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With 167 New Cases Tuesday, State Officials Say Vermont Is Experiencing 'Holiday Surge'

Black Lettering on a white board against a brick building in the snow
Elodie Reed
In Montpelier, a sign at Main Street Middle School thanks community members for staying home, so school can remain open for in-person instruction.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, impeachment and more for Tuesday, Jan. 12.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 Department of Health reports 167 new COVID-19 cases

Vermont health officials reported 167 new cases of COVID-19 statewide Tuesday.

The number of people hospitalized hit a new high, with 51 people needing hospital care and 10 people in the ICU.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak said Tuesday Vermont hospitals still have enough space to treat patients.

Pieciak, whose department is in charge of the state COVID-19 modeling, said cases would need to increase significantly before there were problems.

"We would actually need to be averaging close to 380 cases a day, over a 14-day period of time, so not 380 cases in a single day," Pieciak said. "We've never approached that number, but [we'd need to see] 380 cases a day over a 14-day period to approach that level of ICU capacity in Vermont."

However, cases in the state are surging, with more than 1,100 new infections reported in the last week. Pieciak said that if growth continues, the state's average daily case increase could be close to 300.

Tuesday also saw two more virus-related deaths, bringing Vermont's pandemic death toll to 158.

Chittenden County had the most new cases, with 58, but between 10 and 20 new cases were found in Bennington, Washington, Windham and Windsor counties.

- Matthew Smith and Liam Elder-Connors

State officials say Vermont is experiencing a 'holiday surge'

State officials say Vermont is experiencing what they call a “holiday surge” of COVID-19 with more than 1,100 new cases added in the last week.

The pandemic is raging nationwide, and while Vermont has some of the lowest case numbers in the country, the state is still seeing cases rapidly increase.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak said Tuesday that over the last five days, Vermont recorded more cases than it did between May and September.

“We are now forecasting a trajectory for cases that will continue to rise until early February, possibly even approaching 300 cases a day, on average,” Pieciak said.

But Pieciak says Vermont could avoid such a dramatic increase if people redouble efforts to follow public health guidance, like wearing masks and avoiding gathering.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the uptick began about one week after Christmas. He said the health department still needs more time to determine if the surge is tied to New Year's Eve.

Levine said the state is currently investigating 44 outbreaks and more than 300 smaller situations.

"But so far, we are still not finding significant outbreaks tied to the types of small gatherings that were allowed for the holidays," he said.

Prior to the December holidays, the state temporarily relaxed restrictions to allow people to gather with one additional household.

Levine said the state is currently seeing more isolated cases that have "come from the community."

- Liam Elder-Connors

Vermont House passes bill allowing towns to initiate remote voting for Town Meeting Day

The Vermont House says Vermont towns can use mail-in voting and change other procedures to protect the public during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

A bill passed by the House allows towns to adopt these measures before their annual meetings in March.

Bradford Democrat Sarah Copeland-Hanzas chairs the government operations committee.

She said, “The most fundamental intent and purpose here is that we are trying to protect the health and safety of Vermonters during the pandemic,”

The measure was the first bill passed by the House in the new session. It's now been sent to the Senate.

- John Dillon

The Addison Independent reports a Vergennes church is now the source of 80 cases

A Vergennes church has been singled out as the source of 80 recent COVID-19 cases.

The Addison Independent reports Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says the cases are linked to Victory Baptist Church on Route 7, from services held over Christmas weekend.

Reverend Tim Taylor said parishioners followed CDC safety guidelines; however, the virus appears to have spread during services.

The church hasn't held in-person services since December 27. Taylor says they'll wait for the current spike in COVID cases to go down before they resume.

- Matthew Smith

State health officials say cases associated with ski areas remain limited

While COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in Vermont continue to rise after the holidays, cases have stayed relatively low at ski resorts, according to the health department. 

Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan told Vermont Edition that the cases that have popped up at resorts are mostly among Vermonters or people living and working in ski communities and not people coming in from out-of-state to ski.

“We are getting a handful of cases in a few resorts, but it doesn't appear that the out-of-state piece is a significant driver,” Dolan said.

Dolan says for the most part, ski resorts have been following the rules for social distancing and keeping gatherings short and small.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Emily Aiken

2. Rep. Peter Welch tests negative for COVID-19, returns to Washington

Congressman Peter Welch is returning to Washington after testing negative for COVID-19.

Last Wednesday, Welch and many of his House colleagues were taken to a secure location in the Capitol as a violent mob stormed the building.

Welch said he was very concerned about the health of the legislators who were in that location because a group of GOP lawmakers refused to wear masks.

“So it was a dangerous situation,” Welch said. “I did get tested yesterday and I'm negative – thank goodness – and I'm going to get tested when I return to Washington, and tomorrow morning I'll get another test.”

So far, at least three of the House members who were in the safe location have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Welch said he would be voting Tuesday night in favor of legislation that calls on Vice Pres. Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment.

Welch says he supports new Democratic plan to impeach Pres. Donald Trump

Congressman Peter Welch hopes a Democratic plan to impeach President Trump will draw some support from members of the Republican caucus.

