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State Officials Have Reported 540 COVID Cases In Past 5 Days

A sign in front of a brick school reading SHS Remote Until Nov. 20
Elodie Reed
Spaulding High School in Barre informs the community it will be remote until the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, body cameras for state police and more for Monday, Nov. 23.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. Health officials report 85 new cases Monday; 63rd death over weekend

Vermont health officials reported 85 new COVID-19 infections Monday. That means the state has seen more than 540 new cases in the last five days alone.

Of Monday’s new cases, 35 were in Chittenden County, and 19 in Washington County.

The weekend saw more than 170 new infections, as well as the 63rd death in Vermont linked to the coronavirus.

The Health Department says 18 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including three people in intensive care units.

- Matthew Smith

North Country health officials say COVID is dramatically

The head of one North Country health department says the coronavirus is spreading so dramatically that being out in public means "a COVID-19 exposure is likely."

According to a report from North Country Public Radio, New York's St. Lawrence County Public Health Director Dana McGuire says the prevalence of the virus now means her department will no longer post updated exposure locations. Her office will continue to conduct contact tracing.

The county saw more than 120 new cases and 13 hospitalizations in just the last week.

McGuire urged residents to limit social gatherings and follow public health guidelines to reduce the spread of the virus.

- Matthew Smith

Health commissioner says school staff tests showing low positivity rate

In Vermont schools, staff are provided with optional, self-administered COVID-19 tests. Commissioner Mark Levine expressed confidence in the reliability of the tests, andtold Vermont Edition the low positivity rate is encouraging.

“I believe we’re well under 0.5% of the tests being positive, possibly as low as 0.25%,” he said. “We’ll know that better once we get the final results in, and can calculate that. But it’s a very low number.

Secretary of Education Dan French said roughly 40-45% of all staff in Vermont schools have been tested for COVID-19.

- Ruby Smith

2. Vermont State Police troopers to have body cameras by early December

Vermont’s largest law enforcement agency – the state police – will now outfit all troopers with body cameras.

The VSP has said for five years they wanted the devices, but that budgetary restraints were slowing down the process.

In June, amid national protests over police brutality, state police told VPR they didn’t expect to get body cameras this year. VSP said the devices, touted as tools to increase transparency and hold cops accountable, cost too much amid the financial crunch caused by the pandemic.

But shortly after VPR reported that story, the agency released a statement saying they were committed to getting the devices and would work with the Legislature to find funding this year.

Now, all 200 VSP troopers are expected to have body cameras by early December. The agency says the cameras cost $760,000, and there’s an annual storage fee of $294,000.

- Liam Elder-Connors

3. Lawmakers approve $8.5M for expanded COVID testing

Vermont lawmakers have signed off on Gov. Phil Scott’s request for an additional $8.5 million for COVID testing.

Deputy Human Services Secretary Jenney Samuelson told lawmakers last week that increased testing will be key to slowing transmission of the coronavirus.

But she says existing testing options are generally limited to regular business hours during the work week.

“And we are looking to put it so that individuals have access to testing, seven days a week, at their convenience, statewide,” Samuelson said.

The money will also fund surveillance testing in public schools.

Money for the new testing programs will come from federal coronavirus relief funds.

- Peter Hirschfeld

4. Vermont hiring contractor to roll out $1,200 checks for non-U.S. citizens

Undocumented workers in Vermont will soon be able to apply for $1,200 stimulus checks.

Lawmakers and the governor approved a program earlier this year that allows non-U.S. citizens to collect COVID stimulus checks.

Director of Racial Equity Xusana Davis says the state is hiring a contractor to oversee the program, and that the contractor will have three responsibilities.

“One is outreach and promotion of the funds, two is processing of applications, and three is disbursement of the funds directly to the individual,” she said.

Davis says applications for the stimulus program will open next month.

Non-U.S. citizens were ineligible for a federal COVID stimulus program in the spring that provided $1,200 checks to most Americans.

