News roundup: State officials report record-breaking 116 people are hospitalized with COVID-19
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Tuesday, Jan. 18.
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While Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended, the omicron 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 record-breaking 116 COVID hospitalizations Tuesday
Vermont health officials reported Tuesday that 116 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, a new record. Twenty-six of those people are in the ICU.
The Health Department also reported 715 new cases, and a seven-day positivity rate of 12.8%.
Officials reported two new deaths today. So far, 499 Vermonters have died during the pandemic.
- Elodie Reed
State Senate leaders to watch House hybrid plan
As members of the Vermont House meet this week, they’re using a hybrid, in-person plan.
Senate leaders say they plan to closely watch to see if this is a practical approach.
Under the House plan, all members will be expected to attend committee meetings in person. But all floor action will be conducted remotely.
The Senate has decided to continue to meet remotely through at least the end of this week.
Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint says she plans to closely monitor how the House plan works.
"We'll be looking to see how that test run goes,” she said. “And the speaker and I talk all the time, and we'll be reassessing. But again, given the small number of senators I have to play with, I do not want to have a committee out of commission.”
New testing and masking mandates will be in place at the Statehouse this week.
- Bob Kinzel
Lake Champlain Ferries cuts service due to staffing, COVID
Lake Champlain Ferries is cutting service due to staffing and COVID-related issues.
Starting Monday, Grand Isle and Plattsburgh ferries will have reduced hours, from 7:35 a.m until roughly 5:35 p.m.
Meanwhile, North County Public Radio reports the crossing between Charlotte and Essex will not operate during weekends for the rest of winter. Operators are keeping regular winter hours in place during the week.
Lake Champlain Ferries previously cut hours at the Charlotte-Essex crossing at the start of the pandemic and last winter, citing the pandemic and dwindling passenger traffic.
- Kevin Trevellyan
2. Poll: Vermonters support COVID-19 vaccine requirement in schools
Results from a VPR-Vermont PBS poll conducted this month show Vermonters support a COVID-19 vaccine requirement in public schools, but the results vary along the political spectrum.
Once the COVID-19 vaccine is available to all ages, should public schools require students to be vaccinated? Sixty-two percent of those surveyed say “yes,” while 33.6% percent say “no.” The poll has a 4% margin of error.
More than 84% of Democrats agree that public schools should require the vaccine, while just 31.5% of Republicans do.
A growing majority of kids in the state are already vaccinated: 57% of 5- to 11-year-olds and 83% of 12- to 17-year-olds have gotten at least one shot. Federal regulators say COVID vaccines are safe and effective. Vermont public schools already require a handful of vaccines for all incoming kindergarten students.
- Anna Van Dine
Poll: Majority of Vermonters don’t approve of Biden’s performance
A little over a year since he won two-thirds of the vote in Vermont, fewer than half of Vermonters approve of the way President Joe Biden is handling his job.
Forty-five percent of respondents approve of Biden's approach to the presidency, according to the latest VPR-Vermont PBS poll.
While that's over 20 points lower than the vote share Biden received in the state in 2020, it's a few points above his approval rating nationally.
Women give Biden higher marks than men. And his approval is significantly higher among college graduates, those 65 and older and Democrats. Nearly all Republicans, and over half of Independents, disapprove of Biden's performance so far.
The poll has a margin of error of 4%.
- Henry Epp
Poll: Majority of Vermonters support mask mandate, Democrats moreso than Republicans
A majority of Vermonters say they would support a statewide mask mandate to reduce the spread of COVID-19, according to a poll conducted by VPR and Vermont PBS this month.
Fifty eight percent of poll respondents say they would support a mask mandate, and 36% are opposed. The poll has a margin of error of 4%.
Democrats are far more supportive of a mandate than Republicans.
Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, has resisted calls to institute a statewide mask mandate, citing concerns about polarization.
- Anna Van Dine
Poll: More than half of Vermonters find state of emergency to be a “reasonable response” to COVID
A new VPR-Vermont PBS poll finds more than half of Vermonters surveyed feel declaring a state of emergency would be a reasonable response to the pandemic right now, though support varies along political party lines.
Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said reinstating emergency powers to deal with the current pandemic situation would be a reasonable move by state leadership.
Gov. Phil Scott has said repeatedly he doesn't feel this is the right approach.
The survey found views on this differed along the political spectrum.
Overall, about half of Republicans said declaring a state of emergency right now would be an abuse of power.
Seventy-six percent of Democrats said doing so would be reasonable. Support for reinstating emergency powers was strongest in Chittenden County.
The poll has a 4% margin of error.
- Abagael Giles
Poll: Most Vermonters do not want health care system to prioritize vaxxed patients if resources become scarce
If medical resources become scarce due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, most Vermonters would not support prioritizing treatment for vaccinated people over unvaccinated people. That's according to a new VPR-Vermont PBS poll.
Vermont is in the midst of its largest COVID-19 surge since the pandemic began, fueled by the omicron variant. Cases have climbed fastest among the unvaccinated, and most of the people hospitalized or in the ICU with COVID are unvaccinated.
Fifty-eight percent of those who responded said health care workers should not prioritize vaccinated people over unvaccinated people if resources run scarce.
But opinions differed along party lines. Forty-three percent of Democrats said they would support prioritizing vaccinated patients over unvaccinated patients, while 81% of Republicans said that they would not.
The poll has a 4% margin of error.
- Abagael Giles
3. Caledonia County Republican announces lieutenant governor campaign
A six-term Republican state senator from Caledonia County announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor Monday.
Joe Benning, who formerly served as assistant minority leader in the Vermont Senate, says the lieutenant governor has little authority over policy in Montpelier.
Benning says he’d instead use the post to serve as Vermont’s “cheerleader.”
“And those cheerleading events could be anything from the opening of a new business to forums around the country, or even the world, for having a presentation about our state and who we are,” he said.
Benning says his close relationship with the Scott administration would make for a seamless transition of power, were something to happen to the sitting governor.
Like Gov. Phil Scott, Benning has been an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump.
- Peter Hirschfeld
4. Mount Snow ordered not to refund foreign EB-5 investors
State regulators are ordering the owners of Mount Snow Ski Resort not to refund foreign investors who contributed to projects through the federal EB-5 program.
Vail Resorts acquired Mount Snow in late 2019. At the time, the resort had used the EB-5 program to raise funds for a snow making lake and new lodge. The EB-5 program allows foreign investors to put money into economic development projects in exchange for U.S. residency.
Vail wants to issue refunds to investors this month, according to the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.
DFR Commissioner Michael Pieciak says not all the investors have completed the immigration process.
“At least 20, maybe more investors – this would have a significant impact on them. They would face deportation, other financial consequences potentially. And it also would be a violation of Vermont’s securities law,” he said.
Vail, in a written statement, said they've been transparent with investors, followed securities laws and are "evaluating our legal recourse."
- Liam Elder-Connors
5. Chittenden County state’s attorney to reject charges from non-public-safety traffic stops
The top prosecutor in Vermont's largest county plans to decline most charges that stem from non-public-safety traffic stops. For example, driving with an expired inspection or broken tail light.
Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George says the policy is aimed at reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Traffic stop data shows that Black residents are more likely to be pulled over in Vermont. And recent studies have shown Black Vermonters are disproportionately charged with crimes.
“My goal is that by addressing it and not bringing these charges that we know stem from racial discrimination, that the outcome by not charging them will be less Black and Brown people in our system who are already being unfairly targeted,” George said.
Some law enforcement officials have said the policy will not change the way their departments conduct traffic stops.
- Liam Elder-Connors
6. 6,500 acres in Worcester, Elmore protected in new conservation agreement
The Vermont Land Trust and the state of Vermont have finalized a deal to protect 6,500 acres of land in Worcester and Elmore.
The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation has purchased conservation easements for two large parcels of forestland in what's known as Worcester Woods.
The deal was completed with funding from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program.
The Worcester Woods are part of an internationally significant wildlife corridor that connects the Green Mountains with forested lands that stretch to Nova Scotia.
- Associated Press
Elodie Reed and Kevin Trevellyan compiled and edited this post.