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COVID-19 Vaccine Sign-up Site For Vermonters 75 And Older To Go Live Monday Morning

Phil Scott, Mark Levine and Mike Smith in three windows with a WCAX chyron across the bottom
Gov. Phil Scott, Health Commissioner Mark Levine and Human Services Secretary Mike Smith attend Friday's press briefing remotely after a contractor at two previous pressers tested positive for COVID-19. All three officials have tested negative for COVID.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, a preliminary injunction against Slate Ridge and more for Friday, Jan. 22.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. State reports 174 more COVID cases, another death

State health officials reported 174 new COVID-19 cases and one more virus-related death Friday.

Vermont has now recorded a total of 169 coronavirus fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

The newest cases were clustered in Chittenden County, with 72 new infections, and Bennington County, with 27. There are 43 COVID hospitalizations, including five patients in intensive care.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Friday that Vermont continues to see COVID infection numbers that vary between 100 and 180 new cases a day.

Levine says that comparatively few of these new cases are from known outbreaks, such as those that have hit nursing homes. Instead, he says, people are catching the virus from individuals who have the disease.

“Only one in four had an unknown source of exposure,” he said. “This tells us that, so far, people are more likely to get COVID-19 through close contact with another person who has the virus, and less likely for their infection to be associated with an outbreak.”

Levine says the percent of those tested who are positive remains at 2.5%, the best in the nation.

- Matthew Smith and John Dillon

Human Services Secretary and Public Safety Commissioner test negative for COVID-19 after seven days in quarantine

Two Scott administration officials who were in close contact with a state contractor who tested positive for COVID-19 have exited quarantine.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith and Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling both tested negative today, after seven days in quarantine. They were last exposed to a COVID-positive person on Jan. 15.

Gov. Phil Scott, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, and Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak remain in quarantine. Their last exposure was this past Tuesday, Jan. 19.

- Henry Epp

Vaccine sign-up site to be unveiled Monday

The state will unveil a website Monday morning for Vermonters 75 years and older to sign up for the COVID vaccine.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says the plan is to then start administering the shots Wednesday at 54 locations in 39 towns around Vermont. But he urged Vermonters to be patient with a system that is bound to have some glitches.

“We need your help, and your understanding, to make it successful,” Smith said. “That means helping seniors get registered. And it also means not trying to find ways around the system. We all care for one another. And we all hope that more vaccine will be released, and we can scale up the system to more Vermonters more quickly.”

Smith says people will be able to schedule their second shot when they come in for the first. After Vermonters 75 and older are vaccinated, the state will then open it up to those 70 and older, and then to the 65 and older age group.

- John Dillon

Gov. Phil Scott doesn’t want to get vaccine ahead of older Vermonters

Gov. Phil Scott says he does not want to get the COVID vaccine before any other eligible Vermonter.

Scott and members of his cabinet are in quarantine because he was near a state contractor who tested positive for the virus. But Scott, who is 62, says this potential exposure has not changed his mind about getting the vaccine before older Vermonters receive theirs.

“I'm going to wait until it's my turn,” he said. “If I had my druthers, I would have everyone vaccinated before I had. I'd be the final vaccine shot into the arm of a Vermonter, if I could.”

The state has prioritized administering the vaccine to those 65 and older. With current vaccine supplies, Scott will not get his until 225,000 older Vermonters get their shots.

In the meantime, Scott says being in quarantine has been a valuable learning experience for him and other state officials who faced the same restrictions.

"It's good for us in some respects, because we get to walk in the shoes of others we've asked to do the same thing,” he said.

If Scott tests negative on Tuesday morning, he's then scheduled to deliver his annual budget address to lawmakers on Tuesday afternoon.

- John Dillon and Bob Kinzel

Scott administration rejects teachers’ petition for vaccine priority

The Scott administration is rejecting an effort by the state's teachers to put them in a priority group to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

Several thousand teachers signed an online petition asking for vaccinations if the state is going to pursue a goal of returning most students to school after April break.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says the state has a limited supply of vaccines, and he says the top priority group is people 65 and older, because they have the greatest chance of dying if they get the virus.

"All that I can see is that that strategy would do, would be to totally dilute out our ability to have an impact on any of those groups at the same time, and it would put our older population at even increased risk, to have a strategy that wasn't as focused as we're doing now,” Levine said.

The administration says it is willing to reassess its policies once the top priority groups have been vaccinated. That's expected to take several months.

- Bob Kinzel

Health commissioner “reserved in… enthusiasm” about 100-day federal vaccination effort

President Joe Biden has made a goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in the next 100 days. But Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says he's not overly optimistic that effort will lead to a significant change in the state's ability to vaccinate more residents.

Levine says the new administration is now learning about the plans — or lack thereof — left by the Trump administration for mass vaccinations efforts.

"I'm going to be very reserved in my enthusiasm, because I think they are finding the same thing,” Levine said. “I would expect more clarity and transparency over the next literally one or two weeks, though."

As of earlier this week, Vermont had administered more than 46,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. It has already received close to 80,000 doses.

Read/listen to the full story.

- Henry Epp

N.Y. hospital cancels vaccine appointments as supply dwindles

Vaccine supplies in New York's North Country are dwindling.

WCAX reports state health officials saying the North Country has used 99% of the doses it’s received so far. Just 140 doses remain.

Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh has had to cancel more than 160 first-dose vaccine appointments due to a lack of supply. The hospital says it hasn't received a shipment in nearly two weeks.

