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News roundup: Vermont reports first omicron case detected

A red background with vermont news round up written, with a small green graphic of vermot on the R of roundup
Elodie Reed
/
VPR

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Monday, Dec. 20.

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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. State officials report first omicron case detected in Vermont

Vermont health officials reported 242 new COVID-19 infections today, as well as three new virus-linked deaths.

That's after the Health Department reported roughly 900 new cases over the weekend, including Vermont's first confirmed case of the omicron variant, documented Saturday in a Lamoille County resident who was fully vaccinated.

The state's seven-day positivity rate ticked up slightly — as of today, 4.4% of new COVID tests came back positive over the last week.

Hospitalizations continue a gradual decline, now numbering 55 people, including 19 in the ICU.

- Matthew Smith

Scott administration updates COVID guidance for Vermont businesses

The Scott administration has updated its COVID mitigation guidance to Vermont businesses in hopes of the state avoiding a spike in cases over the holidays.

On Thursday, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development issued a memo that says businesses can help boost vaccination rates in Vermont by requiring COVID immunizations for employees.

And the agency says public-facing establishments, like restaurants and bars, can slow the spread of COVID by requiring customers to show proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID test, as a requirement for entry.

Administration officials say a vaccine requirement measure shouldn’t impact business revenues, since only about 5% of eligible adults in Vermont are still unvaccinated.

- Peter Hirschfeld

New health restrictions for Quebec residents

New public health restrictions go into effect across Quebec today, to combat continued surges in COVID-19.

The CBC reports restaurants, bars, casinos, gyms, and theaters are required to cut their capacity by 50%.

Holiday parties, dancing and karaoke have all been banned.

Shops and shopping centers also have to trim their customer numbers to comply with new spacing restrictions.

And private gatherings are limited to just 10 people indoors, and 20 people outside.

Quebec reported more than 3,800 new COVID-19 infections Sunday, the highest number of new cases in a single day since the start of the pandemic. Sunday also saw hospitalizations reach their highest rate since May, and are continuing to rise.

- Matthew Smith

2. Texas tech company to bring new jobs to Waterbury

A state economic development board has approved an incentive for a tech company based in Texas that intends to bring 250 jobs to Waterbury.

Frisco, Texas-based MTX could receive up to $6 million from the state, if it fulfills its job creation and investment promises.

That's after the Vermont Economic Progress Council gave final approval to the company's application for a Vermont Economic Growth Incentive — or VEGI — award on Friday.

Last year, Vermont's Labor Department contracted with MTX to help upgrade the state's beleaguered unemployment insurance system.

Over the summer, the company's CEO told Seven Days that he would open a Vermont branch with or without a VEGI award.

The VEGI program, which has been routinely criticized by the state's auditor, is based on the premise that a company will not add jobs, or will not expand as quickly, without the help of state funds.

- Henry Epp

3. Gov. Scott appoints three new superior court judges

Gov. Phil Scott appointed three new superior court judges today: Elizabeth Novotny , Heather Gray and Justin Jiron .

Novotny is currently general counsel at Mosaic Learning Center. Previously she served as a deputy state's attorney in Chittenden County and general counsel for the Department of Public Safety and Department of Financial Regulation.

Gray has been a traffic safety resource prosecutor with the Department of State's Attorneys and Aheriffs and previously was a deputy state's attorney in Franklin County.

And Jiron has been a prosecutor in the Chittenden County State's Attorney's Office since 2003.

According to a press release from the governor's office, all three will be sworn in in the coming weeks.

- Liam Elder-Connors

4. State unsure on what to do with a former state prison

A new report by a legislative committee says there’s no easy path forward for the former state prison in Windsor.

The Southeast State Correctional Facility closed about four years ago, and the state’s been trying to figure out what to do with the more-than-100-acre property.

A committee that‘s been looking at the prison says it’s costing more to maintain than it’s worth. But it will cost a lot of money to take down the razor wire and remove the buildings, and developers don’t seem interested in the property as it is.

The town of Windsor will not support another prison or any human services role for the site, the report says. The committee says the state needs to come up with more money soon for demolition and a decision should be made about trying to sell it.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

5. Extension of Amtrak service gets pushed back

A long-awaited extension of Amtrak service from Rutland to Burlington won't be up and running until next summer.

That's the latest word from state transportation officials.

Some of the final upgrades to the line have been delayed due to supply chain backups. But VTrans' rail program manager Dan Delabruere says those materials should arrive soon.

"We finally have a good handle on materials, where for awhile we weren't sure when we were going to get it, and we were really at the mercy of these suppliers,” he said.

Delabruere expects construction to be finished by late June or early July.

The extension of the Ethan Allen line will connect downtown Burlington to New York City. That trip is expected to take about seven and a half hours.

- Henry Epp

6. Sen. Leahy has no regrets about retiring from the U.S. Senate

Sen. Patrick Leahy says he has no regrets that he's decided to retire from the U.S. Senate after serving for eight terms.

Last month, Leahy announced that after 48 years in the Senate, he felt it was time to return to Vermont to spend more time with wife, Marcelle, and their family.

Now, a month later, Leahy says there's no doubt in his mind that it was the right decision.

"No, it's interesting — I have no regrets. Marcelle and I have talked about that — I'm very very comfortable in my decision. I will miss the Senate. I love the Senate, but it was the right time to leave," he said.

Leahy says his top priorities in the coming months are the passage of the "Build Back Better" social programs bill, and the adoption of a new Voting Rights Act.

- Bob Kinzel

7. UVMMC president says Vermont’s health care system is struggling

At a panel on global health and medical education held this week, the head of the state's largest hospital system said the pandemic has stretched health care workers to their breaking point.

University of Vermont Medical Center President Dr. Stephen Leffler joined UVM faculty and state and federal public health officials, at the event held on campus.

He told the audience the healthcare system is struggling and staff are in need of solutions.

“We have a workforce that is exhausted from the pandemic, we had some shortages to start with, we're probably not training enough of our next generation of nurses and other health care professionals right now,” Leffler said. “So we're working with our colleges on that, to try and train more people.”

Vermont hit record highs for both hospitalizations and patients in ICU last week.

- Marlon Hyde

Marlon Hyde and Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.

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