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St. Michael's Outbreak Now At 29 Cases

A view on a college campus with trees and brick buildings.
John Billingsley
VPR File
Classes will be remote at St. Michael's College this week after 29 cases of COVID-19 have been detected there.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the expected length of the U.S.-Canada border closure and more for Monday, Oct. 26.

Want VPR's daily news in podcast form? Get up to speed in under 20 minutes with The Frequencyevery weekday morning. How about an email newsletter? Add our daily email briefing to your morning routine.

The latest coronavirus data:


1. COVID numbers continue to rise in Vermont

The Department of Health reported nine new COVID-19 cases Monday, the first time Vermont has not seen a double-digit increase in about a week. The state racked up more than two dozen new cases a day since Friday.

The cases reported Monday are in Bennington, Caledonia, Chittenden, Essex, Orange, Orleans and Washington counties. Another 442 people tested negative for the disease, and 185,058 people have been tested to date.

Three people are hospitalized, while eight more hospitalizations are under investigation for links to COVID. Officials are monitoring 388 travelers.

- Matthew Smith and Elodie Reed

St. Michael's outbreak

There are now 29 cases of COVID-19 connected to an outbreak at St. Michael’s College in Colchester.  More than 100 students are also in isolation after being identified as close contacts.

Classes will be remote this week, and the college plans to test all students on Saturday.

According to Kristin McAndrew, vice president of enrollment and marketing, a decision about whether to return to in-person instruction will be made after those tests. She says there’s not a specific number of positive tests that would trigger a switch to remote learning.

“It is always in the greater context of what is happening in the larger community, what resources is the larger community needing when it comes to COVID response, and how ready is the Department of Health to support whatever those larger needs are,” McAndrew said. “So it’s never decision that we’re going to make on our own.”

In an email to the college community, St. Michael's College President Lorraine Sterritt said the outbreak was likely caused by one or more students disregarding pandemic policies. Sterritt said that if true, there would be "serious consequences for those responsible."

State health officials are investigating at least two other outbreaks. Several cases have been linked to a wedding in Cambridge, and there are now more than 40 infections linked to a hockey and broomball league in the Montpelier area.

- Liam Elder-Connors and Anna Van Dine

School guidance increases restrictions

The Agency of Education is changing its COVID-19 protocols as colder weather limits outdoor options for teachers and students.

Secretary of Education Dan French says some coronavirus mitigation tools, such as plexiglass barriers, are no longer sufficient to prevent transmission of the virus.  

“Barriers are still permissible as an additional safety precaution, but they can no longer be used as a way to reduce distancing requirements,” he said.

Students will also now be screened for out-of-state travel before they’re allowed to enter school buildings.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Two cases in schools

Students at Derby Elementary School are learning remotely this week after a member of the school community tested positive for COVID-19.

The Barton Chronicle reports a letter from North Country Supervisory Union superintendent John Castle informed parents the school was closed Monday for cleaning, with plans for remote learning for all grades from Tuesday through Friday.

It's unclear if a student or faculty member tested positive. School officials say they've met with the Department of Health to begin contact tracing.

The Health Department has also begun contact tracing in St. Albans City after the Maple Run Unified School District also reported a positive case late last week.

The St. Albans Messenger reports superintendent Kevin Dirth alerted parents of the case Friday. He didn't say if it was a student or staffer who tested positive.

The superintendent told parents in the letter there was no reason or recommendation to close the school.

- Matthew Smith

2. Quebec expected to extend 28-day partial lockdown

Health officials in Quebec are expected to extend a 28-day partial lockdown of the province, as daily cases of COVID-19 remain high.  

Earlier this month, provincial officials urged residents to avoid social gatherings in an attempt to curb rising infection numbers. The restrictions, which were in place through Wednesday, will likely be extended until the number of cases goes down,according to CBC News.

The province reported more than 800 new cases Monday, and has surpassed 100,000 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. 

Quebec leads Canada in both the number of cases and deaths from the virus.

- Karen Anderson

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

3. U.S.-Canada border could stay closed until next summer

The U.S.-Canada border is closed to nonessential travel through November 21st, but it could last much longer.

Jeffrey Ayres is a political science professor at St. Michael's College who focuses on Canadian politics. He says based on what he's hearing from Canada, the border closure could last into next summer.

"There's no way Canadians are going to open the border to the United States without some sort of collaborative agreement with the U.S., and some sort of sense of confidence that we've really gotten the pandemic under control, which we clearly haven't,” he said.

Ayres says that in polls, majorities of Canadians say they'll still be uncomfortable traveling to the U.S. even after the border re-opens to non-essential travel.

- Henry Epp

4. Bernie Sanders ... labor secretary?

Would senator Bernie Sanders resign his seat to part of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's cabinet?

