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Protesters Rally Along Lamoille In Defense Of Mudpuppies

Protesters in masks stand along the Lamoille River
Elodie Reed
About 30 protestors stand along the Lamoille River in Milton Tuesday, protesting U.S. Fish and Wildlife's decision to use chemicals to control sea lamprey before studying the lampricides' harmful effects on mudpuppy salamanders.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the availability of flu vaccines, a settlement between migrant farmworkers and ICE and more for Wednesday, Oct. 28.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. Vermont officials report six new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health confirmed six new COVID-19 cases Wednesday.

Chittenden County saw three of the new cases, with one each in Bennington, Washington and Caledonia Counties.

Seven people are hospitalized with the disease, with one additional hospitalization under investigation.

Health officials are still monitoring three outbreaks linked to dozens of new cases from earlier this month.

- Matthew Smith

Outbreak at St. Michael's College grows to 37 cases

An outbreak of COVID-19 at St. Michael's College in Colchester continues to grow and is now up to 37 cases. More than 100 students have been identified as close contacts of the infected individuals.

The college moved all classes online late last week after finding nine cases. That number quickly grew over the weekend.

St. Michael's President Lorraine Sterritt said in a written update Wednesday the college will conduct weekly testing until Thanksgiving. The new regimen will begin on Saturday when all students on campus are tested.

The outbreak at St. Michael's is one of three the state health department is working to contain.

There are now 18 cases associated with a wedding in Cambridge. And an outbreak that started among hockey and broomball players in Montpelier is now at 57.

- Liam Elder-Connors

University of Vermont administers 100,000th COVID-19 test

The University of Vermont administered its 100,000th test for COVID-19 Tuesday.

UVM has tested about 10,000 students each week this fall term.

The testing milestone has kept the positivity rate low, with this week's positivity rate below 0.01%.

The testing efforts were lauded by health officials like Dr. Deborah Birx, the national coronavirus response coordinator, for keeping rates at UVM among the lowest of any campus in the country.

- Matthew Smith

2. Migrant Justice settles with ICE over arrests

U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement will not deport three migrant farmworkers in Vermont and will pay them $100,000 dollars, according to a settlement between the federal agency and the advocacy group Migrant Justice.

The 2018 lawsuit alleged that federal immigration authorities targeted undocumented farmworkers associated with Migrant Justice.

Victor Diaz, one of the plaintiffs, says he and two other undocumented farmworkers, were arrested by ICE because of their work with Migrant Justice. Diaz, speaking through an interpreter at a rally in Burlington, said the settlement limits the power of federal authorities.

“We are making it clear and ICE is agreeing, that they cannot deport people who are exercising their constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech and they will not be deporting us,” Diaz said.

“We know that it’s not possible to change the system with just one lawsuit. We know that. But this action today is a sign that when we unite, we have enough power to make significant progress,” he added.

Migrant Justice also settled a related lawsuit in January with the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles. As part of that agreement the DMV agreed to restrict the information it shares with ICE.

- Liam Elder-Connors

3. Protesters rally in defense of mudpuppies

About 30 people stood on the banks of the Lamoille River in Milton Tuesday in defense of one small, generally unseen amphibian: the mudpuppy.

Protestors sang, chanted and held up signs while U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service treated the river to kill sea lamprey. The parasitic fish impacts trout and salmon populations in Lake Champlain.

But wildlife biologist Matthew Gorton thinks the management practice is political, aimed at preserving an economic driver in natural resources – fishing – that negatively affects other species like mudpuppies.

"I believe that all reptiles, amphibians, all the wildlife deserve to thrive in the ecosystem, and I think the lampricides are putting that at risk," Gorton said.

After the protest, Steve Parren with Vermont Fish and Wildlife organized volunteers to rescue mudpuppies and relocate them upstream.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife said in an emailed statement it is willing to work with Vermont agencies outside the lampricide permitting process to "investigate the feasibility of improved mudpuppy population assessments, should that be warranted."

- Elodie Reed

4. Having trouble finding a flu shot? Health Commissioner says it's not too late.

Older Vermonters have turned out in force to get their flu shots early.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine told Vermont Edition the rush has led to a temporary shortage of the high-potency vaccines recommended for higher risk patients.

"We've been really successful in getting Vermonters, especially older Vermonters, to do this early this year. And when we look at our graph of who's getting the flu vaccine, we're doing very well on the very young and very old, but not as well in the sort of young adult category – twenties, thirties range," Levine said.

Despite the local shortfall, Levine said there's no national shortage and there's still plenty of conventional flu vaccines available for children and adults.

Levine advises those over 65 wait to get a high-potency vaccine when it's available and if you can't wait, to get the regular flu vaccine.

Listen to the full conversation here.

- Abagael Giles

5. Secretary of State says Vermont is on-track for record voter turnout

Secretary of State Jim Condos says there's a good possibility that Vermont will eclipse a record set four years ago for the number of people casting ballots.

Condos said over a quarter million voters have already returned their ballots and he thinks this number will continue to grow in the days before the election.

“I can tell you that we're at about 70% of what the total turnout was for 2016,” he said. “I do think we will probably surpass the 320,000 from 2016." 

Despite a record number of early ballots, Condos said he doesn’t anticipate a delay in tabulation of votes on election night.

Condos said towns with optical scan machines have been able to process their ballots for the last few weeks, so they won’t be overwhelmed on election night.

He said towns using voting machines represent roughly 80% of all Vermont voters.

“At this time, we do not anticipate any delays at all,” he said. “Clerks were able to begin the early processing of ballots 30 days before the election, so for many, this is already under way.”

Condos said while they’re able to process ballots, local officials won’t have access to the tabulation results until Election Day.

Condos is encouraging those who haven't yet voted to drop their ballot off at their town clerk's office or to bring it with them if they choose to vote in person on Election Day.

- Bob Kinzel

New requirements for poll observers

Secretary of State Jim Condos has also introduced new requirements for poll observers looking to challenge voters on Election Day.

VTDigger reports that Condos signed the directive Monday.

Vermont law allows political parties, independent candidates and advocacy groups to send two representatives to polling places to watch voters.

Observers can challenge a voter if they suspect they're not who they claim to be, or if they think someone has already voted.

Local officials then decide of the challenged voter can cast a ballot.

Condos' directive requires observers to register with town clerks by Friday, four days before the election.

He said registering early will help local election officials safely accommodate any poll observers.

- Matthew Smith

6. Union leader reacts to job, program cuts at Brattleboro Retreat

One of the union leaders representing workers at the Brattleboro Retreat says job and program cuts announced last week did not come as a surprise.

Robert Smith leads one of two units of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals Union at the Retreat. He said about 62 of the 85 jobs being cut are union positions.

"We're contacting everyone, and trying to get their decisions as to what they're going to do. There was a severance package. But there are also over 20 open MHW positions, mental health worker positions, and about 16 RN positions,” Smith said.

Smith said some of the workers being laid off may transition to those open positions. He adds that he thinks the cuts could be a step in the right direction for the Retreat to regain its financial footing.

- Henry Epp

Update 7:15 p.m. The news item regarding the mudpuppy protest was updated with a statement from U.S. Fish and Wildlife. 

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