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Gov. Scott, Commissioners Levine And Pieciak Test Negative For COVID-19

Gov. Phil Scott at a podium.
Peter Hirschfeld
VPR File
On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott tested negative for the coronavirus, seven days following his last potential exposure to a person who tested positive for the disease. He is shown here speaking at an event, prior to the pandemic.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus more for Tuesday, Jan. 23.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. Sen. Patrick Leahy hospitalized Tuesday evening

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy was hospitalized Tuesday evening after he reported not feeling well while in his office at the U.S. Capitol. That's according to a statement from Leahy's spokesperson.

Vermont's senior senator was examined by the Capitol physician and referred to the hospital "out of an abundance of caution." As of Tuesday evening, Leahy was under observation.

The news comes after Leahy was sworn in as the presiding officer in former president Donald Trump's second impeachment trial Tuesday.

Leahy, who serves as the president pro tem of the Senate, was selected after Chief Justice John Roberts declined to take the post. Roberts presided at Trump's first impeachment trial.

Wearing a mask in a packed Senate chamber, Leahy administered the impeachment oath to the Senate's 99 other senators.

The impeachment trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 8.

Read the full story here.

- Bob Kinzel and Henry Epp

2. Gov. Scott tests negative for COVID-19

Gov. Phil Scott has tested negative for COVID-19, seven days after his last possible exposure to the disease.

Scott was in quarantine after a person who attended his Jan. 15 and Jan. 19 COVID-19 press briefings later tested positive for the coronavirus. The negative test result ends the governor's quarantine.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine and Commissioner of Financial Regulation Mike Pieciak also tested negative and are feeling well. Scott's office announced the test results on Tuesday evening.

"I want to thank Vermonters for their expressions of support over the past week, as members of my team and I quarantined, in accordance with Vermont Health Department guidelines," Scott said Tuesday.

All close contacts within the Scott Administration have now tested negative on day seven of their quarantine, with no symptoms.

In a statement, Scott's office reported that no one in attendance at the two coronavirus briefings where Scott and other administration officials were exposed has tested positive.

- Abagael Giles

3. Vt. reports 115 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Vermont health officials reported 115 new COVID-19 infections Tuesday.

It's the twenty-second day in a row Vermont has reported more than 100 daily cases.

Washington County had most of the new infections with 37, followed by Chittenden County with 23.

The number of Vermonters hospitalized with the disease remains at 50 today, including six people in the ICU.

- Matthew Smith

Health department says interpreters speaking 12 languages are available to help Vermonters register for vaccination

The COVID-19 vaccine registration system for Vermonters aged 75 and older went live Monday

For Vermonters who do not speak English and need assistance in making a vaccine appointment, language interpreters are standing by to help Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan says translators can be reached using the state’s vaccine phone hotline: 855-722-7878.

“If you call the line, one of the first questions will be asking you if you need any assistance because English is not your first language,” Dolan said. “If you push that button, then you will get access to interpreters of the language that you need.”

Interpreters are available in more than a dozen languages, the state says.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Ruby Smith

Governor, health commissioner and commissioner of financial regulation await final test results

Three state officials, including Governor Phil Scott, will be tested again for COVID-19 Tuesday, after being exposed recently at the state's twice-weekly coronavirus press briefings.

The governor's office says Scott, Health Commissioner Mark Levine and Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak were tested Tuesday, seven days following their last exposure to an individual who tested positive for the virus.

If they test negative, they will end their quarantines.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith and Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling tested negative Friday after quarantining for a week.

- Brittany Patterson

Norwich University works to contain outbreak at Northfield campus

Norwich University is working to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 on its Northfield campus.

The college announced Monday night it had identified 66 positive cases. Another 59 students are in quarantine after potential exposure or because they were showing symptoms.

The cases were found two days after the university lifted restrictions to allow more activities on campus. Classes started remotely earlier this month and in-person instruction was set to resume on Feb. 1.

Norwich President Mark Anarumo said the infection rate on case is "unreasonably high."

“We're going to have to correct it very quickly or we will be at risk of not being able to have an in-person semester as we had planned,” he said.

Anarumo said campus-wide restrictions are back in place and students must remain in their rooms.

- Liam Elder-Connors

New Hampshire will no longer make nonresidents eligible for COVID-19 vaccines

New Hampshire has updated its vaccination plans, and nonresident are no longer eligible for the shot.

Earlier rules would have allowed anyone who owned property in New Hampshire, including second homeowners and out-of-state landlords, to get vaccinated in the state.

But after backlash, the state updated its guidance to say only residents are eligible.

Residency must be proven with documentation like a driver’s license or a recent payroll check.

- Brittany Patterson

Vermont gets funding for new study about preventing the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation

More than $500,000 will go to a pilot project on Vermont public busses to test light-based air filters designed to improve air quality and protect against the coronavirus.

