorrow you’re teaching remotely for the next 10 days.”

Collins worries infection rates will climb even higher with people gathering for Thanksgiving.

Schools face staffing shortages when positive cases occur

Brooke Olsen-Farrell, superintendent of the Slate Valley Unified School District says they’re having a hard time keeping up with contact tracing.

And when faculty are out because of COVID-19 protocols, normal illness or breakthrough cases, substitutes are hard to find.

"For example, Friday we had 44 absences for staff for health reasons and we were only able to fill 22 of those positions," she said. "So that meant that your administrators were in the classrooms. Any support staff we might have had to pull to do double duty.”

She says the district’s six schools are currently down 18 teaching and support staff positions.

Nina Keck

Nearly 16,000 Vermont children 5-11 have either been partially vaccinated or have a vaccine appointment

Nearly 16,000 children between the ages of 5 and 11 in Vermont have either received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, or been scheduled for an appointment.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith says the Scott administration wants to see those numbers increase.

And he says the state has plenty of vaccine doses available for children.

“This week Vermont received 7,000 additional doses of pediatric vaccine above what was originally allocated — that original number was 5,100,” Smith said.

Smith says about 36% of kids in the 5 to 11 age group have been registered for a vaccine appointment.

The state is trying to get 60% of children in that age range vaccinated before the school holiday break in December.

Peter Hirschfeld

Vermont schools conducted more than 2,600 rapid antigen tests on students last week

Vermont schools conducted more than 2,600 rapid antigen tests on students last week.

And Education Secretary Dan French says the "Test to Stay" program is already helping kids avoid quarantine.

French says a school district in Franklin County used rapid antigen tests on 50 students who had been identified as close contacts.

“As a result of enrolling students in the Test to Stay program, they, in total, basically avoided the loss of approximately 220 school days for those students," French said. "So you can see Test to Stay can be very effective in terms of preventing lost instruction.”

French says about half of the school districts in Vermont have enrolled in the Test to Stay program.

He says the state has ordered 51,000 rapid antigen tests.

Some school officials say the impact of COVID-19 on teachers and classrooms remains acutely painful.

Peter Hirschfeld

More than half of Vermonters 65 and older have gotten COVID-19 boosters. The Scott Administration says this is keeping them out of the ICU

The Scott administration says there's compelling data in Vermont that shows the benefits of COVID-19 booster shots.

Mike Pieciak is the commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, the agency that tracks COVID-related statistics in the state.

Pieciak says that despite a significant increase in COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks, ICU demand has remained steady.

Pieciak thinks this is happening because more than half of all people 65 and older have gotten a booster shot.

"We have the same number of people on a seven-day average in the ICU 30 days ago as we do today — pretty clear that that 65 age group is really benefiting from the boosters here in Vermont," Pieciak said.

The administration is encouraging all Vermonters 18 and older to get a booster shot when they become eligible.

Bob Kinzel

The number of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities has doubled in the past week

The number of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities in Vermont has doubled over the past week.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says the state is now monitoring outbreaks in 15 facilities.

He says the number of cases associated with outbreaks have increased as well, but not among residents of long-term care facilities.

“So it appears again that a number of staff members in long-term care facilities have contracted COVID-19 over the last week," Pieciak said.

Pieciak says high uptake of COVID-19 booster shots among people 65 and older has kept hospitalization rates flat, despite the increase in case counts.

Peter Hirschfeld

2. Vermont lawmakers will head to special session next week to pass a bill that allows municipalities to enact mask mandates

Vermont lawmakers are headed to Montpelier for a special session next week to pass a bill that’ll give municipalities the authority to institute indoor mask mandates.

Gov. Phil Scott said during his weekly press briefing on Tuesday that he’ll allow that bill to become law.

But he says he has serious concerns about the social consequences of local mask requirements.

“I think you have to reflect on, you know, what mandates represent," Scott said Tuesday. "And sometimes, the very people you’re trying to help are going to be resistant to having another mandate, to force them into a mandate.”

Scott says he thinks a mask mandate could intensify resistance to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Lawmakers and many public health experts say mask mandates have slowed the spread of COVID-19 in other jurisdictions.

And they continue to call on Scott to issue a statewide indoor mask mandate.

Read the full story.

Peter Hirschfeld

3. Health commissioner urges caution, testing before and after Thanksgiving gatherings

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine is urging all Vermonters to use caution over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

In the last two weeks, the number of COVID-19 cases has increased roughly 64%.

If you choose to gather, Levine says it's a good idea to be tested both before and after the holiday and to ask about the vaccination status of all guests

He also hopes the gatherings will be as small as possible.

"The more people and the more households, the higher the chance that someone could have the virus and expose other people," Levine said. "Even people you trust the most can have the virus and not know it." 

Levine says it's also important for all Vermonters to follow indoor mask and social distancing guidelines during the holiday weekend.

