News roundup: Vt. health officials report COVID cases, positivity rate trending downward on Monday
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Monday, Dec. 6.
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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. COVID cases, positivity rate trend downward Monday
The percentage of Vermonters testing positive for COVID-19 continued to tick down Monday, along with virus-linked hospitalizations in the state, according to the Health Department.
Vermont health officials reported 246 new COVID-19 infections Monday — on top of more than 1,200 new cases over the weekend.
That's seen the state's 7-day positivity rate — the percentage of tests in the past week that have come back positive — drop to 4.6%, after topping more than 5% late last week.
Hospitalizations also dropped from more than 80 last week to 78 as of Monday. Roughly a quarter of those are in intensive care.
Vaccination data — last updated Saturday — shows 84% of Vermonters 5 and older have gotten at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.
- Matthew Smith
N.Y.’s Franklin County declares state of emergency due to COVID infection numbers
New York's Franklin County declared a state of emergency last week due some of the highest number of COVID infections the county has seen so far in the pandemic.
In a letter Thursday declaring the emergency, the county legislative chair said high transmission of the virus is leading to "significant public health consequences."
North Country Public Radio reports the county reported 86 new infections Thursday, by far the highest single-day total since the pandemic began.
The state of emergency declaration allows the county to issue local emergency orders, though it did not issue any such declarations with last week's emergency order, beyond recommending vaccinations and mask wearing.
The state of emergency will remain in effect through New Years Day.
- Matthew Smith
2. Lt. Gov. Molly Gray announces run for U.S. House
Lt. Gov. Molly Gray is seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House.
The office will be vacant because Rep. Peter Welch is running for the U.S. Senate with the retirement of Sen. Patrick Leahy.
Gray, who is serving her first term as lieutenant governor, says she's running for Congress to work on many of the issues that she's focused on in her current role, including the expansion of broadband, universal access to child care, and paid family leave.
Previously she said that she feels it's best to work on these issues in a non-partisan way.
“The issues we are facing today are not party issues, they're not political issues as much as they are issues that are facing Vermonters,” she said.
Several other Democratic women are considering a bid for the U.S. House. They all hope to be the first woman that Vermont has ever elected to federal office.
- Bob Kinzel
Experts expect crowded races for Vermont’s congressional vacancies
It's likely that Vermont's races next year for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House are both going to draw a lot of candidates. Experts say that's because it's very unusual to have two congressional vacancies in the same year.
With the retirement of Sen. Patrick Leahy, there will be an open spot in the upper chamber. And there will also be a House vacancy since incumbent Rep. Peter Welch has announced his candidacy for the Senate seat.
This will be just the fourth time in the past century that two federal offices have been vacant at the same time.
Darthmouth College government expert Linda Fowler says because incumbents are almost always reelected, these vacancies create an unusual opportunity for anyone interested in serving in Congress.
"If they want to move up they feel like they really need to throw their hats in the ring or they won't get another chance,” she said.
The major party filing deadline for these congressional races is at the end of May.
- Bob Kinzel
3. Fraction of ARPA funds sent to Vermont have been spent so far
Vermont received about $500 million in federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act – or ARPA – earlier this year.
But so far, just a fraction of those funds have gone out the door.
Some $41 million dollars. That’s how much ARPA money the state of Vermont had spent as of mid-November. While most of the state's half billion from ARPA has been allocated, Commissioner of Finance Adam Greshin says the rollout of new programs and initiatives is slower than what was done with Coronavirus Relief Fund – or CRF – money the state received last year.
And that’s intentional. Here’s what Greshin told the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Committee at a meeting last month: “If CRF was a sprint, ARPA’s more like a 10K race.”
Most of the spent ARPA money has gone to broadband expansion. More money is allocated for things like the DMV, the state colleges and weatherization programs.
Vermont is slated to receive another $500 million dollars from ARPA next year.
- Henry Epp
4. Wilmington business owner looking to put cannabis on the city ballot
A Windham County business owner is circulating a petition to trigger a vote on allowing retail cannabis sales in his town next year.
The Bennington Banner reports the Wilmington liquor store owner has collected more than two-thirds of the signatures needed to get on the warning for the annual town meeting in March. That's after getting an "overwhelming response" from cannabis supporters on Facebook.
Towns must hold a public vote before allowing cannabis retailers within their limits.
Brattleboro, Jamaica and Londonderry in Windham County have already thrown their support behind retail cannabis sales, which are expected to begin next October.
The Vermont Legislature last year passed a bill allowing recreational cannabis sales.
- Kevin Trevellyan
5. Stowe tables outdoor drinking curfew
A proposal that would have given officials in Stowe the power to more closely regulate outdoor drinking at bars and restaurants has been defeated.
That's after the board says it received some noise complaints.
But many business owners told board members a curfew would hurt the local economy. Some said that outdoor seating has been key to surviving during the pandemic.
According to the newspaper, the board withdrew the proposal.
- Brittany Patterson
6. VA center treating non-veteran mental health patients
For the past month, some Vermonters experiencing mental health crises have had the option to get treatment at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction.
That’s after the state requested help finding spots for psychiatric patients in emergency rooms who couldn’t get a hospital bed.
Carey Russ is a social worker at the VA who directs mental health services.
“The people who we are treating here — we are transferring to our in-patient unit — are really struggling with mental health issues, whether it be substance use or psychiatric symptoms,” said Carey Russ, a VA social worker who directs mental health services.
The VA is still prioritizing their spots for veterans, but they’ve admitted civilians needing psychiatric care from across the state.
It’s the first time many at the VA can remember caring for Vermonters who are not veterans.
- Lexi Krupp
7. Bristol high school on alert last week after weapons threat
Mount Abraham Union High School was on full alert on Friday.
The Addison Independent reports that the increase in police presence — including two Bristol police officers assisted by Vergennes police and Vermont State Police — was due to a student who threatened to bring weapons to school.
That threat followed a school ban on allowing students to wear flag-related attire.
Prior to this, some students had taken to wearing flags as capes in support of people or causes. This was allowed as a form of self-expression until, the paper reports, it led to inappropriate or hateful dialogue between students and adults.
Friday afternoon, school officials made details and plans for next week and beyond, including increased support staff and police presence monitoring students as they enter and leave the school building.
- Mary Engisch
8. EPA has begun reviewing Williston Superfund site
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun reviewing a Superfund site in Williston.
Throughout the 1980s, Mitech, a manufacturing and electronics company – which has since closed – improperly disposed of waste in an unlined lagoon.
In 2017 the EPA finished an initial cleanup of the site, located in an industrial park, that included the removal of more than 600 cubic yards of contaminated soil.
The upcoming review will include soil testing and interviews with local community members.
Dan Keefe is with the EPA, and says these reviews are a routine part of the process for Superfund sites.
“The first five-year review will really ensure that what was already done with regard to the sole remedy remains protective of human health and the environment,” Keefe said.
The review is scheduled to be completed by October of 2022.
This story was reported by the Community News Service's Doug Phinney.
9. Vermonters in search of Christmas trees can cut one down (with a permit) in the Green Mountain National Forest
Christmas trees remain in high demand in Vermont and across the Northeast, and with prices soaring, and actual trees hard to come by, the Green Mountain National Forest is inviting the public to cut down a tree from the iconic national forest.
A required $5 permit can be purchased online or at Green Mountain National Forest offices in Manchester and Rochester.
This year, the U.S. Forest Service is providing free Christmas tree vouchers to fourth-grade students in support of the "Every Kid Outdoors" initiative.
- Associated Press
Elodie Reed and Kevin Trevellyan compiled and edited this post.