News roundup: Vt. hospitals are weathering a blood shortage
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, Jan. 28.
Want VPR's daily news in podcast form? Get up to speed in under 15 minutes with The Frequency every weekday morning. How about an email newsletter? Add our daily email briefing to your morning routine.
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. Three more Vermonters have died from COVID-19
That brings Vermont's death toll to 532 people since the pandemic began.
Hospitalizations ticked down slightly to 106 patients Friday, the state health department reported. Twenty-five Vermonters are in the ICU.
The state’s seven-day positivity rate fell slightly to 10.2% Friday.
State officials reported 882 new COVID cases.
- Kevin Trevellyan
Chittenden County nursing homes face capacity shortage
In Vermont's most populous county, many nursing homes have not been accepting new patients for more than a week.
That means dozens of people are stuck in the hospital.
Dr. Stephen Leffler with the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington said the hospital had 69 patients waiting to go to a nursing home Thursday morning.
“It's not good for those patients who are ready to move on to the next part of their care plan,” he said. “It's not good for their families because they're still in the hospital. And it's very hard for us because other people who might be sick and need those inpatient beds can't come in, because our nursing home patients can’t leave to go to the nursing home.”
Leffler says he doesn’t know when partnering nursing homes will start accepting new patients again.
- Lexi Krupp
New Hampshire to sell rapid tests at liquor stores
People looking to purchase COVID-19 rapid tests in neighboring New Hampshire will soon have a new option.
New Hampshire’s state-run liquor stores pride themselves for having variety on the shelves and tax free pricing. Soon they'll also have COVID tests.
Under a plan approved by the Executive Council, the state will spend $12 million to purchase 1 million rapid tests. When they arrive early next month, they’ll be put on sale inside of liquor stores.
New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette explained the straightforward proposition to councilors.
“So that you may pick one up when you go to get a bottle of wine, to have in your medicine cabinet,” she said.
The funding for the program comes from the federal government. The tests will be sold at cost plus a small fee to cover liquor store expenses. Customers do not need to be residents or 21 to buy the tests.
- New England News Collaborative
2. Hospitals weathering blood shortage
Limited blood supply is yet another factor Vermont hospitals are contending with as COVID hospitalizations appear to be leveling off.
Dr. Stephen Leffler of the University of Vermont Medical Center said clinicians regularly discuss whether there’s enough blood before conducting surgeries.
He says UVM Medical Center is conserving every unit of blood as is, and holding blood drives for staff at the hospital.
“We've converted our gift shop — we haven't had the gift shop open since the pandemic really started — into a place to do blood drives to try and do what we can internally to deal with the blood issues,” he said.
Leffler said lack of blood hasn’t forced the hospital to cancel any surgeries so far.
You can sign up to donate blood through the American Red Cross.
- Lexi Krupp
3. Vermont House to fully resume in-person work
For the past two weeks, Vermont House committees have met largely in person while floor activity has been conducted remotely.
Starting Tuesday, House members are expected to return to the Statehouse for all their work unless they have COVID or are experiencing virus symptoms.
House Speaker Jill Krowinski says she feels the Statehouse is a safe environment because everyone is required to wear a mask and be tested at least twice a week.
"In the last couple of weeks we've only had two positive cases in the building that were unrelated. And now it's time for us to come back and figure out — are we ready to take the next step as we slowly step by step come back into the building?" she said.
Meanwhile, the Vermont Senate will continue to meet on a remote basis until the end of February.
- Bob Kinzel
House lawmakers pass bill to close gun loophole
House lawmakers advanced legislation Thursday that would eliminate the so-called Charleston Loophole in Vermont.
Existing law allows firearms dealers to transfer a gun to a buyer after three days — even if the federal background check isn’t completed yet.
Rutland Rep. William Notte says his committee learned that as a result of that provision, there are nine guns circulating in Vermont that were transferred to people who later failed the background check.
“I personally find the idea that there are nine firearms unaccounted for and in the hands of people who never should have had them — I find that to be chilling,” he said.
Legislation approved Thursday would require dealers to wait at least 30 days for the background check to come back before transferring guns to buyers.
A spokesperson for the Scott administration says the governor doesn’t oppose the measure, but also doesn’t think it’s necessary.
- Peter Hirschfeld
State lawmakers consider creating ALS registry
Some lawmakers want to find out whether environmental factors in Vermont are increasing the risk of developing a rare neurological disease known as ALS.
Legislation introduced in the Vermont Senate would create a new ALS registry to track cases.
But Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine says the measure would do little to nail down the cause of the disease.
“So if the goal of a registry is to determine a cause of ALS, the registry may not provide the information needed,” he said.
Levine says epidemiologists need far more information than a registry would provide in order to test theories about what causes ALS.
Researchers exploring the possible causes of ALS are telling lawmakers that a registry would help them gather more data.
- Peter Hirschfeld
State lawmakers warned about lack of weatherization contractors
Leaders of Vermont's home weatherization programs told lawmakers this week that a limited workforce is the biggest barrier to making low- and moderate-income homes more efficient.
The Energy Action Network estimates Vermont will need to weatherize more than 13,000 homes each year by 2030 to meet its climate goals. Right now, the rate is closer to 2,000 homes per year.
Rebecca Foster, CEO of Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, says the lack of workers makes it hard for Vermonters to take advantage of incentives.
"In 2020, where we were able to cover 75% of the cost of a weatherization project, we had customers frustrated, calling us saying, 'We'd love to take advantage of this, but we can't get a contractor to come out.' You know, there's not enough capacity in our region of the state,” she said.
Modeling shows Vermont needs to increase its existing home weatherization workforce fivefold in order to meet its climate goals.
- Abagael Giles
4. Burlington electricity utility rolling out incentives to curb carbon output
Mayor Miro Weinberger on Thursday announced new electricity incentives to help shrink Burlington's carbon footprint.
The Burlington Electric Company will grant rebates on electric vehicles and home appliances, including motorcycles, cold climate heat pumps, lawn mowers and snow blowers.
Speaking during a virtual press conference, Weinberger said making residents aware of these incentives is the next important step.
“We’re only going to succeed if we do more to provide our community with the information they need for everyone to realize both the importance of strategic electrification — the importance of moving away from the burning of fossil fuels — to technologies that use clean electricity instead,” he said.
Officials plan to roll out the incentive program in early 2022.
- Marlon Hyde
5. Burlington mayor nominates police chief
The mayor of Vermont's most populous city has nominated its interim police chief to keep the job permanently.
Acting Chief Jon Murad previously served as deputy chief before taking over the Burlington Police Department in 2020. His predecessor resigned amid a social media scandal.
VT Digger reports his confirmation isn't certain, considering Burlington city councilors have raised concerns about the hiring process for a new chief.
The nomination is expected to go before the city council on Monday.
- Kevin Trevellyan
Elodie Reed and Kevin Trevellyan compiled and edited this post.