That's a question being asked in national political circles as reported by Politico news magazine. Several people "close" to Sanders reportedly confirmed Sanders' interest in being the next Secretary of Labor.

Middlebury College political science professor Matt Dickinson says it's understandable given Sanders' lifelong focus on the rights of working people.

"It is the one cabinet post that I think is most directly related to his life's work, which is advancing the interests of labor, the working class, the 99%,” he said.

But Dickinson says it's unlikely that Sanders would chose to leave the Senate if the Democrats regain control of the chamber.

"You'd rather be in the majority in order to hold hearings, chair committees than in the minority where he is now, so yeah I think if they regain majority status, that changes his calculation somewhat,” he said.

Dickinson also questions if Sanders would be comfortable with the administrative duties of a cabinet job.

- Bob Kinzel

5. Emerald ash borer detected in Chittenden County

The insect responsible for killing tens of millions of ash trees across the U.S. has been found in Chittenden County.

The emerald ash borer, an invasive species of beetle, was detected in the town of Richmond last week. It's the first confirmed instance of the ash borer in Chittenden County.

The emerald ash borer was first detected in Vermont in 2018, according to the Agency of Agriculture. It has since spread to most of the state's counties.

- Anna Van Dine

6. Record year for blue-green algae blooms in Burlington

This summer's hot weather triggered multiple blooms of cyanobacteria on Lake Champlain. The microorganism, also called blue green algae, is considered a health threat because the toxins they produce can make people sick.

When officials see the blooms around the lakeshore, they close beaches and warn the public to stay out of the water.

Alec Kaeding is campground and beach manager for the Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront department. He says he was often forced to close beaches just when the weather got hot.

“Much more cyanobacteria this year compared than in years past, 44 days of beach closings this year compared to others,” he said.

The blooms are fueled by phosphorus pollution that washes into the lake in storm water, from farm fields and other sources.

The state has launched an ambitious clean-up program to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Champlain, but it could be decades for these efforts to yield results.

Read/hear the full story.

- John Dillon

7. F-35s to fly at night this week

The Vermont Air National Guard is conducting night flying exercises of its F-35 jets this week.

The Guard says the night flights start Tuesday and will wrap up by Friday.

That means take-offs and landings from Burlington International Airport between 5 and 10 o'clock in the evenings, later than normal daytime operations.

The Guard says night operations are required to meet U.S. Air Force proficiencies for flying and maintaining its F-35 jets.

- Matthew Smith

8. Environmentalists to protest on behalf of mudpuppies Tuesday

Environmentalists are asking the state to halt use of a pesticide to kill sea lamprey in the Lamoille River.

The chemical treatment is planned for Tuesday on a section of the lower Lamoille. It's aimed at wiping out the parasitic lamprey, which prey on trout, landlocked salmon and lake sturgeon.

But environmentalist Ira Powsner has launched a petition drive to halt the chemical application. He says the pesticide also kills mudpuppies, a rare salamander that lives in the river.

“TFM, the ingredient in lampricide, is characterized as non-toxic. But it does harm or kill amphibians,” Powsner said. “They found after the lampricide treatment on the Lamoille in 2009, they found 528 mudpuppies dead in just 5% of the treated area.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will oversee the application of the lampricide.  Powsner and others plan to protest the proposed treatment.

- John Dillon

9. UVM president recommends tuition, room and board freeze

UVM President Suresh Garimella is recommending a tuition freeze for next academic year. The proposal, announced Monday, will keep tuition at current levels for the third year, in an effort to keep higher education in the state affordable and accessible.

Garimella is recommending no increase for undergraduate or graduate students; and no increase for in-state residents or out-of-state residents.   

The UVM president is also recommending a freeze in room and board charges, which have risen 3.2% annually over the last eight years.  If approved, this would mark the first time in more than three decades there will be no increase in room or board.

A final decision will be made by the university board this spring.

- Karen Anderson

10. Early ballots continue to pour in

Early ballots are continuing to surge into town clerks' offices in record numbers. Secretary of State Jim Condos says almost 205,000 ballots have already been received.

He says this is more than double the previous record for early ballots set back in 2016. And its 64% of the total votes cast in 2016.

"The response has been very, very good,” Condos said. “Clerks are reporting strong returns.  We've been focused on two premises, one being to protect every eligible Vermonter’s right to vote, and two, to protect the health and safety of town clerks and our poll workers as well."   

Condos is encouraging Vermonters who want to vote early to drop their ballots at their town clerk’s office to ensure their vote is counted.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: Ask Bob: Your Last-Minute Election Questions

Correction 10/7/2020 1:40 p.m.: This story originally said there were 28 cases associated with the outbreak at St. Michael's College. At the time of reporting, there were 29. We regret the error.

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