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News roundup: State officials say omicron cases have declined significantly in past three weeks

A yellow 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, initiatives in Burlington to end homelessness and more for Wednesday, Feb. 9.

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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 four more Vermonters have died from COVID-19

Four more Vermonters have died from COVID-19, according to state officials. Vermont’s death toll has reached 562 lives lost.

Vermont’s COVID dashboard shows 93 people are currently hospitalized with the virus, including 24 in the ICU.

The state documented an additional 497 COVID-19 cases Wednesday, and the seven-day positivity rate is 8.1%.

- Elodie Reed

Omicron COVID cases in Vermont have declined significantly in last three weeks

The number of omicron COVID cases in Vermont has declined significantly in the last three weeks, and the reduction is expected to continue for the rest of this month.

Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak says cases have dropped roughly 40% in the last week, and almost 80% from the surge's peak in mid-January.

"The COVID-19 trends in Vermont continue to improve as the omicron wave subsides from our state and our region, and the country as a whole,” he said.

Pieciak says there's also been a 14% decrease in new hospital admissions over the past week. Roughly 90 Vermonters are now receiving hospital care.

- Bob Kinzel

COVID booster shot uptake has fallen dramatically in the past month

The number of Vermonters who have chosen to get a COVID booster shot has fallen dramatically in the past month. That's even as new studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlight the benefits of getting a third shot.

Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak says there's clear evidence to show that individuals who get a booster are far less likely to have severe symptoms or need to be hospitalized.

Several weeks ago, the Scott administration began stepping up its efforts to encourage all eligible Vermonters to get a booster.

But Pieciak says less than 20,000 people have taken this step.

"You can see that declining number over the last three or four weeks,” he said. “We still anticipate over 150,000 Vermonters are eligible for their booster shot but have not yet gotten it."

The administration says, similar to the flu, booster shots might be needed on an annual basis to protect people from new strains of COVID.

- Bob Kinzel

Vermont continues to see gaps in child vaccination rates

Vermont continues to see gaps in child vaccination rates.

For example, only 26% of kids 5 to 11 are vaccinated in Essex County, while in Chittenden County it’s 77%, according to data from the state Health Department.

Secretary of Education Dan French says more resources are needed to bridge that gap, like school-based vaccination clinics.

“So we have to understand – what does it take to get to that last mile of getting vaccinations out? Where do people live? Do we have homeless people in hotels, for example?” he said.

Public health experts say disparities in vaccination rates can lead to future inequities, especially in areas of the state with limited health care resources.

- Anna Van Dine

Vermont could change masking recommendations for schools at end of February

Vermont's masking recommendations for schools could change at the end of the month.

The state's policy, which recommends universal masking for all students and staff, is set to expire at the end of February. If it’s not extended, schools where at least 80% of students are vaccinated can be mask-optional.

Monday, the governor of New Jersey announced that the state will no longer require students and school employees to wear masks. Other states are making similar moves.

Gov. Phil Scott says every state needs to make its own decision.

“If any state can do it, it's us,” he said. “Because we have some of the highest vaccination rates, booster rates in the country. So we'll see what happens in the next week or two.”

Scott says masking in Vermont schools is still under consideration.

Read/hear the full story.

- Anna Van Dine

2. Burlington City Council approves initiatives to curb homelessness

Vermont's largest city plans to use nearly $3 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to address homelessness. The Burlington City Council voted last night to fund several new initiatives, including creating more emergency housing.

About half of the funds will go towards building shelter pods, which are small housing units where people experiencing homelessness can sleep and store belongings.

Councilor Sarah Carpenter says the new initiatives also include hiring a person to focus on the city's efforts to end homelessness.

“I think, in particular, giving us some staff capacity to deal with this is going to be critical,” she said.

According to a memo, the city hasn't picked a location for the shelter pods, but is considering building them on the same site as a new community resource center, another initiative that will get federal COVID relief dollars.

- Liam Elder-Connors

3. Vermont House advances tax cut package

The Vermont House has given its strong approval to a $50 million tax cut primarily targeting families with young children.

Under the proposal, families with children aged 6 and under would receive $1,200 a year for each child.

Brattleboro Rep. Emilie Kornheiser says the bill represents an important social policy.

"Our budgets and our tax codes are a reflection of our values, and by passing a Vermont child tax credit we are communicating clearly and unequivocally here that Vermont cares about kids and families – that this is a place where you can make it work,” she said.

The legislation now goes to the Senate for consideration.

In approving the bill, the House rejected most of Gov. Phil Scott's proposed tax package, which included tax cuts to retirees, and tax credits for health care and child care workers.

- Bob Kinzel

4. Vt. voters to consider constitutional amendment tied to “personal reproductive liberty”

A proposed constitutional amendment protecting the "personal reproductive liberty" of all Vermonters was approved by the Vermont House on Tuesday. Voters will now consider the measure in a statewide referendum in November.

The vote on the proposed amendment was 107 to 41.

Human Services Committee Chairperson Ann Pugh said the amendment is necessary because the U.S Supreme Court could overturn the landmark Roe vs Wade ruling.

"With this reproductive amendment we have the opportunity to enshrine these rights in the Vermont Constitution,” she said.

Opponents of the proposed amendment said they couldn't support it because it "favored the rights of women over those of the unborn."

Voters in November will also consider a proposed constitutional amendment that bans slavery.

Read the full story.

- Bob Kinzel

5. U.S. Olympian who wins country’s first gold medal of 2022 grew up in Vermont

The U.S. has finally won its first gold medal in the 2022 Beijing Games, and it comes with a Vermont connection. Lindsey Jacobellis, who grew up in Stratton, won the gold medal in snowboardcross Wednesday, and the win marks retribution from an Olympic race she nearly won 16 years ago.

Back in the 2006 Winter Games, Jacobellis took a huge lead into the final jump and seemed a lock for gold but then pulled her board on the final jump in a showboating move as she rode over the crest, and that caused her to fall and settle for a silver.

But in winning gold today, Jacobellis also set a new record, becoming the oldest American woman, at age 36, to win gold at the Winter Games in any sport, a record previously held by Kikkan Randall, who won gold in cross-country skiing during the 2018 Olympics at the age of 35.

Results were not as good for Burke Mountain Academy alum Mikaela Shiffrin, who failed to finish a qualifying run for a second time, and this time in her signature event: the women's slalom, as she skidded out of control and missed a gate after about five seconds into the course run.

Jessie Diggins, who lives and trains in Stratton, made history by winning a bronze medal in the women’s freestyle sprint, becoming the first U.S. woman ever to win a medal in an individual cross-country ski race.

- Mitch Wertlieb

Elodie Reed and Kevin Trevellyan compiled and edited this post.

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