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News roundup: Vermont's COVID hospitalizations reach new record high Tuesday

An orange background with vermont news round up written, with a small green graphic of vermot on the "R" of roundup
Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Tuesday, Dec. 7.

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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 COVID hospitalizations hit new record high

Vermont's COVID-related hospitalizations hit another record high Tuesday, with 90 Vermonters now requiring hospital care due to the coronavirus.

The number of people in intensive care — 31 — is among the highest number of people in the ICU in the pandemic.

The seven-day average of new cases testing positive grew to 4.8% after steadily dropping over the weekend.

Overall, health officials reported 300 new COVID infections and two more virus-linked deaths.

Some 84% of eligible Vermonters have now gotten at least one vaccine dose, including 46% of kids between the ages of 5 and 11.

- Matthew Smith

State offering free COVID home tests

Beginning Tuesday, Vermonters will be able to pick up an at-home COVID test at their local pharmacy at no cost.

Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak says his department is issuing an emergency rule that will allow anyone to get an at-home test, and have the pharmacy directly bill their insurance company.

Pieciak says it's important to make these tests available as soon as possible.

"And we believe it's important to do that prior to the holidays at the end of the year,” he said. “We've already seen an impact from Thanksgiving, a surge in cases, and we want to do everything we can to try to minimize and mitigate any similar increase in cases that we might see at the end of the month with Christmas and New Year's coming up."

Pieciak says the proposal will allow Vermonters to pick up two home COVID tests per week, at no charge.

- Bob Kinzel

Vermont counties seeing high COVID case rates

Several Vermont counties have some of the highest COVID case rates in the country.

Bennington County leads the state's figures with 134 cases per 100,000 residents, averaged over the past week.

Rutland and Essex counties have also reported over 100 cases per 100,000 residents.

That’s according to a New York Times database.

Every country in Vermont has been classified as the highest level of community transmission, according to the CDC.

- Lexi Krupp

GlobalFoundries requiring all workers to be fully vaxxed by Jan. 4

GlobalFoundries will require all of its employees to be fully vaccinated for coronavirus by Jan. 4.

The company says its vaccine mandate for workers is required through federal vaccination rules for all government contractors.

WCAX reports the mandate applies to workers both at the Essex Junction computer chip manufacturing plant, as well as those working remotely.

Workers who don't get vaccinated could lose their jobs by the end of March.

GlobalFoundries is one of Vermont's largest private employers, with over 2,000 workers at its Essex Junction plant.

- Matthew Smith

2. Vermont Agency of Human Services secretary to retire

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith will retire at the end of the year after leading the agency's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

It was Smith's second stint in charge of the Agency of Human Services, beginning in late 2019, according to a news release.

After a stretch in the U.S. Navy, Smith served a handful of roles in state government over the last several decades. That includes as a state representative, deputy state treasurer, and secretary of the Agency of Administration.

Deputy Human Services Secretary Jenney Samuelson will serve as interim secretary after Smith's retirement. She has played a key role in the state's COVID vaccination efforts, according to the release.

- Kevin Trevellyan

3. Mental health care providers request funding boost to bolster workforce

The agencies that administer community mental health services in Vermont are asking lawmakers and the governor for an $80 million funding increase next year.

Rachel Cummings, with Counseling Service of Addison County, says the money is needed to boost pay for workers. She says many frontline mental health employees are leaving the profession for better pay elsewhere.

“I have staff members who are receiving food subsidies and fuel subsidies, so it’s increasingly hard to recruit people into a really important and meaningful line of work,” she said.

There are 970 vacant positions right now across the community mental health system. Officials say the workforce shortage is preventing Vermonters from accessing mental health services.

Read/hear the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

4. Seven percent of Vermont jobs unfilled in October

Nationwide, people are leaving the workplace in droves.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that 7% of jobs in Vermont were unfilled in October.

Rani Molla covers business and technology for the publication Recode at Vox.

She told VPR’s Vermont Edition on Friday this trend — dubbed by some as the “great resignation” — started before COVID, but the pandemic has intensified the worker exodus.

“You have the pandemic, you know, it's been a hell of a couple of years,” Molla said. “And you don't really go through something where millions of people die without sort of rethinking your life and your place in the world.”

Molla says businesses have attempted to recruit workers through signing bonuses, raising wages, and improving workplace conditions.

- Mikaela Lefrak

5. Two young girls from Milton killed in crash Sunday

Two young girls were killed and a Milton man was injured in a deadly car crash in New Hampshire on Sunday.

The crash was reported after 6:30 Sunday night on Interstate 93 in the New Hampshire town of Littleton.

New Hampshire State Police say 36-year-old Jordan Couture lost control of his truck and drove into the median.

Police say the vehicle rolled over, ejecting the two girls from the truck. The driver suffered minor injuries, but the girls were pronounced dead at the scene.

WCAX reports Milton School Superintendent Amy Rex says the young girls were students in the district, which is reaching out with counselors, social workers and clinicians to members of the school community in the wake of the crash.

New Hampshire police continue to investigate the crash.

- Matthew Smith

6. Applications are open to become Vermont State University’s first president

Vermont State University is searching for the institution's inaugural president.

The individual will lead Vermont State University, Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College until they unify as a single, accredited school in July 2023.

The newly established university will have five campuses across the state and additional remote sites, according to a news release.

The Vermont State Colleges System kicked off the unification project last year with the goal of creating opportunities for students of all ages who may otherwise lack access to affordable higher education.

- Kevin Trevellyan

Castleton University interim president steps down

Castleton University’s interim president Jonathan Spiro is stepping down after nearly 20 years of service to the college.

He’s served as interim president since May of 2020.

The Board of Trustees of the Vermont State College System announced Spiro’s retirement in a statement Monday.

Spiro has led the institution through a tremendously challenging time, navigating both the pandemic and the tumult caused by the upcoming merger with Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College to form the combined Vermont State University.

The Board of Trustees thanked Spiro for his long service and announced that Castleton University’s Provost, Thomas Mauhs-Pugh, will become interim president, effective Jan. 3.

- Nina Keck

7. Gas prices fall in northern New England

Gas prices fell in northern New England over the past week after weeks of speculation that a price drop was coming.

Prices in Maine and New Hampshire fell by about 3 cents per gallon over the past week, according to GasBuddy, which surveys hundreds of fueling stations.

The average cost for a gallon of gas in Vermont fell by more than 4 cents, to $3.39 per gallon, with prices in the Burlington area falling even more, by about a dime per gallon.

Drive Electric Vermont notes the cost to fully recharge most electric cars -- based on the average price of electricity in the state -- is about $10 to $15.

 - Associated Press

Elodie Reed and Kevin Trevellyan compiled and edited this post.

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