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As Thanksgiving Approaches, State Officials Urge Vermonters To Stay Home

People wait to get tested in a converted gym space, with orange cones
Elodie Reed
On November 9, asymptomatic Vermonters queued up for coronavirus tests at the Winooski Armory. Vermont saw more than 170 new cases over the weekend.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, deer season and more for Tuesday, Nov. 24.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. Vermont sees 49 new cases of COVID-19

Health officials reported Vermont's sixty-fourth COVID-related death, as well as 49 new infections Tuesday.

It's the sixth death related to the virus in November alone.

The counties with the most new infections were Chittenden with 10, Essex County with eight and Washington County with seven.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 grew to 22, with five people being treated in ICUs.

Today is the first time Vermont's case count was under 50 in more than a week.

State officials see some early progress, as Vermont works to curb the recent surge in COVID-19 infections.

Today marked the third day in a row that case numbers have declined, and it's a drop from a peak of 150 cases set last week.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak leads the state's COVID-19 modeling efforts. He said the recent numbers show good news.

"Similarly, looking at our Vermont forecast, you can see that even though it's trending up still, it's not growing as quickly as it was last week," he said Tuesday. "Last week, the expectation was that we would see case growth over the next four weeks, of about 50%. Now, [that's] down to 41%. So again, certainly another positive trend."

But there are still many areas of concern. For example, the state said it's tracking six active outbreaks, with about 100 total cases, in long term care facilities.

- Matthew Smith and John Dillon

Health officials warn Vermonters must forego gatherings on Thanksgiving

Vermont's top health official says people need to forego Thanksgiving gatherings this year in order to ensure a healthy and safe Thanksgiving next year.

The holiday tradition calls for large gatherings and people traveling to get togethers.

But this year, Gov. Phil Scott and others say that tradition must give way to restrictions aimed at protecting public health.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak leads the state's COVID-19 modeling efforts. He said a recent national survey found that 38% of the public said they would attend a large Thanksgiving dinner with 10 or more people.

If we saw numbers similar to that, 38% of Vermonters continuing to have [multi-]household gatherings of 10 or more people, if we continue to see travel occurring, people not adhering to our guidelines, we would see a significant increase in cases in the weeks following Thanksgiving," Pieciak said.

He said that if the guidelines are not followed, the state could see 3,200 to 3,800 new COVID cases just from Thanksgiving alone.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said at Tuesday's COVID-19 press conference that the stakes are high right now, and that Vermonters must change how they celebrate the holiday.

"So if you want to keep working, for your kids to stay in school, to prevent more people from potentially dying from COVID-19, please follow the governor's orders: don't get together with anyone outside your household and limit any travel that's not essential," Levine said.

Levine said that if Vermonters do travel or share a meal with others from outside their household, they must quarantine for 14 days.

- John Dillon

Gov. Scott pays homage to recent victim of COVID-19

Gov. Phil Scott opened his news briefing Tuesday by remembering a recent victim of COVID-19.

The state has recorded 64 coronavirus deaths since March.

Among those who recently lost their life is Bristol resident Mary Pat Brown, a mother of six.

Scott said her family wanted her to be remembered as more than a statistic. He read an email the family sent to his office, asking that her name be made public.

"Our family feels that these deaths need to have names attached to them," Scott read. "Maybe, just maybe, it will spark just one person to do better and follow guidelines for their loved ones and community. This is what would give our family comfort."

Scott and other top officials want Vermonters to avoid gathering with anyone outside their immediate household. They say that the research shows that the virus is now spreading through social contacts, like shared meals or parties with friends.

- John Dillon

Scott puts winter high school sports on hold

The start of all high school winter sports has been put on hold indefinitely because of concerns about COVID-19.

Gov. Phil Scott said his administration made the call because of the recent statewide rise in coronavirus cases.

"Based on our current data, unfortunately, we'll be postponing the start of the school sports, which were set to start Nov. 30," Scott said Tuesday. "Like recreational sports, these are paused until further notice and we'll review it again each week."

If sports activities are allowed to start up later this year, it's likely that the administration's ban on spectators will remain in place.

- Bob Kinzel

Cluster associated with Bradford addiction treatment center

A Bradford area addiction treatment center has seen a cluster of COVID-19 cases.

The Valley News reports the Valley Vista treatment center has temporarily stopped admitting new patients after eight staffers tested positive for COVID-19.

