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News roundup: COVID continues to be leading cause of death in Vermont, data shows

An orange 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 Tuesday, Dec. 28.

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While Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended, the delta and omicron variants are now circulating around the state. Click here for the latest on new cases, and find the latest vaccination data online any time.

1. Four more Vermonters have died from COVID-19, bringing total deaths to 465

Four more Vermonters have died from COVID-19, the Health Department reported Tuesday, as the state recorded 416 new COVID-19 infections.

The latest deaths mean a total of 465 Vermonters have died from the coronavirus so far in the pandemic.

Virus-linked hospitalizations ticked down to 55 people today, after climbing to the low 60s over the holiday weekend.

The state's average positivity rate was unchanged today, and remains at an elevated 5.1%.

The state's vaccination rate remains at 85% of eligible Vermonters with at least one vaccine dose.

- Matthew Smith

Free at-home COVID tests available Tuesday, Wednesday at sites around Vermont

The state of Vermont is distributing free at-home COVID-19 test kits at multiple Agency of Transportation sites around the state on Tuesday, Dec. 28 and Wednesday, Dec. 29.

The test kits will be offered at nine different sites, starting at 8 a.m. each day.

All nine sites will operate at Agency of Transportation offices or garages, from Bennington to Newport, except for one site in Springfield, which is distributing tests at the Springfield Fire Department on Wednesday only.

Health officials say no registration is required, and the tests are free for Vermont residents.

Two test kits will be given out per car – or per walk-in – at each distribution site, until all the kits have been given out.

Details on the sites can be found at healthvermont.gov/covid-19.

- Matthew Smith

COVID continues to be the leading cause of death in Vermont

COVID continues to be the leading cause of death in Vermont.

That’s according to data published by researchers at the University of Washington last week.

They estimate that the total number of deaths from COVID were nearly twice as high as people dying from heart disease in December.

In the week leading up to Christmas, the state reported an average of two to three deaths from COVID each day.

- Lexi Krupp

Mask usage rising in Vermont

Just over 50% of Vermonters say they always wear a mask when leaving home.

That’s according to surveys this month from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Maryland.

Those numbers are up from early November, when about a third of Vermonters reported always wearing masks outside their homes.

That was before local mandates went into effect.

Researchers at the University of Washington project that if mask-wearing increased to what Vermont saw this time last year, the state would avert 50 additional deaths from COVID over the next three months.

- Lexi Krupp

Pediatric COVID hospitalizations rising in New York

More than 5,500 New Yorkers were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, the state's highest number of hospitalizations since February.

And North Country Public Radio reports hospitalizations are on the rise among children, many of whom are still not vaccinated against COVID.

In early December, just 70 New York's 3,500 hospitalizations were children, but state health officials say pediatric hospitalizations have been climbing this month.

More than 100 kids were hospitalized mid-month, and ahead of Christmas, more than 180 kids were in the hospital with COVID.

Vaccination rates are especially low among kids from 5 to 11 years old, at just 16%.

State health officials and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul urged parents to get their kids vaccinated before many kids return to school next week.

The state plans to distribute more than 3 million COVID tests to school districts across New York.

- Matthew Smith

Middlebury College to delay start of winter term due to concerns over omicron

Middlebury College will delay the start of its winter term over concerns about the omicron variant, according to a recent memo.

Classes will resume on Jan. 10, several days later than initially planned, and at least the first two days of the term will be completely online. Students will be required to get a COVID test before returning to campus.

The college is also requiring twice-weekly testing for students. According to the Dec. 22 memo, the test requirement could last the entire term depending on the COVID situation.

Students are required to get a COVID vaccine booster by Feb. 14.

- Liam Elder-Connors

2. Sen. Leahy says he’ll prioritize new voting rights law in 2022

Sen. Patrick Leahy says the passage of a new voting rights law will be one of his top priorities in the early months of the 2022 congressional session.

Leahy says the proposal will establish federal rules to ensure that all people have reasonable access to vote.

He says the bill is needed, because a number of states are taking steps to make it difficult for some Americans to cast a ballot.

"You see some of the things happening around the country, they're taking steps that we haven't seen since the days of segregation to block people of color from voting, to block whole groups of people from voting,” Leahy said.

Leahy says he would support suspending the Senate's filibuster rule if Republicans try to block consideration of the bill.

- Bob Kinzel

3. Burlington celebrating New Year’s Eve outdoors, virtually

Vermont's largest city is adjusting plans for its annual New Year's Eve celebration due to concerns over the omicron variant.

All indoor events and performances during the Highlight festival in Burlington will now take place outside or will be live-streamed virtually, according to a press release.

First Night North, a similar New Year's Eve event in St. Johnsbury, recently canceled in-person performances and switched to a virtual event.

- Liam Elder-Connors

4. Climate Council developing acknowledgement of Indigenous homelands

When Vermont's Climate Council adopted a plan to address climate change earlier this month, they also committed to including a land acknowledgement.

Judy Dow is an Indigenous scholar who leads Gedakina, a network focused on Native American women and their families.

She told council members a land acknowledgement should honor the land first, and the Indigenous people who have stewarded it for millennia. But it has to be accurate – otherwise it will contribute to the erasure of Indigenous people.

"It's pretty painful to sit through a land acknowledgement where they give the homelands you've lived on – you're the 15th generation on that particular homeland – and they give it to somebody else. Totally erased you with one sentence,” Dow said.

The council will continue to develop a land acknowledgement in the new year.

- Abagael Giles

5. State lawmakers looking to increase rental code monitoring

In July, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed legislation that would have ramped up enforcement over Vermont’s rental housing industry. Lawmakers plan to resurrect the measure in 2022.

The bill that Scott vetoed would have created a registry of all rental units in Vermont, and would have funded six new positions to enforce rental safety codes.

Waterbury Rep. Tom Stevens says the state is spending tens of millions of dollars to help housing developers rehabilitate old apartment complexes.

“If you’re getting state money to bring those units back online, I think it makes perfect sense that there be an enforcement mechanism to make sure that these apartments are back up to code,” Stevens said.

Scott said in his veto message that the legislation would have exacerbated the housing shortage in Vermont by discouraging developers from bringing older rental units online.

Lawmakers say they’ve begun negotiating with Scott to see if they can reach agreement on a revised proposal.

- Peter Hirschfeld

6. Feed your Christmas tree to some goats

With the holidays behind us, you may have a Christmas tree that you want to get rid of. Why not feed it to some goats?

Just beyond the city limits of Winooski, there’s a long dirt driveway. It ends on a little hill, where Pine Island Community Farm is located. And there, at the farm, are a lot of goats.

Farmer Chuda Dhaurali began raising goats here in 2013. And since 2014, every year around this time, the goats get a gift: people’s leftover Christmas trees.

“Goat eat all the necessary parts, after we can make a wood chips, and it goes in the bedding with the goat, and finally it goes in the community garden… it’s pretty much like a recycling process,” Dhaurali said.

People can bring their trees to Pine Island Community Farm on Saturday, Jan. 8 from 10 to 1.

Aldrich Acres Farm in the town of Washington is also accepting Christmas trees for its goats.

And wherever you bring your tree, don’t forget to take off the decorations!

- Elodie Reed 

Elodie Reed and Kevin Trevellyan compiled and edited this post.

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