News roundup: Vermont Dept. of Health reports 190 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Tuesday, Nov. 23.
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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 190 new cases, with 68 Vermonters in the ICU
Health officials reported 190 new COVID-19 infections Tuesday, as the 7-day positivity rate remained at 3.9%.
One more virus-linked death was reported Tuesday.
Currently, 68 Vermonters are hospitalized due to the virus, with 16 in the ICU.
More than 488,000 Vermonters ages 5 and up have received at least one dose of a vaccine. That’s 82% of the eligible population.
— Karen Anderson
2. Municipal governments in Vermont now have the power to institute local mask mandates
Municipal governments in Vermont now have the authority to institute local mask mandates.
And some lawmakers are concerned about divisive debates in town halls.
But Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell told lawmakers that he thinks municipal boards are ready for difficult conversations about COVID-19 mitigation policies.
"I don’t think that your policymaking and then our select board’s policymaking should be driven by the concern that there might be more contentiousness," Elwell said.
Legislation that delegates authority over masking protocols to local governments passed largely along party lines on Monday.
Some lawmakers say they want to consider passing a statewide mask mandate when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
Gov. Phil Scott has indicated he’d veto a statewide masking bill.
And some legislators worry the measure will only intensify opposition to COVID-19 mitigation protocols.
Franklin County Sen. Randy Brock spoke during a debate on the Senate floor on Monday.
“And I believe that it has the potential to even hurt us and to harden the attitudes of those small number of people who object to some of the measures that are recommended by our health authorities,” Brock said.
Many municipal officials have told lawmakers they welcome the opportunity to pass local masking ordinances.
And the Vermont League of Cities and Towns says it’s already aware of about a half dozen municipalities that plan to pursue local masking mandates.
Lawmakers raise concerns over enforcement
Some lawmakers are worried about how those requirements will be enforced.
Caledonia County Sen. Joe Benning says it’s unlikely that local police or other municipal officials will undertake enforcement duties.
“It will be that minimum wage worker who’s pushing the grocery cart across the parking lot that has to stop someone coming into a store," he said. "That’s just not fair.”
The bill leaves it to town select boards and city councils to decide whether or not to have a mask mandate in their communities.
The bill also allows municipalities to decide whether their mask mandates should include penalties for lack of compliance.
Protesters convene at the Statehouse Monday in opposition
A group of about 50 protestors stood outside the Vermont Statehouse on Monday as lawmakers contemplated a bill that would let municipalities institute local mask mandates.
Lyndonville resident Jay Iselin said mandatory masking policies are violation of Vermonters’ personal freedoms.
And he said lawmakers should have invited public comment before taking up the masking legislation.
“What’s happened? Why aren’t we going inside and speaking? Wouldn’t this be something that would be worthy of having a public hearing about?" he said. "I should think so.”
The House and Senate approved the masking legislation Monday largely along party lines.
Gov. Scott, who opposes a statewide mask mandate, has indicated that he’ll allow the bill to become law.
— Peter Hirschfeld
3. Three New England States have pulled out of a regional climate initiative that was a key component of Vermont's draft Climate Action Plan
Three New England states have pulled out of a regional cap-and-invest program designed to reduce pollution from cars and trucks. Joining was a major component of Vermont’s upcoming climate plan.
Vermonters drive more miles per capita than anyone else in New England. Transportation is the leading source of emissions in the state.
And electrifying cars has emerged as a key component of the draft of the state’s Climate Action Plan, which is due next week.
The Transportation Climate Initiative was supposed to help.
Without it, Vermont Climate Council member Jared Duval says the current plan just doesn’t pencil out:
“Aside from a Clean Heat Standard, it is the only other policy that has been identified by members of the climate council that could likely get us to a quarter or more of the emissions reductions we need to achieve by 2030,” Duval said.
Governors in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut pulled out of the TCI last week.
Some critics have said the program would raise gas prices and unfairly burden lower income drivers in rural communities.
But the Energy Action Network — a local data and advocacy group which Duval leads — found joining would add no more than $25 per year to what the average Vermont household spends on gas.
— Abagael Giles
4. Home sales in Vermont are down 60% over this time last year
Vermont’s real estate market took off during the pandemic last year.
But the latest market data shows some big changes in home sales as we enter another COVID-19 winter.
The Vermont Association of Realtors' September report shows a more than 60% drop in pending home sales compared to this time last year.
Peter Tucker is with the group, and says while the drop is hard to explain, the big spike in sales started just about a year ago.
"It’s more normal now. And I do think that September of 2020 was a big jump — like a one time occurrence," he said.
While the number of home sales is way down, properties are still selling for far above their estimated value.
The average listing price of a home is about 14% above its value, according to the September report.
And homes are selling about 30% quicker than they were a year ago.
— Howard Weiss-Tisman
5. State law enforcement warn Vermonters to be on the lookout for fentanyl-laced pot
State law enforcement are warning Vermonters of Fentanyl-laced marijuana, which led to an overdose over the weekend.
Brattleboro Police said that they received a report of an overdose Saturday and used CPR and several doses of Naloxone to revive the patient, WCAX reported.
The patient told police that they only smoked marijuana and had not taken any opioids. The marijuana tested positive for fentanyl.
The investigation into the laced marijuana and overdose is ongoing.
— The Associated Press
Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.