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First Residents, Staff At Vt. Long-Term Care Facilities Get COVID Shots

A multi-colored mural offers a message of hope, viewed through a chain link fence
Elodie Reed
An Arts So Wonderful mural designed by Jamie Bedard and painted by many covers the outside wall of Lakeside Pharmacy in Burlington, which has been closed since July 1 after a fire at Pearl Street Beverage next door.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, a new stimulus package, new land conserved in the Adirondacks and more for Monday, Dec. 21.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. Vermont reports 93 new COVID-19 cases

State health officials reported 93 new COVID-19 infections Monday.

Vermont had 190 new infections over the weekend, plus four new virus-related deaths that now bring the statewide total to 111.

Of today's new cases, 35 were in Chittenden County and 17 in Bennington County.

There are currently 25 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including six people in the ICU.

- Matthew Smith

Residents, staff at long-term care facilities get first vaccinations

Residents and staff at long-term care facilities in Vermont will begin to receive the COVID-19 vaccine Monday.

Three pharmacies chains – Kinney Drugs, Walgreens and CVS Health – are handling the distribution.

CVS Health expects to vaccinate about 8,000 residents and staff at 79 long-term care facilities in Vermont. A spokesperson declined to name the facilities, citing privacy concerns.

Troy Brennan, executive vice president and chief medical officer at CVS Health, said the vaccination effort will require multiple visits.

"Then we’ll go back again and yet again to do the second dose, and to make sure we capture anyone else who’s come through the system up to that point,” Brennan said. “So it will be a total of three visits at each long-term care facility."

Cases of coronavirus have climbed in elder care homes. According to state data, there are 425 cases at 11 facilities.

- Liam Elder-Connors

2. DOC launches investigations, after incarcerated man dies in St. Johnsbury

A man incarcerated in St. Johnsbury has died by apparent suicide, according to the Department of Corrections.

Department of Corrections says 36-year-old Michael Dupont of Barre City was found in his cell at Northeast Correctional Complex on Sunday afternoon. Staff attempted to revive him and called an ambulance, according to DOC.

Dupont was pronounced dead at the hospital.

DOC Commissioner Jim Baker said there will be three different investigations of the incident.

“We immediately followed protocol and notified the Vermont State Police and Vermont Defender General’s office … They will be conducting separate investigations in conjunction with the Vermont Department of Corrections’ internal review,” Baker said.

Dupont is the second person in DOC custody to die this month. A Vermont inmate in Mississippi was found dead last week. The department says that death does not appear to be suspicious or related to COVID-19.

- Liam Elder-Connors

3. Congress pushes back CARES Act spending deadline

A new COVID relief bill being finalized in Washington gives Vermont and other states more time to spend an earlier round of federal money distributed last spring.

Congressman Peter Welch says he pushed for Congress to lift a deadline that required states to spend the federal aid by the end of the year.

“We finally got what the governor has been urging us to get and that is an extension for a year of the ability of the state of Vermont to spend the CARES money. That was going to expire on the 31st of this year, now it's the 31st of next year,” Welch said.

Vermont got $1.2 billion dollars in the coronavirus relief bill passed in March. Agencies have been scrambling to get all the money out the door to meet the deadline.

- John Dillon

State revenues are down, but better than projected

Over the last three months, the Vermont economy has been doing better than projections, but state officials say it's important to keep these figures in context.

Because of pandemic related issues, the state's revenue projections for the current fiscal year were reduced by almost $300 million over the summer.

But Gov. Phil Scott says revenues have bounced back and have now narrowed this budget gap by about a third.

"When we talk about exceeding our revenues on a monthly basis or on a quarterly basis, that's after we started with a $300 million downgrade,” Scott said. “So just so we're all aware: it's good news but challenged right from the start."  

Scott said a new federal stimulus package is desperately needed to provide additional grants to many businesses hurt by the pandemic.

- Bob Kinzel

4. Vermont prepares COVID recovery plans for public school students

The Agency of Education has asked school districts in Vermont to begin developing recovery plans for students affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Secretary of Education Dan French says COVID-19 has taken a toll on the mental and emotional health of Vermont students.

He said it’s still unclear what kinds of programs and services schools will offer.

“But we just know that there’s going to be a need for an integrated response that sort of transcends beyond the boundaries of the education system,” French said. “So we just want to prepare the system for that sort of integrated response.”

French said that response will include the Vermont Department of Mental Health.

The state has seen an increase in truancies during the pandemic. And French said national studies indicate that many young people are struggling emotionally.

