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Vermont Officials Report 113 New COVID Cases

Two women in masks outside with books
Abagael Giles
/
VPR
Lawrence Memorial Library director Coco Moseley, left, helps librarian Marita Bathe Schine stock the outdoor checkout bin with hand-labeled books for patrons to pick up on Jan. 25. Bristol's library is also custom-building activity bags for kids.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, a data breach at the Vermont Department of Labor and more for Monday, Feb 1.

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1. Vermont officials report 113 new COVID cases, death toll at 175

Vermont passed 12,000 COVID-19 cases Monday, after a weekend of triple-digit daily cases and several new deaths.

The total number of pandemic-related fatalities in Vermont is now 175.

Health officials reported 113 new coronavirus infections Monday, on top of the nearly 300 new cases over the weekend.

There are now 60 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including six in the ICU.

Most of Monday's new infections were in Chittenden County, with 30 new cases. There were also 17 cases in Rutland County with 13 in Bennington County.

- Matthew Smith

Gov. says vaccinating at-risk population will lead to quicker economy re-opening

Gov. Phil Scott says he plans to reopen the Vermont economy well before the state achieves herd immunity through mass COVID-19 vaccinations.

Scott says that once older Vermonters receive the vaccine, the risk posed by virus transmission will diminish significantly.

“Vaccinating those most at risk first will not only save lives and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed, but this will allow us to open up our economy quicker too,” he said.

Nearly 50,000 Vermonters have already received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And another 32,000 residents are scheduled for immunizations over the next five weeks.

- Peter Hirscheld

Ski towns experiencing higher rates of COVID infections

Ski towns like Manchester, Winhall, Killington and Dover are experiencing higher rates of COVID-19 infections.

The governor’s decision to vaccinate ski patrollers along with other first responders – ahead of teachers or grocery clerks – angered some. But Kevin Glassman, a volunteer patroller at Stratton Mountain, says with so many out-of-state visitors on the slopes, he’s grateful.

"Our interaction and our face to face is no different than an EMS worker on an ambulance or a police or fire fighter that has to take care of a critically injured patient in an accident,” Glassman said. “And now that patrollers have been given access to the vaccine, everybody feels a lot more protected."

Last month, Hunter Mountain in New York had to close for several days when members of its ski patrol tested positive for COVID-19.

Read/hear the full story.

- Nina Keck

Canada passes 20,000 COVID deaths

Canada passed a mournful milestone over the weekend, surpassing 20,000 deaths nationwide from the coronavirus pandemic.

That news comes as Quebec saw encouraging developments in its fight with the virus, reporting the province's lowest seven-day average of new cases since November.

Despite that development, the Montreal GazettereportsQuebec Sunday reported 1,200 new COVID-19 cases and 30 more deaths.

Province-wide, Quebec has seen just under 9,800 deaths from the virus. Hospitalizations remain high, at more than 1,100 people in Quebec, including nearly 200 in intensive care.

- Matthew Smith

Rutland County senators request homeless shelter workers be prioritized for vaccine

Vermont's three Rutland County senators are asking Gov. Phil Scott to put workers at homeless shelters on the state's vaccination priority list.

The Rutland Heraldreports the bipartisan group of senators Joshua Terenzini, Cheryl Hooker and Brian Collamore sent a letter to the governor last week asking for shelter workers to be prioritized.

According to the Open Door Mission shelter and soup kitchen in Rutland City, they're sleeping at more than 70% capacity while also preparing and delivering hot meals to 50 local families.

The executive director of the mission says COVID cases at the shelter would eliminate those meals and could shut the shelter down completely.

- Matthew Smith

2. Vt. Department of Labor inadvertently sends personal information to wrong recipients

The Vermont Department of Labor has inadvertently exposed the social security numbers of some people who received unemployment benefits last year.

Commissioner of Labor Michael Harrington says his department apparently sent 1099 tax forms to the wrong people.

“The department has already been in contact with the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, in accordance with state statute, and we will be providing all impacted individuals with the option to enroll in ID protection services,” Harrington said.

He added he doesn’t know yet how many Vermonters may have had their personal information sent to the wrong address. He says the state is now working to retrieve 1099s that were sent in error.

- Peter Hirschfeld

3. Vermont teachers union asks Scott administration to vaccinate teachers before full return to in-person learning

Vermont's teachers union is asking the Scott administration to ensure that all educators can be vaccinated before the state hopes to transition to full in-person learning in the springl.

Don Tinney is the president of the Vermont-NEA. He says currently, a fair number of schools are using a hybrid model that allows students to come to school a couple of days a week.

The Scott administration is hoping to move back to a full-time schedule in mid-April. In order for that to happen, Tinney says teachers must first have the opportunity to be vaccinated.

"So you want to make sure that your workforce is available, and in this pandemic, one approach to making sure the work force is available is to make sure they're vaccinated against the virus,” Tinney said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the reserve supply of some key educational staff, including substitute teachers and substitute bus drivers.Tinney says one of the reasons why he's pushing so hard to have school personnel vaccinated is that these kinds of employee shortages could undermine efforts to bring most students back into the classroom.

"Those students aren't going to be able to get to school, because we have virtually no substitute school bus drivers,” he said. “So transportation is an incredibly important part of the school district, because it guarantees equal access to all students. "

The teachers hope to meet with the administration about this issue later this week.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: 'We Can't Get Subs': Sub Shortage May Cause Schools To Go Remote

4. West Pawlet shooting range owner, neighbor both running for select board

Two people at the center of an ongoing dispute around a West Pawlet shooting range are now both running for a seat on the town's select board.

