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At 122 Cases, Vermont Once Again Sets Daily Record For New COVID-19 Infections

A blackboard with chalk reading covid's back be safe
Elodie Reed
A message for passersby along Rock Point Road in Burlington on Sunday, Nov. 15.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, a shortage of substitute teachers and more for Monday, Nov. 16.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. Vermont sees 122 new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported a record-breaking 122 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday.

Today's total breaks the previous record for new daily cases - a record which was broken multiple times last week as case numbers have rapidly gone up.

The coronavirus cases reported Monday were identified in 13 of Vermont's 14 counties. Washington County has about one-third of the new cases, and has seen 223 cases in the past two weeks. That's a higher rate than Chittenden County, which had previously been the epicenter of the pandemic in Vermont.

Instances of COVID-19 are increasing in all parts of the state.

There are 19 people hospitalized with the disease, and one person is in the ICU. The state has now tested more than 200,000 people.

Vermont's total COVID-19 case count has now broken 3,000, with nearly 600 cases in the past seven days.

- Anna Van Dine and Karen Anderson

220 new cases over the weekend

Vermont health officials counted 220 new COVID-19 cases statewide over the weekend.

The Department of Health reported 84 new infections Friday, 91 on Saturday and 45 on Sunday.

All Vermont counties have seen at least a dozen new cases over the last two weeks, with both Washington and Chittenden Counties nearing 200 new cases.

- Matthew Smith

Positive test pushes Cabot School students to remote learning

A positive test at the Cabot School had students in grades four through six learning remotely Monday.

The Caledonian Record reports those students will learn virtually until after the Thanksgiving break.

That's after the first presumptive COVID-19 positive case associated with the school was reported Friday.

Caledonia Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Mark Tucker said a review of contacts showed the infected individuals had limited interactions with students and staff while on campus.

Students in the pod going remote will return to in-person instruction on Monday, Nov. 30.

- Matthew Smith

University of Vermont offers students option to leave campus early

The University of Vermont is offering undergraduate students the option to leave campus early, amid rising cases of COVID-19 in Chittenden County.

In-person classes for the fall term end next week, but an email to students Sunday gives undergrads the option to leave campus now and finish the final week of class remotely.

Students must notify faculty of any early departure and schedule a COVID-19 test 48 hours before leaving for the semester.

UVM's student newspaper, The Cynic, reports last week's tests show seven new COVID-19 cases on campus, out of more than 1,500 tests.

- Matthew Smith

2. Vermont draws on contact tracing reserves

Vermont has seen record numbers of new COVID-19 infections in the last week, and that's putting more strain on the state's contact tracers.

The surge in cases led Gov. Phil Scott to impose new restrictions last week, including a ban on virtually all social gatherings.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the state's current contact tracing force can handle 90 new cases a day, but given the spike in new cases, Levine says he's bringing in more help.

"We've activated sort of our reserve contact tracing work force at the health department and have additional resources coming in from around the state," he said.

Health officials are asking any Vermonter who recently attended a social gathering to get tested.

- Matthew Smith

3. Outside review of inmate death faults DOC for lack of care

An outside investigation into the death of of Kenneth Johnson, a Vermont inmate, concluded the state didn't go far enough to help him during a health crisis that proved fatal.

Johnson, a 60-year-old Black man, died in Dec. 2019 from an undiagnosed tumor which blocked his airway. The Department of Corrections hired the law firm Downs Rachlin Martin to review the incident.

Tris Coffin, with DRM, said their investigation found that in the hours before his death, Johnson appeared to struggle to breathe and his requests to go to the hospital were ignored.

"And then later on, he dies apparently from breathing complications. That is just not as policy matter how Vermont should be conducting business," Coffin said.

"Mr. Johnson was African American," Coffin said. "It's hard to say whether it resulted in having differential treatment, but it's also hard to say that wasn't the case."

The report makes several recommendations, including more implicit bias training for employees. The Defender General's office also released an investigation this summerwhich found Johnson was denied medical care.

More from VPR: Defender General Details Failures Leading To Inmate's Death

- Liam Elder-Connors

Department of Corrections faces staffing shortfall

Vermont's Department of Corrections is facing a staffing shortfall, and is now trying to fill roughly 80 open jobs.

VTDiggerreports interim corrections commissioner Jim Baker says the challenge isn't hiring, but keeping people on the job.

Baker told the Join Legislative Justice Oversight Committee last week that DOC hired 249 new corrections officers over the last two years, but lost 116 of them. That's a 54% retention rate.

Baker said the large number of open jobs, and coronavirus-related quarantines that take officers out of work for weeks at a time, are requiring the department pay mandatory overtime to cover all shifts and are putting further stress on DOC staffers.

- Matthew Smith

4. Vermont school districts face serious shortage of substitute teachers

For some school districts in Vermont, a shortage of substitute teachers could make in-person learning impossible.

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, school staff have to stay home if they have cold or flu-like symptoms. Mount Abraham Unified School District superintendent Patrick Reen says that to cover the absenteeism expected in cold and flu season, his district needs a lot more substitutes.

"Yeah, I guess I would say, at least 50%, if not doubling what we currently have for available subs could be ideal," Reen said.

Reen said there's a need for substitutes, teachers, nurses, custodians, food service workers and administrative assistants.

Without enough staffing, schools could be forced back to remote learning.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Anna Van Dine

5. Local selectboards will have power to authorize voting by Australian ballot for 2021

Due to COVID-19, communities that usually hold Town Meeting will be allowed to vote using the so-called "Australian" all-day voting system in March.

Secretary of State Jim Condos said lawmakers have approved a plan that gives local selectboards the authority to make this change for their 2021 Town Meeting.

Condos said the proposal represents a major change in how some local issues are decided.

"That is, a town wants to do it, they can have the legislative body actually vote to move to an Australian ballot, instead of having people group together," Condos said. "That also has impact, though, on how town meeting works, because you would not be able to make floor amendments and things like that."

Condos said this change will only be in place for this winter's Town Meeting.

- Bob Kinzel

6. Vermont will continue to fund motel space for unhoused residents

Vermont's homeless shelters closed at the start of the pandemic, and the state's been temporarily housing more than 2,000 people at motels.

Housing advocates weren't sure what would happen this winter, but as COVID-19 numbers spike, the state now says it will fund the motel program in the coming months.

The state has been using federal COVID relief funds to pay for the motel rooms, but that money expires at the end of the year.

Geoffrey Pippenger is with the Department for Children and Families. He said the state has no option but to keep funding the program.

"We believe that these efforts are particularly important at this point in time because of the onset of colder weather, as well as the recent increase in positive cases around the state," he said.

The department is paying for more than 1,600 rooms, in 71 motels.

Pippenger said Vermont will use FEMA disaster relief money to pay for the motels, though they'll also need $3 million in state funds.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

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Correction 11/16/2020 7:26 p.m.: The number of people temporarily housed at motels has been changed to reflect the correct number of 2,000, not 200,000.

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