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State Officials Clarify Vaccination Priorities Through The First 225,000 Doses

Packed snow on a tree reads LOVE with a heart against a frozen river
Matthew Smith
In Winooski, a snowy message of hope.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, impeachment and more for Wednesday, Jan. 13.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 118 new COVID-19 cases

The Vermont Department of Health on Wednesday reported 118 new cases of COVID-19. Since March, 9,368 people have tested positive for the disease.

Chittenden County recorded 38 new cases, and Windsor County had 26.

Chittenden County has logged 678 new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks alone.

Currently, 48 people are hospitalized with the disease, including eight in intensive care.

To date, 158 people have died in Vermont.

- Abagael Giles

2. Scott Administration has identified the first 225,000 Vermonters to receive COVID-19 vaccines

The Scott Administration is working on a plan to establish mass vaccination sites throughout Vermont as soon as the state receives additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Speaking to lawmakers, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said his office has identified several locations where large numbers of Vermonters can be vaccinated on a daily basis.

“Whether it's in a mall, whether it's in a Champlain Valley Fairground, whether it's in another large setting that you can line a lot of people up in, have a big parking lot etc. – we have identified a whole bunch of those in different regions of the state,” Levine said Wednesday.

Levine says his office has also asked the Trump Administration to significantly increase the number of doses the state is scheduled to receive in the coming weeks.

Additionally, the administration has identified the first 225,000 Vermonters to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

Speaking to lawmakers Wednesday, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the top priority group is people 75-and-older and front line healthcare workers.

The second group is people 70-and-older and the third group is people 65 and older.

This represents roughly 125,000 Vermonters.

Levine said the decision is based on a policy of keeping Vermonters alive.

“A majority of deaths of COVID in our state are occurring in people over 65, so that data has informed us tremendously about our approach to the virus,” Levine said.

The health commissioner says the next priority group will be people with serious chronic conditions under the age of 65. The commissioner says there are roughly 100,000 people in this group.

Health commissioner says teachers will not be prioritized at this time

Vermont teachers want to get the COVID-19 vaccine soon, but Levine said the state still plans to prioritize older and more vulnerable Vermonters first.

Testifying Wednesday before three legislative committees, Levine said teachers have a low rate of infection. He said their positivity rate -- the percentage of those tested who are positive -- is one-tenth that of the statewide population.

"And I would love to be able to reward them for that, move them to the front of the line," he said. "But we've got to get through this higher priority, as I said, of saving lives first."

- Bob Kinzel

3. U.S. House votes to impeach Pres. Donald Trump

As the U.S. House voted Wednesday to impeach Pres. Trump, Vermont Congressman Peter Welch joined the members of his party and ten Republicans in supporting the motion and urging his colleagues to join him.

“If we want unity, we must have accountability,” Welch said. “So the question before this Congress [is] – will Congress condone through acquiescence or condemn through impeachment Donald Trump's violent acts to overturn the election. Congress must impeach."

The impeachment resolution now goes to the Senate where its future is uncertain.

Follow NPR’s live coverage here.

- Bob Kinzel

4. Vermont educators warn COVID-19 has exacerbated inequity in education

Educators from around Vermont say the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed inequities but also highlighted opportunities in the state's public school system.

Principals and superintendents testified Wednesday before the Vermont House Education Committee, saying schools made gigantic leaps forward with remote learning technology during the pandemic.

However, educators said some students lack Internet access, or face food insecurity at home.

Julie Regimbal is superintendent of the Missisquoi Valley School District. She said inequity has been a challenge for educators.

“The biggest challenge – just by far – that we face in this pandemic is the unequal access that students have had to high-quality instruction, despite, honestly, the very best efforts of our talented educators,” Regimbal said. “Teachers have put into place some really very rigorous learning experiences for students. Yet in the end we have more children who are not attending, or are attending very infrequently.”

And Regimbal says not all students – especially those with special needs – have adapted to remote learning.

School officials told lawmakers Wednesday that some students are falling behind, as the pandemic keeps them out of classrooms and broadband inequities prevent remote learning.

Chris Young, principal of Newport's North Country High School, which serves 700 students in the Northeast Kingdom, said the school has lost contact with some students who have "ghosted."

"And we're estimating [that] somewhere in the 10-15% [range] of our student population falls into that category," Young said. "And it's just really... it's heartbreaking that students are not accessing any educational services right now. We know that students rely on being physically in the building for mental health services, direct instruction."

Other educators told the House Education Committee that they want to get students back full time, as soon as possible, but that school staff should get vaccinated first.

- John Dillon

5. Vermont State Police trooper resigns amid investigation into support for insurrection

A Vermont State Police trooper has resigned amid an investigation into social media posts that appear to support the insurrection in Washington, DC last week.

In a written statement, Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said that Sergeant Lucas Hall’s “unconditional resignation” was accepted Tuesday night.

Hall was suspended last week without pay, after state police received reports that Hall wrote social media posts that appeared to supported the riot at the US Capitol and advocated for the insurgency to continue.

Hall quit before the end of the probe into the alleged posts, but Schirling said the investigation will be sent to the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council. That group will consider possible sanctions, including taking away Hall’s law enforcement certification.

- Liam Elder-Connors

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