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Officials Forecast Flat Growth For COVID-19 Cases, If Vermonters Avoid New Year’s Gatherings

Masked bathers with noodles take a class in an indoor pool
Elodie Reed
Vermont Sun Fitness holds an "Arthritis Aqua" class, using COVID-19 precautions, on Wednesday, Dec. 23.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Tuesday, Dec. 29.Want VPR's daily news in podcast form? Get up to speed in under 15 minutes withThe Frequency every weekday morning. How about an email newsletter?Add our daily email briefing to your morning routine.

The latest coronavirus data:


1. Vermont reports 82 new COVID-19 cases, 1 new death

Vermont health officials reported 82 new COVID-19 infections today, and one new virus-related death.

That means 130 Vermonters have now died from the cornavirus since the pandemic began.

Today's new cases were clustered around Chittenden County, with 28 new infections. Windham County had 12.

Currently, 31 people are hospitalized today with the disease, including six in the ICU.

- Matthew Smith

December was the deadliest month of the pandemic in Vermont

Fifty-two Vermonters have died so far in December from COVID- 19, making this the deadliest month in Vermont since the pandemic began.

And many of those deaths were in long-term care facilities. Health Commissioner Mark Levine said 70% of all COVID-19 deaths in the state were among long-term care residents.

Levine said the virus takes hold in these places because it's much more prevalent in the community than it was during the summer or fall.

“Unfortunately, once the virus makes its way into a facility, it meets people who are among most subject to severe illness: people who are older, have chronic and debilitating health conditions and who are largely confined to their living spaces,” Levine said.

Levine said the high fatality rate is usually not due to bad management or staff decisions. It's just that people who live in long term care are simply more susceptible to complications from COVID-19.

Residents in long term care homes are among the first in line to get a coronavirus vaccine.

Levine said of the 41 outbreaks the state has seen, 14 have been in long-term care facilities. However, Levine said vaccination is not a cure for the disease.

"People should understand vaccination is not a strategy to end an outbreak in a facility," Levine said. "When a facility has a significant outbreak, many people may still be infected but be asymptomatic."

It takes about a month after the second of two vaccine shots for a person to be fully protected against the virus.

- John Dillon

State officials are cautiously optimistic, pending New Year's Eve

State officials are cautiously optimistic that the number of new COVID-19 cases in Vermont will remain relatively stable over the next month.

Financial Regulations commissioner Mike Pieciak said it appears that many Vermonters are following the Administration's holiday safety protocols including restrictions on multi-household gatherings.

“We see a projected case trend that is better than any recent forecasts we have presented ,anticipating that cases will remain relatively flat over the next four weeks: [We saw] an improvement of a projected 34% increase just last week and 70% the week before that,” Pieciak said.

Pieciak said the new projections highlight the need for Vermonters to avoid large gatherings on New Year's Eve.

- Bob Kinzel

2. State officials work to identify priority groups for vaccination

Health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities are among the 9,800 Vermonters who received the first shot of a coronavirus vaccine.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said on Tuesday that once these groups are vaccinated, the state will then focus on getting the vaccine to older Vermonters and those with chronic health conditions. He said the state has three main goals with the vaccine distribution.

“What we are trying to do is design a system that is easily implemented, easily understood and prioritizes our fundamental goal: protecting lives,” Smith said.

Smith said the criteria will not be based on a person's potential occupational exposure, such as a job that puts them in contact with the public.

Instead, priorities will be based on risk, including age and if they have underlying health conditions such as cancer or heart disease.

State officials say they are weighing ways to prioritize marginalized communities for vaccination

As the state helps launch a massive coronavirus vaccine distribution program, officials say they're working to make sure people of color and those in marginalized communities don't get left behind.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said Tuesday these groups were more severely impacted by the pandemic and the state is developing criteria to serve them.

“We recognize that that's a community that we have to – because of their disadvantage, because of the inequities that may have happened, because of how COVID has struck some of these communities – we've got to recognize where they are in the priorities and how we bring them into the priority,” Smith said.

Smith said he doesn't yet have specifics for how the groups will be served. He says the state will build on the Health Department's efforts to deliver COVID tests to under-served populations.

- John Dillon

3. Sen. Sanders launches mini filibuster to pressure vote over increasing individual stimulus checks

Senator Bernie Sanders has launched a mini filibuster in the U.S. Senate to get Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to agree to vote on a plan to significantly increase a second round of stimulus checks.

The recently passed COVID-19 relief bill includes $600 checks for most people, but Sanders is insisting that the amount be increased to $2,000 per adult.

Sanders is blocking the Senate's vote to consider overriding President Trump's veto of the new Defense bill until McConnell holds a vote on the larger stimulus check.

With the Congressional session set to end soon, Sanders admits he can only delay things in the Senate for a couple of days.

“And if it means keeping people here in the Senate through New Year's Eve, that's what we'll do, but we've got to pass this legislation,” he said.

Sanders says a number of Republican senators support his plan and he's hoping that a bi-partisan coalition can convince McConnell to schedule a vote on his bill.

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, Sanders said $600 is not enough money to meet the pressing needs of many people.

“The working class of this country today faces more economic desperation then at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s and working families need help now – not next year, but right now,” Sanders said.

McConnell says he might hold a vote on Sanders' plan if the Democrats agree to appropriate money for special election fraud investigations, but Democratic leaders say they'll never agree to that proposal.

Sanders solicits Republican support

Sanders says he's soliciting Republican support for his plan, and that a number of GOP senators support his effort. He wants them to convince McConnell to allow a vote on the bill.

“Republican senators have got to go back to their states – and their states in many cases are worse off than the state of Vermont,” Sanders said. “Their people are hurting and their people are telling them 'You've got to do something,' and I hope that Republican senators will listen to the pain that's out there." 

Sanders is vowing to block other Senate business until this issue is taken up, but he admits that he will run out of time when the Senate adjourns later this week.

Sanders says his plan to send most Americans a $2,000 stimulus check could play a key role in two U.S. Senate special elections in Georgia next week.

Both Republican incumbent senators are up for re-election in run-off contests next Tuesday. Sanders says Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's opposition to the $2,000 direct payment puts these two senators in a very awkward political position.

“Oh believe me it does – yes – and if McConnell yields on this issue, one of the reasons will be his two Senate candidates out there – the incumbent senators – are being beaten up appropriately for their lack of support for working people's needs. So yeah, it is an issue.”

The outcome of the Georgia races will decide control of the Senate for the next two years.

- Bob Kinzel

4. Starksboro's Cochran-Siegle scores his first Alpine Skiing World Cup win

Vermonter Ryan Cochran-Siegle scored his first alpine skiing World Cup victory this week. The win marks the first time an American man has won a world cup Super G in 14 years.

“Tuesday in Bormio, Italy, Ryan Cochran-Siegle won a world cup super g by .79 seconds. That’s a striking margin in alpine skiing – and the largest margin in the discipline in nearly five years.

The 28-year-old from Starksboro is the son of 1972 Olympic slalom champion Barbara Cochran. Tuesday’s win was his 101st world cup start. It made him the first U.S. man to win a world cup super-g since Bode Miller in 2006.

Cochran-Siegle is one of the favorites for Wednesday’s downhill, the last world cup race of 2020.

- Abagael Giles

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