None of the roughly 30 patients have tested positive.

The affected staff are in administrative positions and do not have regular contact with patients.

More than 100 people were tested last week after the first case was found. The facility plans another round of testing Wednesday.

- Matthew Smith

Orange Southwest School District goes remote

All schools in the Orange Southwest School District are going remote until further notice.

The school board voted Friday to stay remote until after Thanksgiving, until it's deemed safe for students to return to classrooms.

The move affects families in Randolph, Braintree and Brookfield.

School officials said infections "began in the community due to social gatherings," and were brought into the schools.

The district is waiting to hear results from 20 suspected COVID-19 tests, and says closing early kept at least eight infected people from coming to school.

Roughly one-third of families involved told contact tracers they would explicitly ignore quarantine guidelines, which school officials say, "does not bode well" for the coming months.

- Matthew Smith

2. Students must disclose participation in any multi-household gathering before returning to school

Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday that when Vermont students return to school on Monday, school staff will ask if they've been to Thanksgiving gatherings.

He said he's not asking kids to tattle on their parents, but he said he needs to underscore an important public safety measure.

"Fair warning: To those of you who are planning to have gatherings with others from outside your home for Thanksgiving... if you don't want your kids to have to transition to remote learning, and quarantine for a seven-day period, maybe you ought to make other plans," he said. "That's the message right now."

Scott said big holiday get-togethers could fuel a COVID-19 surge. So he's asked Vermonters to limit their Thanksgiving celebrations to people in their immediate household.

- John Dillon

Pediatrician says keeping schools open and safe is a matter of equity

While some Vermont school districts have decided to go to remote learning after Thanksgiving, others will stick with an in-person approach. But many parents and teachers can't agree on which method is safer and better for students.

Dr. Leah Costello, a pediatrician in South Burlington, told Vermont Edition that for many students, in-person learning is critical to their well-being.

"There are many children [or whom] schools are their place for a warm meal, a consistent warm place to be, consistent adult interactions if their parents are working numerous jobs to support their family," Costello said. "Those are not the families who are getting together or traveling for the holidays, and those are the kids that we really need to keep in school."

Dr. Costello said even with the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Vermont, there is still very low transmission within schools.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Emily Aiken

3. Hunting booms amid the pandemic

The number of hunters in Vermont has been decreasing for many years, but Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife Louis Porter says the pandemic is renewing interest.

"We're estimating in general about a 20% increase, give or take, in hunting participation in Vermont this year," he said.

People who have lost their jobs or who are working less have more time to hunt and may need the food, Porter said. And, he said the outdoor and often solitary aspects of hunting make it well suited to social distancing.

A number of other states, including Maine and Nevada, have also seen big upticks in hunting license sales during the pandemic.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Nina Keck

4. New survey shows nearly one-third of Vermonters have experienced food insecurity amid pandemic

Nearly one-third of Vermonters have experienced food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new University of Vermont survey.

A previous survey by UVM found that 24% of respondents from May to June experienced food insecurity. But in this new survey, which covered March through September, that number increased to 30%.

Many households -- 40% -- experienced job disruptions, like reduced income or furloughs, due to the pandemic.

Meredith Niles, an assistant professor in nutrition and food sciences at UVM, said low-income households were much more likely to have trouble accessing food.

"Households making less than $50,000 per year were six-times more likely to be food insecure," Niles said. "Households with children had twice the odds of being food insecure, compared to households without children."

Niles said the survey found that one-third of respondents were using food assistance programs like food stamps.

The survey also found that one in four respondents were eating fewer servings of fruits and vegetables.

"We have to simultaneously consider quantity of food and making sure there's enough food, but also, [that] there's high quality food available through different food assistance programs for people," Niles said.

- Liam Elder-Connors

5. Welch optimistic Congress will pass pandemic stimulus package soon

Rep. Peter Welch is optimistic that Congress will pass a compromise pandemic stimulus bill in the coming weeks, because President-elect Joe Biden is urging House Democratic leaders to scale back their demands.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promosed a $2 trillion package, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested a much smaller amount.

Welch said Biden's message to the Democrats is to get something passed right now.

"Family budgets are crashing. Our hospitality industry, restaurants, they need help now!" Welch said. "So getting less now is much better than the potential of getting more later and, by the way, we can take a second bite at the apple after President Bident takes the oath on Jan. 20."

Congress will return to Washington for its lame duck session next week.

- Bob Kinzel

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