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News roundup: Vermont once again breaks its record for new COVID infections

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Elodie Reed
/
VPR

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, Dec. 9.

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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’s COVID surge continues

For the third time this month, Vermont has broken it's record for new COVID infections.

Health officials reported a new record of 740 infections Friday as testing ramped up throughout the week.

The 7-day positivity rate — the number of tests that came back positive over the last week — remained at 4.8%.

Hospitalizations continue to be elevated, with 78 people needing medical care for COVID, including 23 people needing intensive care.

- Matthew Smith

House candidate says she would’ve issued statewide mask mandate

Lt. Gov. Molly Gray says she disagrees with Gov. Phil Scott's decision not to issue a statewide mask mandate.

Gray, a Democrat running for Vermont's only U.S. House seat, was asked by Vermont Edition co-host Mikela Lefrak on Thursday if she supports a statewide mask order.

“I continue to believe that, yes, we need a mandate and we need clear policy guidance for Vermonters,” Gray said.

Scott, a Republican, has repeatedly said that a mask mandate would be unproductive in this stage in the pandemic.

Last month, Vermont lawmakers passed a law, signed by the governor, allowing towns and cities to make their own mask mandates.

- Mikela Lefrak

NY Essex County nursing home seeing COVID outbreak

A nursing home in New York's Essex County is seeing a surge of new infections and deaths after experiencing a deadly COVID-19 outbreak last September.

North Country Public Radio reports the Essex Center facility in Elizabethtown had 20 active cases among its residents, as of Wednesday, plus four more among staff.

Just this week, five residents from the facility died due to COVID-19.

County health officials said they only became aware of the outbreak late Tuesday.

Of the five deaths at the facility this week, one was unvaccinated and hospitalized, one was partially vaccinated and hospitalized, and three were fully vaccinated.

The center saw a major COVID outbreak in September of last year, which was linked to more than 100 cases and 12 deaths.

- Matthew Smith

North County airports receiving COVID aid

Two North Country airports will receive over $1 million in federal pandemic funds.

North Country Public Radio reports Plattsburgh International Airport will get more than $107,000 through the America Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.

Watertown International Airport will get more than $1.1 million.

In announcing the funds, lawmakers say they'll pay for various pandemic-related costs, including personnel, operations, sanitization and for minimum annual guarantees for concessions.

- Matthew Smith

Dartmouth hospital curtails visitation

Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center is the latest hospital in the region to announce that no visitors will be allowed for most of its patients.

Exceptions are made for kids and patients receiving end-of-life care.

The rule applies to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, surrounding outpatient centers and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center North in St. Johnsbury.

At a press conference Wednesday, hospital leaders also said cloth masks won’t be permitted. Instead, anyone entering the hospital will be provided with a new surgical mask.

The move is a return to the strictest visitor restrictions, last enacted at the onset of the pandemic in spring of 2020.

It follows a similar announcement at Rutland Regional Medical Center, where inpatient adults are also no longer allowed visitors, with few exceptions.

- Lexi Krupp

Montpelier adopts mask requirement

Montpelier is the latest Vermont community to enact a local mask mandate.

The Montpelier City Council passed an emergency order requiring face masks inside any buildings that are open to the public.

The mandate offers exemptions for kids 2 or younger, and anyone with medical conditions who can't wear a mask.

The order urges "appropriate alternatives" like face shields to be worn instead of masks, if needed.

The city will review the mandate every 45 days, and it goes into effect immediately.

- Matthew Smith

Surge of COVID cases spurs Middlebury College to end in-person education

Middlebury College is pivoting to remote learning for the rest of the semester after a surge in COVID infections on campus.

The Middlebury Campus student newspaper reports an email to students Thursday night alerted them to 34 new cases on campus, bringing the college's total to 50 active cases.

As a result of the increase, college administrators said in-person gatherings on campus are limited to no more than six people, starting Friday.

Athletic competitions and other events are either canceled or postponed.

