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Health Commissioner Warns Vermonters To Stay Vigilant Against COVID Fatigue

A person in a face mask behind a window with books lined along the shelves and a sign reading masks required
Abagael Giles
Flying Pig Bookstore owner Elizabeth Bluemle keeps a reminder sign outside the store's window on Wednesday, Oct. 15.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, a drop in unemployment and more for Tuesday, Oct. 20.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. 10 more people test positive for the coronavirus

The Vermont Department of Health reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday. They’re located in Addison, Caledonia, Chittenden, Orange, Washington and Windsor counties. 

Another 478 people tested negative for the coronavirus. So far, Vermont has tested 179,713 people, and 1,956 have received positive results. A total of 58 people have died. 

First case in Lyndon Town School

The Lyndon Town School community is reporting its first positive COVID-19 case. 

According to the Caledonian Record, the school announced the positive test results Monday, of a “6th grade community member”. 

School officials opted for a remote-only day Tuesday for Lyndon Town School 6th graders. Health officials say contact tracing is underway.

More cases related to hockey/broomball team

There are now 34 cases of COVID-19 associated with an outbreak among players in a central Vermont hockey and broomball league.

The Health Department says about half the cases are related to events at the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier. The other infections are mostly in households of those primary infections.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine says the investigation indicates the outbreak is not connected to gameplay.

“It appears that the outbreak we’re talking about in central Vermont was most likely due to the kinds of activities that teams may do together … involving things like carpooling, like being in proximity to each other at social events both before and after the game,” Levine said.

The Health Department is holding a pop-up testing clinic at Barre Auditorium on Thursday. Central Vermont Medical Center is also offering special testing this week. Those clinics are open 2-4 p.m., and appointments are required.

Health commissioner warns against COVID fatigue

New coronavirus infections have increased in the Northeast, and Vermont’s also been seeing higher daily increases compared to the summer. State modeling also indicates Vermont will see more increases over the next several weeks.

Levine says people need to keep up practices like physical distancing and mask-wearing, especially as winter forces more activities indoors.

“Just because something is allowed doesn’t mean it may be a good idea for you yourself at the time,” he said. “So this means even if you can get together in a group to hold an event or gathering because we allow it, doesn’t mean that you need to or should.”

- Karen Anderson and Liam Elder-Connors

2. Vermont unemployment rate drops to 4.2%

Vermont's unemployment rate dropped to 4.2% in September, well below the national rate of 7.9%, according to the Department of Labor.

Unemployment peaked at more than 16% in April. 

But Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said the state is still concerned about the number of people who have dropped out of the workforce, which also makes it hard for businesses to operate at capacity. Those people are not included in the unemployment rate.

State provides more business grants

The state is offering another round of grants to businessesthat have suffered due to the pandemic.

Some $76 million will be available to business and nonprofits that saw a decline in sales between March and September compared to the same period in 2019. Businesses can receive grants up to $300,000.

Funding comes from federal coronavirus relief money that state got earlier this year.

Department of Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein says unlike previous grant programs, this one will not be “first-come, first-serve.”

“In this way, we will give people an opportunity to apply, we will aggregate the demand and then be able to distribute grants to those who applied, with awards being adjusted based on how much is subscribed for versus how much we have in the appropriation,” Goldstein said.

The state will hold webinars Wednesday and Friday about the new program.

- Karen Anderson and Liam Elder-Connors

3. Want to mail in your ballot? Do it no later than Saturday

Secretary of State Jim Condos is encouraging Vermonters who want to vote by mail, to send their ballots to town clerks by Saturday.

Voters have the option of mailing their ballots, dropping them off at their clerk's office, or voting in person on Election Day.

Condos says voters who opt for mailing ballots need to give the U.S. Postal Service some extra time.

“We're not assuming anything, and we also are pretty confident that the Vermont postal workers will deal with the mail in a priority basis,” he said.

If current voter turnout rates continue, the Post Office could deliver as many as 300,000 ballots for this election.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: A Guide To Voting In Vermont For The 2020 General Election

4. Burlington cop charged with trespassing

Vermont State Police say they have charged a Burlington police officer with trespassing into the home of a woman he had previously been in a relationship with.

State police said in a written statement that Corporal William J. Drinkwine, who was off-duty at the time, entered the home of a Swanton woman in July without her permission. He left when she told him to.

Drinkwine was cited to appear in court in November on a charge of trespass into an occupied dwelling. Drinkwine has been placed on leave from the Burlington police. Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said the Burlington City Council and Police Commission have been informed of the allegations.

- Mark Davis

More from VPR: Burlington's New Head Of Police Reform Outlines Big Picture Approach

5. Leahy looking for compromise COVID relief bill by Wednesday

Sen. Patrick Leahy is joining with a bipartisan group of senators in a last-ditch effort to draft a compromise COVID-19 stimulus bill.

In the spring, the House passed a $3 trillion package. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected another large bill.

Leahy, who is vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, says he's meeting with the GOP head of the panel, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, to find some middle ground on a meaningful bill.

"I have said very clearly that I'm not going to vote for a symbolic agreement that might help a few of the president's friends that wouldn't be very helpful to a typical Vermonter,” Leahy said.

He added that his group needs to agree on a compromise by Wednesday afternoon.

- Bob Kinzel

6. Judge rules inmates should also receive federal stimulus checks

A federal judge’s ruling clears the way for inmates in Vermont and across the country to receive federal stimulus checks.

VTDigger reports the California judge's decision rejects the IRS's blocking prisoners from getting coronavirus relief funds through the federal CARES Act.

That includes individual checks of up to $1,200, plus $500 for qualifying kids. A notice on the IRS website says the tax agency will appeal the judge's ruling.

- Matthew Smith

7. Border Patrol catches minivan crossing illegally into U.S. from Quebec

A security camera at a home along the U.S.-Canada border captured a minivan illegally entering Vermont from Quebec over the weekend.

The Border Patrol is investigating after the footage showed three men trying to move one of the granite blocks marking the border in the backyard of a home in Derby.

The men managed to move a block Saturday morning and drive their van into the U.S. Their car was later found abandoned in a Derby parking lot.

- Matthew Smith

More from VPR: Reporter Debrief: Quebec Experiencing Second Wave Of The Coronavirus

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