Danial Banyai owns the Slate Ridge firearm and training facility. He's clashed with the town for years, as town officials say the facility operates without the necessary permits.

The Manchester Journalreports Banyai has now filed to run for a one-year seat on the Pawlet select board.

Also seeking a seat is Banyai's neighbor and critic of the Slate Ridge facility, Rich Hulett.

A Vermont Superior Court Judge issued a preliminary injunction last month that prohibits Banyai from holding classes or firearms training at Slate Ridge. The judge has yet to rule on the town’s demand to permanently close the facility.

- Matthew Smith

5. State treasurer, state employees both interested in a solution to keep state's pension fund solvent

Last month, State Treasurer Beth Pearce submitted a proposal to reduce retirement benefits for state employees and teachers to the Legislature in order to keep the state's pension fund solvent.

Pearce told Vermont Edition Monday any changes have to be the result of a collaborative discussion between the Legislature, the treasurer’s office, the Vermont-NEA and the VSEA.

“Teachers are on the frontline, state workers are on the frontline, they're doing terrific work,” she said. “But I want to have security for them, in the future for the next generation of teachers, the next generation of state employees and the generation after that.”

Without a solution, the state will need to pay an extra $96 million a year to close gap between what it owes people who have paid into the pension system, and what it is going to be able to pay.

Aimee Towne, president of the Vermont State Employees' Association, told Vermont Edition that while her union members are not in support of this proposal, they would be more inclined to make other adjustments in order to keep their pension benefits.

"The majority of our members seem willing to pay more, contribute more to their pension,” Towne said. “I think people understand that they are paying more and investing in themselves."

Both the VSEA and the teachers union, the Vermont-NEA, are in support of the state looking to the wealthy instead of the union members to keep the pension fund solvent.

Hear the full conversation.

- Emily Aiken

6. After brief hospital visit last week, Leahy "feels great"

Sen. Patrick Leahy says he "feels great" and has no lingering symptoms of a health problem that took place last week.

Last Tuesday afternoon, Leahy told members of his staff that he wasn't feeling well and was suffering from muscle spasms. The chief Capitol physician examined Leahy and sent him to the hospital for a series of tests.

Following that evaluation, it was determined that Leahy was well enough to go home.

"I feel great,” Leahy said. “I was home by 8:30 that evening, and that's as early as I normally get home anyway. They were being overly cautious. I would have been happy to just gone home."

As president pro tem of the Senate, Leahy is third in line for presidential succession behind Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Leahy thinks popular vote, not Electoral College, should determine presidential election

Sen. Patrick Leahy no longer thinks the Electoral College should be used to elect the president. Instead, Leahy says the election should be determined by a national popular vote.

Leahy, who now serves as the president pro tem of the Senate and is third in line for presidential succession, points to the 2016 election when Democrat Hillary Clinton received almost 3 million more votes than Republican Donald Trump, but Trump prevailed in the Electoral College.

"My thinking has evolved on this,” Leahy said. “Originally, it was all for the Electoral College/ Now I think not. The Electoral College has not reflected the will of the people in several elections. No, I think we should go to a popular vote."

It would take a constitutional amendment to formally change the election process.

- Bob Kinzel

7. Snowfall to start Monday night, last through Tuesday

The National Weather Service says heavy snowfall is expected across the state beginning Monday night.

Conor Lahiff is a meteorologist with the agency's Burlington office.

“We're looking at a long-duration event,” Lahiff said. “The majority of the snowfall from the state is going to really be from tonight through Tuesday, with lingering snow showers going into Tuesday night and Wednesday. By the time we get into the middle of Wednesday, most of those snow showers will be confined to the northern mountains.”

Forecasters say southern Vermont should expect 6-8 inches of snowfall Monday night, and should prepare for snowy roads Tuesday morning.

For central and northern Vermont, the majority of snow will fall during the day on Tuesday.

- Ruby Smith

8. Numerous Vt. towns, cities to take up recreational marijuana sales on Town Meeting Day

A number of Vermont's towns and cities will decide on Town Meeting Day whether they'll allow businesses to sell recreational marijuana.

Among the communities considering the issue are Middlebury, Winooski, Bennington, Pownal, Lyndon and St. Johnsbury.

Recreational marijuana has been legal in Vermont since 2018. A bill that passed into law last year legalized the sale of cannabis starting in 2022.

But first, cities and towns have to vote whether to allow sales within their borders. Approval would allow businesses to seek a state license to sell or cultivate cannabis.

- Associated Press

9. Snowboarder found after spending Sunday night lost on Killington Mountain

A snowboarder lost on Killington Mountain Sunday has been found safe after spending a night out in subzero temperatures.

Vermont State Police from the Rutland barracks say 49-year-old Raymond Park was snowboarding at Killington when he went out of bounds.

Police say Park spent hours trying to return to the trail, and sent his GPS location to a friend just before his cell phone lost power.

Police were alerted he was missing around 3 o'clock Sunday morning. They located Park in good condition about five hours later.

- Matthew Smith

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Correction 9:55 a.m. 02/02/2021 An earlier version of this story misstated the pension fund gap was $96 million. The state would actually have to pay $96 million extra per year in order to close the gap. 

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