The Democrats are pursing impeachment after Vice President Mike Pence indicated that he would not invoke the 25th Amendment as a way to remove the president from office.

The impeachment resolution accuses the president inciting an insurrection at the Capitol last week.

Welch said Tuesday it's possible that as many as a dozen GOP members will back it.

“To the extent that we can get some of my Republican colleagues to join us in reaffirming that principle, that it's the people, not Congress, not politicians who decide on the leader of our country, that will be affirming,” Welch said.

House Democratic leaders say they have the votes to impeach the president when the issue comes to the floor later Wednesday.

Welch calls for expulsion of Republican members of Congress who supported false claims about election fraud

Welch is also calling for the expulsion of Republican members of Congress who perpetrated false claims about the presidential election.

At the top of Welch's list is Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks.

Welch cited Brooks' past comments, including one made at last week's rally before insurgents stormed the Capitol building. Addressing the crowd, Brooks said, "Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass..."

Welch said, "When you have Mo Brooks at that rally with the president, encouraging people -- that mob -- to go down and invade the Capitol, as they did... He has no business serving in Congress," Welch said. "And I would vote to expel him."

A resolution formally censuring Brooks was introduced in the House this week, but Welch said it doesn't go far enough.

- Bob Kinzel

3. Montpelier Police Department braces for potential extremist violence ahead of inauguration

Montpelier’s Chief of Police says his department is bracing for potential extremist violence during President Trump’s final days in office — and he’s calling on the public to lower the temperature around political conversations.

Chief Brian Peete took over as Montpelier’s top cop this summer.

He’s working with other state and federal agencies to monitor calls encouraging armed gatherings at state capitols nationwide this Sunday — and for explicit calls for insurrection ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Peete said his officers watched pro-Trump extremists mob the US Capitol last week — and he wants to avoid a similarly charged scene in Montpelier.

“To me, the most important thing is just: the level of rhetoric and emotion that we've been pouring into these conversations have pulled us further apart from one another,” Peete said.  “I think that we need to focus on coming back to a lot more civil discourse between ourselves.”

As of Tuesday, Peete said his department has not received any specific threats.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Matthew Smith

Gov. Scott warns those who would participate not to be 'pawns' of extremists

Gov. Phil Scott is warning people who want to rally in Montpelier this weekend to not be “pawns” of extremists looking to overthrow the government.

The FBI is advising local law enforcement to be prepared for armed protests in all 50 state capitals in the days leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

The warnings comes almost a week after Pro-Trump extremists stormed the U-S Capitol.

Scott, a Republican, said Tuesday people have a right to protest but they should be wary of those planning these events. 

“Don’t be used as a pawn by some of these extreme groups that are planning these protests throughout the nation to undermine our democracy, to overthrow the government,” he said at his bi-weekly press conference.

Law enforcement officials across Vermont say they’re working with federal authorities to gather information about potential demonstrations.   

- Liam Elder-Connors

4. Businesses should prepare to submit applications for new round of PPP loans this week

Gov. Phil Scott says businesses should get ready to again submit applications to the Paycheck Protection Program this week.

Congress set aside around $284 billion for the program in the recent coronavirus stimulus package.

Local banks are responsible for handing out the forgivable loans, andbusiness have to use most of the money to cover payroll costs

Scott says companies will soon be able to apply for funds.

“We recommend that employers contact their bank or credit union and start pulling together the needed financial information, so you’re ready to submit as soon as your institution starts accepting applications,” Scott said Tuesday.

The new round of PPP loans is also available to more businesses.

- Liam Elder-Connors

5. Health Department to release more information about next phase of vaccination in coming days

As the state continues to give COVID-19 vaccines to the initial group of health care workers and nursing home residents, it's also preparing to vaccinate those next in line.

Christine Finley, Vermont's immunization program director, says more information will be provided in the coming days.

“Even in the next week, you should be hearing information. We will make it available on mass media; we will make it available many places,” Finley said. “So, there is no need to call your primary care provider; they have no more information at this point.”

In the initial stages of the vaccination process, the state is focusing on the elderly and those with health conditions. Finley said the department will begin to launch the next phase of vaccinations towards the end of the month.

- Ruby Smith

6. Legislative panel says more funding is needed to tackle bias in Vt. public school curricula

A legislative panel that’s addressing racial bias in the public schools says the state needs to spend more money to really tackle the issue.  Lawmakers set up the Vermont Ethnic and Social Equity Standards Advisory Working Group in 2019 to promote better classroom content on racial and social issues.

Chairwoman Amanda Garces says in order to do that, more funding is needed. The group will ask for $108,000 this year to support their work.

She said the state's Education Quality Standards manual needs to be updated to center ethnic studies and social equity in school curricula.

“We feel like there is still a lot of work to do to get to a place where we really value all students, including students from different ethnic and social backgrounds, and students with disabilities,” Garces said.

Garces said part of the funding will be used to improve teacher training in ethnic and social equity.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

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