The Rutland Herald reports the Federal Transit Authority will pay to install the devices, test the air on the buses and conduct a survey on one of Vermont's eight public transit providers.

The selected bus provider will get nearly 60 ultraviolet light filters, the same technology used for disinfection in the medical field and wastewater treatment.

The project aims to boost rider confidence, and reduce the need for manual cleaning and spraying, during the pandemic.

- Matthew Smith

4. Gov. Scott's budget proposal includes $100 million to shore up pension funds

The budget proposal unveiled by Gov. Phil Scott Tuesday includes an additional $100 million to shore up pension funds for teachers and state employees.

But Scott says Vermont will still have to make serious reforms to retirement benefits in order to keep pension funds solvent. 

“As we face this growing and unsustainable burden, I want to thank Treasurer Pearce for her courage to take this issue on, because we all know we must do something,” Scott said.

Earlier this month, State Treasurer Beth Pearce recommended significant reductions in pension benefits for future retirees.

Pearce says rising pension costs, and lower fund returns, are threatening the solvency of the public pension system.

Budget proposal includs $20 million infusion for state colleges

Gov. Phil Scott’s budget proposal includes a $20 million infusion for Vermont state colleges.

But Scott said during his budget address on Tuesday that the college system will still have to find a way to get its fiscal house in order.

“Because this is a one-year bridge, with one-time funding, and we know this level of funding is not sustainable,” Scott said.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated long-running revenue shortfalls in the state college system.

The colleges narrowly avoided the closure of two campuses last spring, after lawmakers allocated nearly $30 million in emergency funding.

Scott’s proposal includes funding for brownfield cleanup, weatherization of Vermont homes, outdoor recreation, broadband, tourism among other entities.

- Peter Hirschfeld

5. Unemployment for December was at 3.1%, but some industries saw jobs decline

The latest Labor Department numbers show Vermont's statewide unemployment is up just one-tenth of a percent compared to November. But some industries are faring better than others.

Despite challenges brought on by COVID-19, Vermont’s December unemployment rate was 3.1% less than half the national average of 6.7%

Statewide, 1,100 jobs were lost from November to December. However, construction, private education services and utilities all gained jobs.

Among the hardest hit industries were lodging + food services, which saw employment decline by 9% in December alone. Compared to a year ago (Dec. 2019), employment in those sectors is down by nearly 45%.

The report also says that although Vermont's unemployment rate is relatively low, it doesn't take into account the nearly 20,000 Vermonters who exited the labor force in 2020, either temporarily or permanently.

- Abagael Giles

6. Group calls on Vt. newsrooms to address gender bias, lack of diversity in coverage and staff

More than 50 Vermont leaders in business, nonprofits, and politics sent a letter Monday to newsrooms in the state, calling on them to address gender bias in their coverage.

Rhoni Basden is executive director of the nonprofit Vermont Works for Women, and a signer of the "Vermont Has Her Back" letter.

She says news outlets continue to use sexist language that diminishes women--and such language was on full display in the last election.

"We want fair reporting, [for news outlets] to evaluate candidates and elected officials really based on the merits of the policies that they're presenting and the quality of their character, and not assumptions made because of their gender,” Basden said. “So that goes along with, yes, [problematic] reporting about their clothing, or their skin, or even some of their mannerisms."

The letter also calls for greater diversity in Vermont newsrooms – both among reporters, and among the voices featured in news stories.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Matthew Smith

Hartford Selecboard member resigns, citing bigotry and the safety of her family

A member of the Hartford selectboard, has resigned, saying she's exhausted by the blatant bigotry in the Upper Valley.

Alicia Barrow, who’s Black, sent a letter to the Hartford Selectboard Friday saying she had to consider the safety and wellbeing of her family, and of herself, and that she no longer felt welcome in the place where she’s lived for the past fifteen years.

Barrow said she was resigning immediately to give residents a chance to elect a new board member on Town Meeting Day.

Hartford formed a committee on Racial Equity and Inclusion in 2017, after a former selectboard member sent a racist cartoon depicting President Barack Obama.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

7. Dartmouth scholar of health equity says vaccine rollout should address racial disparities in COVID-19 infections

Black Vermonters are more than six times more likely to contract COVID-19 than white Vermonters.

Anne Sosin, program director for the Dartmouth Center for Global Health Equity, told Vermont Edition that disparity has to be a top priority in distributing the coronavirus vaccine.

“We need to talk about structural racism – and not race – and the ways in which that shapes vulnerability, and the really extraordinary disparities that we see in infection rates and death,” Sosin said.

Alongside addressing structural racism, Sosin said that focusing on community centered institutions such as health care centers and schools, are important components of pandemic relief.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Ruby Smith

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