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Vermont Reports 102 New COVID-19 Cases

Two coffee drinkers sit outside, with masks, in front of a brick building
Shanta Lee Gander
Outside of Mocha Joes in Brattleboro, two masked customers bundle up to meet for coffee.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, Gov. Phil Scott entering quarantine and newly protected land in the Taconics and more for Tuesday, Jan. 19.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. Gov. Scott enters quarantine after contact tests positive for COVID-19

Gov. Phil Scott is in quarantine and will be tested for COVID-19 after a contractor who attended his last two press conferences tested positive.

In a statement, the governor's office says those measures are being taken "out of an abundance of caution."

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, and other administration officials are also quarantining and will be tested.

State contact tracers are investigating. Scott's office says he will conduct all of his work remotely until further notice.

It is unclear how this will affect a press conference scheduled for Friday, and a budget address scheduled for next week.

Read the full story (and find updates) here.

- Mark Davis

Vermont Department of Health reports 102 new COVID-19 cases

The Vermont Department of Health reported 102 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. Since March, 10,321 people have tested positive for the virus in Vermont.

Chittenden County saw 38 new cases Tuesday, and Windsor County saw 16.

Chittenden County has seen more than 750 new cases in the last two weeks. Forty people are currently being treated for COVID-19 in the hospital, and five are in ICUs.

To date, 163 people have died in Vermont.

- Abagael Giles

A post-holiday case bump appears to be waning

A post-holiday bump in coronavirus cases in Vermont appears to be on the wane.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says daily COVID case counts began to spike after Christmas and New Year’s. 

“Following the rise in cases after the holidays, we can now see that our seven-day case average has slowed and started to decrease, suggesting that the holiday impact we did see is not continuing to fuel new cases,” Pieciak said.

Pieciak says new modeling indicates that case counts will likely remain elevated over the next four weeks.

But he says the state is projected to see a significant drop in daily cases at the end of February.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Vermont is not receiving as many vaccine doses as expected

The state of Vermont isn’t receiving as many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as public health officials had been anticipating.

Gov. Phil Scott says weekly shipments of the vaccine have fallen short of what federal officials previously estimated.

He said Tuesday the unpredictable rollout has complicated planning efforts.

“What’s been part of the problem, is it’s difficult to put together a plan for anything without knowing what the supply is going to be,” Scott said.

Vermont has administered more than 40,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine so far.

The vaccine is currently available only to frontline health care workers, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

But starting next week, Vermonters aged 75 and over will be able to sign up to receive the vaccine.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Vermonters 75 and older will be eligible to sign up for vaccines next week

A significant chunk of Vermont's population is about to become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Starting next week, Vermonters aged 75 and over will be able to sign up for the vaccine.

Gov. Phil Scott said about 49,000 residents fall into that age category.

"With such a limited supply, and an unpredictable supply of vaccine coming to us, we're prioritizing those most likely to die if they contract COVID-19," Scott said.

Administration officials have established a call center to schedule vaccine appointments, but are urging residents to use an online scheduling system so that phone lines don't get overwhelmed.

- Peter Hirschfeld

No known COVID-19 cases associated with bus trip to D.C. insurrection

The bus company that transported 51 Vermonters to a Trump rally in Washington, DC, has apologized for violating Vermont’s coronavirus protocols.

Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Schirling said state police contacted the company to find out why they exceeded capacity limits in the governor’s executive orders. 

“They were unaware of the Vermont restrictions, were quite apologetic, indicated that they would ensure that they follow the capacity restrictions going forward,” Schirling said.

Schirling says the bus company is based in New York. Officials weren’t immediately able to provide the name of the company.

State health officials say they’re unaware of any coronavirus cases connected to the bus trip.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Gov. Scott signs legislation giving towns greater flexibility for Town Meeting Day

Gov. Phil Scott has signed legislation that could change the way Vermonters vote on Town Meeting Day.

Scott says the bill gives needed flexibility to towns that want to minimize residents’ exposure to COVID-19.

“This means they can, if they choose, mail ballots to all registered voters in place of more traditional town meetings, or the typical in-person elections used by many cities and towns,” Scott said.

The new law also allows towns and cities to postpone town meetings until later in the spring.

The governor and the Legislature set aside $2 million recently, to help towns cover the cost of mail-in ballots.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Quebec sees promising COVID-19 case numbers over the weekend

Quebec's daily COVID-19 cases have been climbing since November, but the weekend was the first time in months the province has seen signs the latest wave of the coronavirus may be flattening.

The Montreal Gazette reports Quebec's seven-day average of new cases was more than 2,500 per day in early January, the highest since the start of the pandemic.

But since then, daily cases have dropped, and on Sunday, just 1,600 new cases were reported.

There are still troubling signs in the province: the number of people hospitalized continues to rise, with roughly 1,500 people admitted and more than 200 in the ICU. Quebec sees between 30 and 60 deaths each day from the virus.

Quebec has seen more than 244,000 cases and more than 9,000 COVID deaths since the pandemic began – more than any other province in Canada.

- Matthew Smith

2. Vermont businesses now eligible for new federal COVID-19 relief

The Scott administration is urging Vermont businesses to snag their share of a nine hundred billion dollar COVID relief bill passed by Congress last month.

The legislation includes tax credits, loans and grants for businesses affected by COVID-19.

Tom Lauzon says the state’s Economic Recovery Taskforce will help businesses apply for the aid.

“The governor explained that we needed to touch every business in every corner of Vermont and give them opportunity to get as much relief as they can. That’s exactly what we’re to do,” Lauzon said.

The COVID-19 relief bill contains special allocations for restaurants and lodging businesses.