- Peter Hirschfeld

More from VPR: 'They Should Include Us': Vermont's Immigrant Farmworkers Push For Coronavirus Aid

5. Gov. Phil Scott says state ready to enforce skier quarantine rules

The Scott administration is working with Vermont's major ski areas to crack down on out-of-state skiers who don't comply with quarantine regulations.

Under Scott's executive order, all out-of-state skiers must quarantine for 14 days before skiing.

Scott says the state is ready to impose penalties for skiers who fail to follow these rules. He's making it clear that these rules don't apply to Vermont residents.

"They can lose their privileges to ski in Vermont, they'll get their passes pulled,” Scott said. “So I think there is some incentive for those coming from other states, they need to quarantine, plain and simple.”

A number of Vermont's ski areas plan to be open for the Thanksgiving holiday. Killington became the first Vermont ski resort to open for the season on Friday.

- Bob Kinzel

More from Vermont Edition: How Vermont's Ski Industry Is Preparing For A Winter Like No Other

Snowmobilers need to abide by governor's order too

Snowmobilers can still enjoy the sport in Vermont this winter amid the coronavirus pandemic, as long as they abide by the governor’s emergency orders.

Vermont officials say out-of-staters can come to Vermont and snowmobile if they quarantine for 14 days in a rental or in a second home in the state.

The Vermont Association of Snow Travelers announced visitors can also quarantine for seven days and then get a negative COVID-19 test report to carry with them on the VAST trails.

VAST says riders are required to stay in their family groups, follow social distancing and wear masks whenever they take off their helmets.

- Associated Press

6. Vermont Climate Council met on Friday

The Vermont Climate Council met for the first time Friday, with 23 members from across the state meeting to discuss how they'll achieve the state's ambitious climate change goals.

The Brattleboro Reformer reports council chair Susanne Young, Gov. Scott's secretary of administration, suggested the administration might seek a court challenge over what it calls unconstitutional aspects of the law.

The governor vetoed the bill in September, but lawmakers overrode the veto to make the bill law.

The council is tasked with getting Vermont to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions over the next 25 years. It has until December of next year to present its plans to the Legislature.

- Matthew Smith

7. UVM Health Network restores access to electronic records system

Access to electronic medical records has been restored at UVM Medical Center and Central Vermont Medical Center after last month's cyber attack.

Access is expected to be restored at Porter Medical Center Tuesday, and Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital later this week.   

The networks patient portal, "My Chart", is still offline.   

Health records access has been limited for weeks since the hack, resulting in delays in care for some seriously ill patients, and difficulties rescheduling appointments.

- Karen Anderson

8. State police investigating death in Rutland hotel

Vermont State Police are investigating a suspicious death at a Rutland hotel on Sunday.

The agency says police were called to the Quality Inn in Rutland around 3:30 Sunday morning to investigate a report of a hotel room disturbance.

Responding officers found a man dead in the room.

The body has been brought to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Burlington for an autopsy to determine cause and manner of death.

The state police major crime and criminal investigations units are working to identity of the victim. No one is currently in custody in connection with the case.

- Associated Press

9. Get a Christmas tree from Green Mountain National Forest for $5

The Green Mountain National Forest is offering Vermonters the chance to cut down their own Christmas tree with a $5 permit.

Permits can be bought online or in person at a Green Mountain National Forest office.

To support its "Every Kid Outdoors" initiative, the Forest Service is giving fourth and fifth grade students a free Christmas tree voucher by registering online.

A similar tree program, and vouchers, is also on offer in New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest.

- Associated Press

10. Southwestern Vermont Health Care makes offer for former Southern Vermont College building

Southwestern Vermont Health Care wants to buy the Gate House building on the former Southern Vermont College campus.

The $300,000 offer for the building would be on top of the health care organization's $3.2 million offer for the roughly 370-acre campus made earlier this month.

The Bennington Bannerreports the trustee overseeing the college's bankruptcy, which closed in May of 2019, says he'll recommend the court approve both sales.

The deadline for new offers is Dec. 7.

- Matthew Smith

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