Bob Kinzel

4. GlobalFoundries says it's committing to a carbon-free energy portfolio after 2026

As it pushes to become its own electric utility, one of the state's largest consumers of power says it plans to get all of its electricity from carbon-free sources in five years.

Computer chip maker GlobalFoundries wants to buy its electricity directly from the regional grid, rather than from Green Mountain Power. That proposal is currently before state regulators, and several environmental groups oppose it.

Gregory Rieder is a member of Global's technical staff. He says the company is committed to buying clean energy in the long-term.

"We are actually committing to — from an energy portfolio — committing to a carbon-free energy portfolio after 2026," Rieder said.

The company is currently negotiating an agreement with the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. But the sides missed a Monday deadline to submit that agreement to regulators. Rieder says talks are ongoing. 

GlobalFoundries and state agencies miss Monday deadline for a new MOU regarding the company's greenhouse gas emissions

GlobalFoundries and two state agencies have missed a deadline to submit a new agreement aimed at reducing the semiconductor company's greenhouse gas emissions.

The sides were supposed to file a memorandum of understanding by Monday.

GlobalFoundries is pushing to become its own electric utility, breaking off from Green Mountain Power.

As part of that proposal, the company was supposed to reach an agreement on its emissions reductions this week with two parts of the executive branch: the Agency of Natural Resources and the Department of Public Service.

"We're still working closely with ANR and DPS to come to an agreement,"said Gregory Rieder, a member of GlobalFoundries technical staff.

ANR and DPS would not comment on the status of the discussions.

Environmental advocates have argued the company is trying to skirt the state's clean energy requirements by becoming its own utility.

More from VPR: Reporter Debrief: GlobalFoundries wants to become its own utility. Is that even allowed?

Henry Epp

5. Sen. Patrick Leahy informs Senate colleagues about his decision to retire from the U.S. Senate

An emotional Patrick Leahy informed his Senate colleagues Tuesday morning about his decision to retire after serving 8 terms in the U.S. Senate.

Leahy, who was first elected in 1974, is the only Democrat to represent Vermont in the upper chamber.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Leahy said the time has come for him to return home to spend time with his wife Marcelle.

"It's a decision I do not come to lightly but one in which Marcelle and I find great peace," Leahy said. "Now we both look forward to the hard work the coming year will bring with the same conviction that brought us to Washington in the first place. Mr. President, I thank my colleagues — I yield the floor."

Leahy says the passage of a voting rights bill will be one of his top priorities in the coming year.

More from Vermont Edition: A conversation with Sen. Patrick Leahy & his wife, Marcelle Leahy

Bob Kinzel

6. Gov. Scott reiterates he has no interest in running for the U.S. Senate, or the 'quagmire' of Washington

Governor Phil Scott is making it very clear that he has absolutely no interest in running for the U.S. Senate.

Vermont will have a vacancy in 2022, following the announcement by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy that he won't seek a ninth term.

Scott, a Republican, is viewed as a strong GOP candidate.

There's only one problem — Scott says he wants nothing to do with Washington's partisan political atmosphere.

"I think there needs to be more moderates, more centrists in Washington," Scott said. " I just choose not to be one of them — a moderate, centrist in Washington is amongst the minority, unfortunately, and I've served my entire political life in the minority. I'm not sure I want to jump into that quagmire."

Scott praised Leahy for being a "powerful voice" in the Senate for the state of Vermont.

Bob Kinzel

7. Landlords will be required to notify tenants of emergency rental assistance before they file to evict them over back rent

Landlords who try to evict tenants for not paying rent will soon be required to tell them that funds are available to cover back rent. That's according to an order issued Tuesday by the Vermont Supreme Court.

Starting Dec. 1, any eviction filed due to non-payment of rent must also include a notice about the state's emergency rent assistance program.

The new order came after a request from Vermont Legal Aid.

The organization has raised concerns that the rental assistance program isn't getting funds out fast enough, putting many people at risk of eviction.

More than $38 million in rent assistance has been distributed since the program launched in April, according to Vermont State Housing Authority. That money has gone to about 6,500 households.

Liam Elder-Connors

8. Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin says it's ready to move ahead with plans to build a new adult psychiatric unit

Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin says its ready to move ahead with plans to build a new adult psychiatric unit.

In 2018, lawmakers and mental health officials recognized the need to build more acute psychiatric beds for adults. But the pandemic put Central Vermont Medical Center's plans to expand — which had ballooned in cost — on hold.

Now, CVMC President Anna Noonan says the addition of 25 beds in Berlin would take pressure off other hospitals, where adults in need of psychiatric care often have to wait in emergency departments.

“This project would measurably increase mental health access in the state of Vermont and reduce time spent waiting in EDs across the state," Noonan said.

Noonan says she will have a new estimate ready for state regulators in April.

If the project is approved and funding is secured, CVMC says the unit could be opened in the fall of 2025.

Howard Weiss-Tisman

Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.

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

Updated: November 17, 2021 at 3:50 PM EST
This post has been updated to reflect the news Wednesday that Vermont has made all adults 18 and older eligible for COVID-19 boosters.
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