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Employee Tests Positive For COVID-19 At Northwestern Medical Center And 4 Other Key Stories

Foliage along the Lamoille River
Elodie Reed
Morning rises over the Lamoille River in Georgia, Vermont.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about coronavirus, demand for mental health care and more for Wednesday, Oct. 14.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. Vt. opioid overdose deaths are up 36% over last year

As the pandemic continues, the economic uncertainty and fears associated with the virus are taking a toll.

Lara Kass of Rutland Mental Health, says they’ve seen a dramatic increase in requests for services.

“We're seeing newer people, people who have never been in the system before, coming to the emergency room or calling us looking for help regarding anxiety or depression,” Kass said. “The data is showing across the state that we are seeing double the amount of people in crisis than we saw the year before this time.”

Alcohol sales are up in Vermont and substance abuse appears to be on the rise. The state health department reports a 36% increase in opioid overdose deaths this year compared to last.

Read the full story.

- Nina Keck

2. Emergency department employee tests positive for COVID-19 in St. Albans

An emergency department worker at the hospital in St. Albans has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The St. Albans Messenger reports Northwestern Medical Center announced the positive case Tuesday.

Hospital leaders said in a statement that the individual has been asymptomatic, and people who have had close contact with the person have been informed, and are being tested.

The hospital says all workers in the Emergency Department are wearing N-95 masks this week, while testing is ongoing.

The Vermont Department of Health reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. No one is currently hospitalized with the disease in Vermont.

So far, 1,889 people have tested positive for the disease. Currently, 52 people are being monitored as close contacts of confirmed cases.

- Henry Epp

3. Vt. Congressional delegation condemns removal of mail processing machine in White River Junction

Vermont’s Congressional delegation is criticizing the removal of one of the two mail processing machines at the US Postal Service Plant in White River Junction.

Representative Welch, and Senators Leahy and Sanders sent a letter on Tuesday to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, demanding that a new machine be installed immediately.

Last weekend, the one remaining machine at the location broke down, meaning that mail needed to be sorted by hand, causing significant delays.

In the letter, the delegation wrote: “While we have been promised for months that a new AFCS 200 cancellation machine will be installed, we have just learned that this will not occur until January of 2021 at the earliest.  This timing is both unacceptable and another example of this administration’s attempt to sabotage the Postal Service and the 2020 election."

Vermont could be on pace for a record turnout in the November General Election.

With three weeks left to go, early voting has already surpassed previous records, according to the Secretary of State's office. As of Wednesday morning, more than 110,000 Vermonters had already voted.

That's well ahead of early voting in prior elections, and it's one-third of the total votes cast in 2016.

- Sam Gale Rosen

4. Leahy pushes Barrett on presidential pardon

As hearings continued Wednesday for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy began his questioning by focusing on the Affordable Care Act.

Leahy asked Judge Barrett whether she'd ever written in defense of the Affordable Care Act.

Barrett pushed back, noting that some of her writings questioning the statutory basis for the law were done in an academic, not judicial, capacity. Leahy then pressed the question.

"My question was: Did you ever write or speak out in defense of the ACA, whether as an academic or as a member of the judiciary? That's a pretty simple question: yes or no."

Coney Barrett replied, "No, I've never had occasion to speak on the policy question."

Leahy pushed also pushed Coney Barrett to answer whether she thinks a president can pardon him or herself.

Barrett said she could not answer the question, since the issue has not been litigated.

“So because it would be opining on an open question when I haven't gone through the judicial process to decide it, it's not one in which I can offer a view,” Barrett said.

Barrett earlier agreed with Leahy that no one, including the president, is above the law. Leahy said her two answers were conflicting.

“I find your answers somewhat incompatible. But those are your answers, you have a right to say what you want,” he said.

Barrett's confirmation hearing continues Thursday.

- Henry Epp

5. Hacker disrupts public meeting

A hacker disrupted an on-line public hearing organized by the state's Fish and Wildlife Department on Tuesday.

The hack forced organizers to cancel the meeting on proposed new fishing regulations. Another public hearing scheduled for Wednesday evening was also postponed.

Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter described the disruption as juvenile, with digital graffiti scrawled on the screen participants were viewing.

He says it was unfortunate, not because of the aggravation for his staff, but because Vermonters had taken time to give input, and their voices could not be heard.

“Fortunately we're not on a deadline on this. We are at the beginning stages of proposing a top-to-bottom rewrite of fishing regulations,” Porter said. “This was a really an initial effort to gain some public input and public comment on some ideas. So we'll reschedule when we figure out how to do those [meetings] more securely and go from there.”

Porter said that, overall, the remote technology has been a good way for the public to provide comment during the pandemic.

- John Dillon

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