News roundup: Vermont Dept. of Health reports 235 new COVID-19 cases
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Monday, Nov. 22.
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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 235 new COVID-19 cases
The health Department reported 235 new COVID cases 19 Monday.
As of today, 53 people are in the hospitalized, including 15 in the ICU.
The seven-day positivity rate is 3.9%. To date, 405 people have died in the pandemic.
— Mark Davis
Newport prison outbreak grows
A coronavirus outbreak at a Vermont prison is growing, according to the state Department of Corrections.
Nine new cases of COVID-19 were detected at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport during testing conducted on Thursday, the agency said in a statement, with six of the new cases among inmates and three among staff.
There are now a total of 27 active cases at the facility: 20 among those who are incarcerated, and seven among prison workers.
The facility remains on full lockdown, and contact tracing on the new positive cases is underway, the agency said.
Additional testing is being scheduled in partnership with the Vermont Department of Health.
There are five confirmed coronavirus cases at the Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury — three among inmates and two among staff, down from earlier this week after 19 inmates and four staff were medically cleared.
Statewide,there are currently 26 positive cases among inmates and 12 positive staff cases across four prisons, the agency said.
— The Associated Press
Just over 30% of Vermont's pandemic deaths have occurred since September
The delta variant has been driving up COVID-19 case numbers in Vermont since the summer, and last week, the state recorded its 400th death in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just over 30% of all the deaths in the pandemic have occurred since Sept. 1.
A total of 47 people died in October, all of whom were 47 or older.
The death rate for those who were unvaccinated was almost double that of fully vaccinated people.
So far in November, 28 people have died. They were all at least 50 years old.
Hospitalizations this fall have remained higher than at any other point in the pandemic. The hospitalization rate for unvaccinated people is twice that of fully vaccinated individuals.
— Anna Van Dine
Franklin Northeast Supervisory district closes due to COVID-19 cases
The Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union school district closed early last week due to a high number of COVID cases in its schools, doubling the length of its Thanksgiving break in an effort to tamp down rising infections.
The County Courier reports the district closed Friday, creating a 10-day break before classes resume a week from today.
Superintendent Lynn Cota says the schools don’t have staff, including substitutes, to keep up with teaching, the Test to Stay program and contact tracing.
The closure does not affect a vaccine clinic scheduled for Monday at the Richford Elementary school.
The district includes schools in Bakersfield, Berkshire, Enosburg, Montgomery, Richford and Sheldon.
— Matthew Smith
2. Rep. Peter Welch announces bid for U.S. Senate; Sen. Sanders endorses him
Sen. Bernie Sanders has endorsed Congressman Peter Welch's bid for the U.S. Senate.
Welch announced Monday that he'll run for the U.S. Senate seat that will become open after the announced retirement of Sen. Patrick Leahy.
Sanders, in a statement Monday morning, said he is "proud to endorse Peter today and looks forward to serving with him in the Senate."
In his upcoming Senate campaign, Welch says he plans to highlight many of the issues that are part of President Joe Biden's Build Back Better bill that passed the House late last week:
"And now we're saying 'Hey, let's invest in families; let's invest in communities and certainly let's start tackling in an aggressive way the existential challenge of climate change," Welch said.
Vermont has never sent a woman to Congress, and a number of Democratic women in Vermont's Legislature have expressed interest in filling Welch's seat in the House.
— Bob Kinzel
3. New energy plan calls for Vermont to move towards decarbonizing its electric energy resources by 2032
The state on Friday released an updated audit of its existing energy programs and infrastructure.
The plan also makes recommendations for how the state can meet its emissions and energy reliability goals.
This marks the first update to the state's Comprehensive Energy Plan since Vermont committed by law to reducing emissions last year.
The new draft plan recommends Vermont get 100% of its electrical energy from carbon-free resources by 2032. The report's authors say this will deepen the state's investments in electrification,which has emerged as a key tool for reducing emissions.
The plan also highlights the need for reliable, affordable energy for all Vermonters. And it says this transition should be done in a way that is equitable. Public comment is open until December 20.
— Abagael Giles
4. New report recommends major changes to how the state transports people with acute psychiatric needs
The state relies on county sheriff departments to transport prisoners and people with a mental condition or psychiatric disability.
A key legislative committee says that system needs a complete overhaul.
A new report by the Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee examined the state's practice of paying the county Sheriffs’ Offices to transport people with psychiatric needs, and at the responsibilities the deputy sheriffs have when doing so.
The committee identified significant concerns.
The report says the role and duties of the deputies need to be clarified and that the organizational structure should be updated to better serve those in the custody of the state.
The committee wants more details on the number of hours worked and is looking for more clarity and uniformity in how the sheriff’s departments bill the state.
One solution could be having the state, not sheriffs, take on the transportation responsibilities. The Legislature will take up the issue when lawmakers return next year.
— Howard Weiss-Tisman
5. Essex Planning Commission rejects proposal from Rick Bove to build more rental units in town
The Essex Planning Commission rejected a proposal Thursday from a prominent developer to build more rental units in the town, citing ongoing health and safety issues at his existing building.
Town officials recommended the board deny Rick Bove's application, in part because of his "long history” of failing to fix zoning and life safety violations.
Dustin Bruso is the chair of the planning commission.
"I have never, in my recollection of the time I’ve been on this commission, had so clear a statement and direct a statement within a staff report," Bruso said.
Bove’s rental empire was the subject of a recent joint-investigation by VPR and Seven Days. The news outlets found patterns of neglected maintenance and mismanagement across the 400-plus rental units owned by Rick and his brother Mark.
In a press release last week, Mark Bove promised to take quote “immediate corrective action” to fix problems at their properties.
— Liam Elder-Connors
6. Invasive Emerald Ash Borer identified in Windsor and Lamoille counties
The invasive emerald ash borer has been found in Windsor and Lamoille counties for the first time.
The insect, which kills ash trees, has now been detected in in the towns of Hartford in Windsor County and Belvidere in Lamoille county.
It was also detected for the first time in Brookfield, in Orange County.
The Agency of Agriculture advises residents of those towns, and neighboring towns, not to move ash wood outside of infested areas.
The small, green beetle was first detected in Vermont in 2018, and has now been found in almost all counties.
— Anna Van Dine
Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.