On-campus dining halls will begin closing Friday morning and pivoting to meals on the go.

Today's classes and next week's exams are moving online, as school officials told students to leave campus as soon as possible.

- Matthew Smith

Middlebury College enacts COVID booster requirement

Middlebury College is requiring all students to get COVID booster shots by early next year.

It’s one of the only institutions of higher education to announce booster requirements thus far.

Less than 20% of Vermonters ages 18 to 29 have received a booster shot, according to the state Department of Health.

- Lexi Krupp

2. Addison County Fair and Field Days founder remembered for love of people, agriculture

The legendary founder of the Addison County Fair and Field Days died last month.

Lucien Paquette had 12 children, and three of them all had the exact same thing to say about him:

“He loved people.”

Paquette could eat tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

His son, Fran, says his dad was in his element when he had a scythe in his hand, or when he was standing by the garden leaning on a hoe or sitting with a grandchild on his lap.

Paquette worked for UVM Extension in Addison County for over 35 years.

He told VPR in 2005 that he was especially fond of the hand-mowing competition at the Field Days.

“Something that used to be commercially prominent on dairy farms in Vermont, and is gone by the wayside -- you might say is being maintained right here, at Addison County Fair and Field Days, once a year,” he said.

Paquette died on Nov. 23, at the age of 105.

- Anna Van Dine

3. GlobalFoundries inks deal with BMW

GlobalFoundries has signed a second agreement in as many months to supply computer chips to a major car manufacturer.

The semiconductor company, which employs over 2,000 people in Vermont, announced a deal this week with BMW. The agreement will supply the carmaker with millions of microchips every year.

The deal follows a similar agreement GlobalFoundries made with Ford last month. Car companies are increasingly reliant on microchips for their vehicles. A worldwide chip shortage has constrained car production over the past year.

- Henry Epp

4. Gov. Scott optimistic about democratic governance

Gov. Phil Scott says he's hopeful that steps can be taken to change the toxic political atmosphere in the U.S. that threatens to undermine the democratic form of government.

Speaking to delegates at the Summit for Democracy on Thursday, Scott said he's very concerned that the lack of respect for different points of view is eroding public confidence in democratic principles.

Quoting former President Calvin Coolidge, Scott expressed optimism that the current atmosphere can be changed.

“‘The only way I know to drive out evil from the country is by filling it with good.' Filling the world with good created by healthy democracies is the best way to guard against authoritarianism,” he said.

Scott also blamed former President Trump for exacerbating the current negative atmosphere with his efforts to continue to challenge the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

- Bob Kinzel

5. Transit provider getting creative to hire employees

Staffing shortages have forced many employers to bump wages and pay signing and retaining bonuses. Employers are also rethinking how they hire.

Jim Moulton directs Tri-Valley Transit, which provides public transportation in Addison, Orange and northern Windsor counties. And he says he needs bus drivers.

To attract them, they completely overhauled how they recruit.

“We started advertising in places we’ve never considered before,” he said. “We’ve been on Facebook and Instagram. We’re advertising on the sides of our buses and on the side of our building."

They also streamlined hiring. Now, within 24 hours of getting an application they conduct a mini-interview which tells them right away if they have a candidate they want to talk more with.

Background checks still take a lot of time. But Moulton says a hiring process that used to take more than two months now takes half that.

And he says it’s paying off with new drivers. He hopes bus routes that have been limited in recent months should be back online by mid-January.

- Nina Keck

6. Champlain College hires new president

Burlington private school Champlain College has chosen a new president to start work this summer.

Alejandro Hernandez comes to Vermont from the University of Virginia, where he served as vice provost of online learning and dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

Hernandez's career also includes stints in public school administration, charter school advocacy and the venture capital world.

In a news release, college officials said Hernandez would help launch the school's new strategic plan, which is focused on launching career-focused programs and attracting a diverse student body.

- Kevin Trevellyan

Elodie Reed and Kevin Trevellyan compiled and edited this post.

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