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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Burlington Mayor Calls For Extra Caution As Local Case Counts Rise

The exterior of the Vermont Department of Health office in Burlington at 108 Cherry Street.
Taylor Dobbs
VPR File
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger spoke at a virtual press conference Friday, urging Burlington residents to limit their contact with others over the coming weekend, as local case counts continue to climb.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, Act 46, the general election and more for Friday, Nov. 6.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. Burlington mayor urges residents to take additional COVID precautions as local case counts rise

The mayor of Vermont’s largest city urges residents to follow COVID-19 prevention measures as infections in the county steadily rise.

Statewide, cases have been going up and public health officials say many new infections are tied to indoor social gatherings.

Chittenden County has reported 90 new coronavirus cases since last Friday. About 15% of those cases have been in Burlington, according to city officials.

Mayor Miro Weinberger says Burlingtonians needs to step up their prevention efforts.

“Keep your gatherings very small, stay outdoors,” Weinberger said Friday. “It’s going to be a very nice weekend, good weekend for being outdoors. Wear face coverings and keep your distance from people not in your household.”

He also reminded residents the city’s limits on private gatherings are stricter than state guidelines – outdoor events are capped at 25 and indoor gatherings are limited to 10.

Weinberger said he plans to ask the city council to extend those restrictions until March.

In the fall, the council limited private outdoor gatherings to 25 and indoor events to 10. Initially the measure was intended to prevent coronavirus outbreaks when college students returned.

Weinberger said that, while he’ll ask the council to keep restrictions on gathering sizes, he's not planning to reinstate limits on bar operations.

“The Department of Health has very little indication that bars have been a significant transmission point in Burlington … and again it’s not where the case growth is occurring,” he said. “It’s been in private settings, in private parties.”

Weinberger also urged Burlingtonians to follow public health measures, like wearing masks and physical distancing.

- Liam Elder-Connors


2. Public health officials now monitoring 11 outbreaks across Vermont

Public health officials in Vermont are now investigating 11 separate outbreaks of COVID-19 in the state.

Commissioner of Health Mark Levine said Friday a central Vermont outbreak that’s infected 116 people so far appears to be under control.

But he said several other outbreaks are still in their beginning stages.

“Our newest outbreaks include two worksites and a Chittenden County community outbreak across several households stemming from a social gathering,” Levine said Friday.

Levine said the outbreaks are often triggered by small gatherings of close friends and family.

Vermont has recorded 277 cases of COVID-19 over the past 14 days. That accounts for more than 10% of total cases in Vermont since the beginning of the pandemic.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said it should serve as a "wake up call" for Vermonters.

"The data and the trends of the past few weeks are sending a clear message that we need to up our game in order to protect ourselves and our communities and prevent widespread infections," Levine said.

Levine said the Department of Health is currently investigating 11 different outbreaks across the state.

New modeling projects daily case counts in Vermont to more than double by early December.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Vermont sees 24 new cases of COVID-19

On Friday, state health officials reported 24 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases identified in the state to date to 2,326. Of the new cases reported Friday, nine were identified as being in Chittenden County. Washington County saw five new cases, and Windsor and Orange Counties each saw three new cases. Addison, Caledonia, Grand Isle and Orleans counties each saw one new case.

State health officials are currently monitoring 175 people as close contacts of confirmed cases. Three people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, and two people are being treated in intensive care units.

Friday was the 11th day in a row Vermont has reported new cases in the double digits.

- Abagael Giles and Matthew Smith

3. Health officials urge Vermonters not to gather, travel for holidays

Commissioner of Health Mark Levine is strongly advising Vermonters to cancel any Thanksgiving plans that will take them out of state for the holiday.

Levine said Friday rising case counts across the country have increased the risk of exposure for Vermonters who leave the state.

“We have to take a hard look at whether to travel, and get together with friends and family,” Levine said. “Our plans, our choices, will have an impact on the health and lives of our families, communities, and Vermont.”

Levine said even people who celebrate Thanksgiving at home need to abide by strict public health guidelines.

He said families should limit gatherings to 10 people or fewer. And he said people should not share a meal with individuals who have traveled out of state in the past 14 days.