- Peter Hirschfeld

5. New poll shows broad public support for increased state funding of child care

A new poll shows broad public support for increased state funding for child care in Vermont.

An organization called Let’s Grow Kids commissioned a survey of 500 Vermonters last month.

Aly Richards, the group's CEO, says the poll showed that nearly 80% of residents support a boost in state funding for child care programs.

“We felt it was really important to hear directly from Vermonters on where they stand, right now, in this moment, on the importance of making sure that all families who need it have access to high-quality local child care,” Richards said.

Richards said the coronavirus pandemic has spotlighted the importance of child care to the Vermont economy.

Advocates will ask elected officials for increased state funding for child care when the Legislature reconvenes next month.

Shifting needs

The coronavirus pandemic may be leading to a long term shift in child care needs for Vermont families.

Melissa Riegel-Garrett with the Department for Children and Families, said the advent of working remotely may last beyond the pandemic.

“Will families be looking to sort of stack schedules, and do a little bit more flexible worktime if they’re in their environment and be able to require less child care than they did prior to the crisis?” Riegel-Garrett asked. “That’s one of the questions that we have.”

Riegel-Garrett says the state hopes to use a data tracking system to see if child care needs are changing in Vermont.

Read or listen to the full story

- Peter Hirschfeld

6. Vermont will not join the Transportation Climate Initiative

Vermont has decided not to join a regional agreement aimed at reducing climate change by capping transportation emissions

But state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Peter Walke says Vermont will stay involved in the Transportation Climate Initiative and may join later. The TCI is a cap-and-invest program that would place limits on carbon emissions from gasoline and diesel, and require fuel suppliers to buy credits to sell them.

Walke said there are a number of reasons to hold off. He said Gov. Phil Scott wants to see how President-elect Joe Biden strengthens climate policy, and how  Vermont 's new Climate Council addresses transportation emissions.

Walke said the governor is also concerned that the initiative will lead to higher fuel prices.

"So we are trying to make sure Vermonters can afford this, and that the outcomes that the programs that we are investing in help to make Vermonters' transportation generally more accessible and affordable,” Walke said.

Although a dozen eastern states were involved in the negotiations, just three states and the District of Columbia signed on.

- John Dillon

7. Company accused of price gouging surgical masks required to supply PPE

A company accused of inflating the price surgical masks has agreed to give protective equipment to Central Vermont Medical Center as part of a legal settlement announced Monday.

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan filed a suit against Big Brother Security Programs in April, alleging price gouging. The AG’s office says the company imported masks that cost 10 cents and then sold thousands to Central Vermont Medical Center for $2.50 each.

The settlement requires Big Brother Security Programs to give CVMC 50,000 surgical masks, as well as thousands of face fields.

The company also must give the state of Vermont 10,000 KN-95 masks and no longer sell PPE at “exorbitant prices.”

- Liam Elder-Connors

8. Vt. Legislature moves to spend $1.3 million on additional benefits for Reach Up program recipients

Some of Vermont's poorest families will be getting additional financial assistance from state government.

On Monday, lawmakers agreed to spend $1.3 million on supplemental benefits for recipients of Vermont's Reach Up program.

Commissioner of Finance Adam Greshin requested the allocation.

"This supplemental payment would go out to Reach Up families," Greshin said. "And we think it would be not only important to help shore them up, but also the right thing to do."

Lawmakers on Monday also approved supplemental payments for some foster families.

They also agreed to spend another $300,000 to help people who are behind on utility payments.

- Peter Hirschfeld

9. More than 2,000 acres of forested land conserved in the eastern Adirondacks

As of Monday, more than 2,000 acres of private forested land in New York’s Essex County have been permanently protected.

The Open Space Institute announced Monday it has acquired a 2,229-acre plot of land in the eastern Adirondack towns of Chesterfield and Lewis.

The parcel – purchased for more than $2 million from the Bar MH Timber company – links more than 10,000 acres of already protected wild lands that include access to the Central High Peaks.

Ringed by seven medium-sized mountains, the new property is a prime place to develop walking and hiking trails. It’s also part of an important wildlife corridor that connects the Champlain Valley with the High Peaks.

The Open Space Institute plans to transfer ownership to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The parcel is slated to become part of the Taylor Pond Wild Forest.

- Abagael Giles

Update 12:05 p.m. 12/22/2020: This post's photo caption has been updated to reflect the mural pictured was created by the Burlington nonprofit Arts So Wonderful.

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