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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Vermont Officials Report 165 New COVID-19 Cases

A woman in a purple shirt, sitting in a wheelchair, gets a vaccine from a man in scrubs and a mask at a field hospital
University of Vermont Medical Center, Courtesy
Sophie Connors, 105, of Colchester, was one of 160 Vermonters over 75 who received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a UVM Medical Center clinic at the Champlain Valley Expo on Feb. 3. Connors was a toddler during the 1918 flu pandemic.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Thursday, Feb 4.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:

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1. The Vermont Department of Health reports 165 new COVID cases

The Vermont Department of Health reported 165 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday.

Chittenden, Rutland, and Franklin Counties had the highest numbers of new cases, followed by Bennington and Washington Counties.

The total number of cases identified in Vermont has now surpassed 12,500.

Sixty people are hospitalized, including 12 in intensive care. To date, 181 Vermonters have died in the pandemic.

- Anna Van Dine

UVM logs 30 new cases in days before spring semester begins

The University of Vermont saw 30 new COVID-positive cases at the college in the days before the spring semester.

Student newspaper The Vermont Cynic reports 15 cases came from on-campus residential students. About a dozen more were among students living off campus.

One faculty member and one staff member also tested positive.

The Cynic notes the results are from more than 9,000 tests done in late January, as students returned to campus.

- Matthew Smith

2. Vt. Attorney General files lawsuit against OneCare Vermont over accounting records

Vermont’s Attorney General has filed a suit against OneCare Vermont, claiming the organization has refused to make its accounting records available.

OneCare is an accountable care organization charged with working with Vermont providers to stabilize health care costs and improve outcomes.

It distributes money from Medicare, Medicaid and other sources.

The Attorney General’s suit was filed on behalf of State Auditor Doug Hoffer.

Hoffer says OneCare has violated its contract with the state by refusing to provide accounting records; specifically payroll information.

“The contract says if they are asked for this information they shall provide it. It doesn’t say, ‘You get to decide,’ it says, ‘They shall provide it.’ That’s all there is to this,” Hoffer said.

Hoffer said from 2019 to 2020, OneCare’s budget request reflected a dramatic jump in payroll. 

In a statement, OneCare CEO Vicki Loner said the organization has met its obligations and Hoffer’s request is intrusive and unnecessary.

- Steve Zind

3. Sen. Leahy urges Senate to pass Pres. Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package

Sen. Patrick Leahy is urging his colleagues to quickly pass a $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus package proposed by Pres. Joe Biden.

Leahy, who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee, has been reviewing the package with his panel.

Speaking on the Senate floor this week, Leahy said he can't support a scaled back Republican plan because it doesn't meet the needs of the country.

“We need quick action,” Leahy said. “We need a bold, comprehensive plan to fight the virus. We need to get people back to work so our economy can recover. You know, there's greater danger in doing too little than in doing too much." 

Leahy asked his GOP colleagues to support the president's plan but he said the Democrats were prepared to move ahead on their own if they have to.

According to Leahy, thousands of Americans have unnecessarily lost their lives because of the incompetency of the Trump Administration in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leahy said Biden's approach is in stark contrast to the lack of action by president Trump.

“The previous administration's handling of this disease was a monumental, unforgivable failure of leadership,” Leahy said. “Tens-of-thousands of Americans would be alive today if the Trump Administration had done their job." 

Leahy says he's optimistic that Congress will pass the Biden pandemic recovery plan in the next few weeks.

- Bob Kinzel

4. UVM students and faculty push back against proposed programming cuts with teach-in

Students and faculty are continuing to push back on a proposal to cut several majors, minors and graduate programs at UVM’s College of Arts and Sciences, and a group of faculty staged a teach-in Wednesday.

From 9-5, professors lectured via YouTube livestream on the importance of their subject areas. Ilyse Morganstein Fuerst is a professor of religion, and gave the first lecture of the day

“As a state-based land-grant institution, we need possibilities for Vermonters, New Englanders, for international students – everyone who attends UVM – to have access to a liberal arts education that includes being religiously literate,” Morganstein-Fuerst said.

The proposed cuts were announced abruptly in December. University leaders say the cuts are needed due to budget constraints. They threaten programs including the Classics, Religion, and Geology departments.

- Anna Van Dine

5. VHFA director weighs in on Gov. Scott's weatherization proposal

If Gov. Phil Scott gets his way, Vermont will spend $25 million in the next fiscal year to improve energy efficiency in homes and other buildings.

Scott included that proposal in his budget request last week. Much of the money for weatherization projects would go to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency. The agency's leader, Maura Collins, says her organization would stretch those dollars.

"Bonding may be a part of this, where we can take this one-time money from the state and multiply it with private investment, to create a much bigger impact for the state,” Collins said. “Because while $25 million for weatherization is a lot, it's really the beginning of seed money that will prompt a lot more work that needs to be done."

Scott's proposal would also put money toward existing weatherization programs for low-income Vermonters, and toward a program to renovate municipal buildings.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Henry Epp

6. Essex County school district looks to merge across state lines

A committee is working to create what would be the third interstate school district between Vermont and New Hampshire.

The Northern Borders Interstate District would combine Vermont’s Essex North Supervisory Union with New Hampshire’s SAU #7. Essex North has seen a 41% drop in enrollment in the past 15 years, according to data from the Vermont Agency of Education.

Kyle Daley chairs the planning committee. He says combining districts would make education more efficient.

“The rural nature of this area really made that a conversation that we had to have. And, you know, we're hoping that we can do something better for the kids and the taxpayers this way,” Daley said.

The committee hopes to finalize the articles of agreement that would govern the new district by the spring.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Anna Van dine

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