New York gets about 250,000 vaccine doses a week for the more than 7 million New Yorkers now eligible for the shot.

- Matthew Smith

2. Judge temporarily prohibits Daniel Banyai from holding classes, firearms training at Slate Ridge

A Vermont Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction Thursday, prohibiting a West Pawlet man from holding classes or firearms training activities at the property known as Slate Ridge.

Daniel Banyai has been operating a military-style training facility on the site since 2017 without local or state permits, and the town had taken him to court.

Pawlet’s attorney Merrill Bent told VPR that Thursday’s ruling is only a preliminary order. The judge has yet to rule on the town’s demand to make it permanent and require Banyai to remove unpermitted buildings and pay the town fines and legal costs.

- Nina Keck

More from VPR: Despite Act 250 Complaints, ‘No One Is Actively Investigating’ Slate Ridge Shooting Range

3. Report: Vt. candidates of color "threatened with violence, harassed"

The electoral landscape in Vermont this past year was in some cases hostile to candidates of color. That’s according to a new report from Vermont Director of Racial Equity Xusana Davis, which she shared with lawmakers this week.

“We have heard of people being threatened with violence, harassed, and in their minds, it appeared as if there was no recourse,” Davis said.

Davis added a racial equity task force interviewed numerous people of color who ran for office in 2020. And she said many candidates recounted harrowing experiences on the campaign trail.

Davis issued a report to lawmakers this week that urges them to address root causes of racial disparities in Vermont.

- Peter Hirschfeld

4. Bill would require African American history course for Vt. teaching license

A South Burlington lawmaker has introduced a bill to require a college course in African American history to be licensed as a teacher in the state.

Rep. Maida Townsend, a retired teacher, introduced the bill last week, the Rutland Heraldreports.

The bill has support from the Vermont-NEA teachers union and the Rutland branch of the NAACP.

- Associated Press

5. Vermont National Guard cavalry squadron to be first in Guard history to recruit women

Vermont National Guard cavalry squadron will be the first in Guard history to recruit women.

The Vermont Guard's 1st Squadron, 172nd Cavalry, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team can now recruit women directly into the unit.

Combat roles have been open to women since 2016. Women could transfer into combat units, but couldn’t enlist directly until the squadron met certain requirements, like putting women in leadership roles.

Adjutant General Greg Knight told Vermont Editionin December the change is historic.

"We may be the first state to open a battalion-sized unit to the recruitment of women into combat arms,” Knight said. “So that'll be a first in the nation."

This change comes as the Guard continues to respond to reports of sexual misconduct and gender discrimination.

The Guard had six reports of sexual assault in 2020, and some former Guard members have spoken out about its male-dominated culture.

- Matthew Smith

6. Court upholds ruling in favor of former Milton High School student in sexual assault case

A former Milton High School student has emerged victorious in a civil lawsuit against the Milton Town School District after years of litigation.

The St. Albans Messenger reports the suit ended last week after the Vermont Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling in favor of the former student.

A jury in 2019 ordered the district to pay more than $460,000 dollars for failing to protect the then-14-year-old student athlete from a sexual assault that occurred during an off-campus football team dinner in 2012.

The district appealed, arguing it had no duty to protect a student at an off-campus team function that didn't involve its employees.

Since the issue is one of state law, the Vermont Supreme Court's ruling can't be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

- Matthew Smith

7. President fires Vermont attorney from National Labor Relations Board

As one of his first actions upon moving into the White House, President Joe Biden has fired a Vermont-based attorney from the National Labor Relations Board.

Peter Robb is from Windham County, and he was appointed by former President Donald Trump to the labor board in 2017.

Biden asked Robb to resign within hours of the inauguration, and when he refused, the president fired him.

According to theonline news publication Bloomberg Law, it was the first time a president forced out a general counsel on the NLRB since 1950.

The report said Robb “pushed an aggressive, pro-business agenda at the labor board.”

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

8. Canada Governor General resigns after reports of overseeing toxic environment

Canada's Governor General Julie Payette resigned Thursday after a government report found she oversaw a toxic environment and contributed to workplace harassment at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

The job of governor general is a mostly ceremonial position that represents the British monarch as Canada's symbolic head of state.

An investigation from the Canadian Broadcasting Company six months ago spurred a government review of Payette.

After reviewing the report, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Payette, and she offered to resign. In a statement, she apologized for "tensions" at Rideau Hall.

Originally from Montreal, Payette is an astronaut, a pilot, and an engineer. Her resignation marks her as one of Canada’s shortest-reigning governors general. She was appointed in 2017.

- Matthew Smith

9. Meme mitten maker: "Sometimes you just feel inspired to give somebody something"

The now-viral mittens worn by Sen. Bernie Sanders at President Joe Biden's inauguration this week were made by a Vermont schoolteacher.

Jen Ellis teaches second grade in Westford. She makes mittens out of repurposed sweaters and fleece.

She's been enjoying the memes, but she hopes the bigger lesson in the mittens is one of generosity and joy.

“I gave those mittens to Bernie Sanders, and I didn't expect anything in return, and what has come back to me has been so funny and joyful and positive,” Ellis said. “And so I hope that that's the lesson people take, that sometimes you just feel inspired to give somebody something, and you don't know what that means to them, or what will happen next.”

Ellis says she isn't planning to get into the mitten business: She's happy teaching second grade.

- Anna Van Dine

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