At the same briefing, Gov. Phil Scott said the recent increase in coronavirus infections in Vermont is due in part to small gatherings among family and friends.

Scott said during a media briefing Friday that even small get-togethers can increase the risk of community spread.

“We’re seeing cases turn into clusters and outbreaks due to transmission at private gatherings, meaning social events with family and friends at their homes or at neighborhood barbecues,” Scott said.

Commissioner of Health Mark Levine on Friday strongly advised against all non-essential out-of-state travel.

He said following that guidance may require many Vermonters to rethink their plans for Thanksgiving.

Families with school-aged children advised not to travel out-of-state

Education officials are asking the parents of school-age children not to travel out of state for Thanksgiving this year.

Secretary of Education Dan French said Friday high case counts in neighboring states have increased the risk of travel.

And he says the future of in-person learning in Vermont hinges on families minimizing their exposure to the coronavirus.

“We strongly advise not traveling this Thanksgiving,” French said. “We think there are risks involved with hosting or participating in any gathering, and those risks need to be evaluated from a personal perspective and from the perspective of your family and friends.”

Child health experts say in-person learning is critical for child development, especially for younger students.

- Peter Hirschfeld

4. Pediatricians say it is critical that Vermont schools remain open for in-person learning

Public schools in Vermont have reported at least 39 cases of COVID-19 since early September.

But public health officials say districts have yet to see a major outbreak.

And Dr. Rebecca Bell, president of the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said Friday in-person learning should continue through winter.

“The fact that there have been a number of cases in the K-12 learning environment that have not led to outbreaks highlights the effectiveness of the mitigation strategies we have here in Vermont,” Bell said.

Bell said in-person instruction is critical to child development, especially for younger students.

At least 31 separate schools in Vermont have reported cases of COVID-19 among students or staff.

Overall though, Secretary of Education Dan French says public schools have enjoyed a low prevalence of COVID-19 so far this year.

But he said Friday that staffing shortages have forced many districts to switch to remote learning.

“We have asked a lot of our schools over the last several months, and staffing issues will continue to make it challenging for many of them to sustain in-person through the winter,” French said.

French said almost every district in Vermont has now adopted a hybrid learning model, with in-person instruction on some days and remote learning on others.

- Peter Hirschfeld

5. Landgrove reports highest voter turnout of any Vermont town

Based on "unofficial" election returns, the small town of Landgrove in the northeast corner of Bennington County reported the highest voter turnout statewide in Tuesday's election.

Of the town's registered voters, 94% cast their ballots. The statewide average was roughly 73%.

Town clerk Chrystal Cleary says she sees enormous civic pride in her community.

“The people in our town – you know, it's a little town, so democracy is on a very small scale and you really feel it and they're very aware that democracy is us....government is us," Cleary said.

Brunswick was the runner up with roughly 93% voter turnout.

Town clerk Chrystal Cleary said an unusually high number of voters came to the Town Hall to vote in person.

“They like coming to our town hall, they like seeing – especially this year where you may not see everybody – at least if you come to the polls, you see a friendly face, [have a] quick chat… It's like a holiday," Cleary said.

Newport City had the lowest turnout rate of roughly 47%.

- Bob Kinzel

6. Walmart has not pursued federally funded COVID-19 hazard pay for Vt. employees

Essential workers who continued reporting to their jobs during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic are now eligible for hazard pay grants.

But Vermont lawmakers say one of the state’s largest retailers is blocking its employees from receiving any money.

State lawmakers are using more than $50 million dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds to reward essential workers for their efforts during the pandemic. But the program requires businesses to apply for those hazard pay grants on behalf of their employees.

Senate President Tim Ashe said the six Walmart stores operating in Vermont are refusing to submit an application.

“I have reached out to the regional contact at Walmart, desperately encouraging him to have them change course, because the stress and risk that frontline employees were taking in those early months was extraordinary,” Ashe said.

Ashe said lawmakers learned of Walmart’s decision not to apply for hazard pay grants from employees of the retail chain. Walmart did not immediately return a media inquiry Thursday.

- Peter Hirschfeld

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