It also includes $10,000 grants for businesses in economically depressed areas of the state.

- Peter Hirschfeld

3. All three members of Vermont's congressional delegation to attend inauguration in Washington

Despite heightened security around the nation's Capital, all three members of Vermont's congressional delegation are planning to attend the Inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden Wednesday afternoon.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is scheduled to be sworn in as the new President of the Senate later Wednesday, said he feels a responsibility to be at the event.

“I'm the most senior member of the Senate. They've asked us to be there; we'll be there. I feel safe. I feel that they're safe – but the procedures that are being done are extraordinary,” Leahy said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders said he plans to attend the Inauguration to show that "democracy is alive and well in this country."

Sanders said the inauguration of Presidenti-elect Biden will send a signal to the rest of the world, that the democratic form of government remains strong in this country.

Sanders, who has been a frequent critic of outgoing President Donald Trump, thinks the inauguration will serve as an important contrast to the mob insurrection at the Capitol two weeks ago.

"I'm confident that what you're going to have is an inauguration that the people of our country would be proud of, and the people of the world will look at and say, 'Democracy is alive and well in the United States,'" Sanders said.

Meanwhile, Congressman Peter Welch said he'll be there because he feels it's critical that Vermont has full representation at this landmark event.

- Bob Kinzel

4. Dartmouth researcher warns about lingering damage of extremism in the United States

A Dartmouth security researcher says the U.S. must address the extremism and the violent threats surrounding the presidential transfer of power — or things could get worse.

V.S. Subrahmanian is director for Dartmouth’s Institute for Security, Technology and Society.

From studying extremism in other countries, he warns political violence could gain a foothold if it persists.

“Past studies have shown that when about 15-18% of the population starts siding with an extremist ideology, then we can see long-term repercussions and splits among the population as a whole,” Subrahmanian said.

More violence related to the outcome of elections can be avoided, security experts say, but only if Americans make it clear they reject it.

Subrahmanian said studying extremism in other countries shows law enforcement can tamp down on threats, but violence only thrives when a portion of the population supports it.

“What we are seeing in the United States today, is that these violent extremists who have carried out these acts do seem to have some support among a segment of the population,” Subrahmanian said. “And so, we must both fight the actual incidents and plans to carry out attacks, as well as address the root causes underlying some of the phenomena we’re seeing.”

After the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington D.C. left five people dead, state and federal law enforcement officials remain on alert nationwide for threats of potential violence ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Matthew Smith

5. Special commission recommends major changes to state tax system

It appears unlikely that lawmakers will act this year on a new proposal that makes major changes to Vermont tax laws.

A special commission is recommending moving to an education funding system where all homeowners would pay their tax burden based on their income and not the value of their property.

The commission's report also calls for broadening the base of the sales tax to include many services and lowering the rate from six percent to three point six percent.

House Ways and Means chairperson Janet Ancel questions whether 2021 is the year to tackle these issues.

“It's a big piece of work and I think we need to be sure that both bodies want to engage in it, and frankly that the governor does as well, before we invest a great deal of time in it,” Ancel said.

Ancel said it's possible that some parts of the report could be considered individually if there's strong support to take that approach.

Key lawmakers call for major changes to state sales tax

Key lawmakers are calling for a comprehensive discussion of major changes in the state sales tax.

A special commission is recommending that the sales tax base be expanded to include many services and perhaps food products.

If this happens, the commission says the sales tax rate of 6% could be cut almost in half.

House Ways and Means chairperson Janet Ancel noted that Vermont's current sales tax base is quite narrow with many exemptions, and she says eliminating exemptions will draw a lot political opposition.

"As we talk about expanding it, we need to do it in a way that is thoughtful,” Ancel said. “And I can guarantee you that's there's not a sector of the economy that's going to step forward and say, ‘Yeah go ahead and tax what we do.’"

Ancel said the proposal could also have a big impact on towns along the New Hampshire border because that state doesn't have a sales tax.

- Bob Kinzel

6. Stamford parents call for selectboard to move meetings, wear masks

Some Bennington County parents are trying to protect their kids from actions taken by a local selectboard that they say threatens public health.

The Stamford Selectboard holds meetings without masks in the gym at Stamford Elementary School, in defiance of Governor Phil Scott’s COVID-19 health orders.

Ross Ryan has three children in the school. Speaking Friday at a school board meeting, he said the selectboard's actions threaten public health and open the school up to a lawsuit.

“If there was a gas leak in the school, [and you were] aware of the gas leak and allowed children into the school, that would be a liability. And the selectboard, right now, is one big walking gas leak,” Ryan said.

The parents want to move the board’s meeting from Tuesday night to Friday, so the janitor can sanitize the gym before the kids return.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

More from VPR: Stamford Defies Gov.’s COVID Order To Light Town Christmas Tree

7. Vermont Land Trust preserves more than 1,200 acres in the Taconics

The Vermont Land Trust announced last week it'll preserve more than 1,000 acres of land in Southern Vermont’s Taconic Mountains.

The plot may someday prove key to establishing a new public hiking trail.

Much of the newly protected land sits high atop Shaftsbury’s West Mountain, at elevations higher than 2,000 feet.

The 1,200-acre parcel was preserved by sugar maker and forester David Mance and his wife Cheryl. Another smaller parcel near Merck Forest, in Rupert, was also preserved.

The Land Trust says the Shaftsbury parcel's high location and proximity to other large swathes of protected forest would prove essential to any future efforts to establish a new long-distance public hiking path in the region – The Taconic Crest Trail.

Visionaries hope to see the trail run from Shaftsbury to Arlington, and possibly beyond.

- Abagael Giles

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