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News Roundup: Vermont Department Of Health Reports 115 New COVID-19 Cases

A chalk drawing of a family wearing masks and hiking gear on the Woodstock Town Smiler.
Sarah Priestap
Woodstock artist Adrian Tan's chalk drawing of a family hiking with masks adorns the Woodstock Town Smiler on Feb. 26.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the next groups to be prioritized for vaccination and more for Wednesday, March 3.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. Vermont Department of Health reports 115 new COVID-19 cases

Health officials reported 115 new COVID-19 cases across Vermont Wednesday.

Of those cases, 35 were in Orleans County. This marks the largest number of new cases in a single day that the Northeast Kingdom county has seen in the pandemic so far.

Another 29 new infections were also announced in Chittenden County.

Hospitalizations fell to 23, including five in the ICU.

More than 107,000 Vermonters – nearly 20% of the eligible population over the age of 16 – have now gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

Outbreak at Newport prison grows to 137 cases

A COVID-19 outbreak at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport has grown to 137 cases, after corrections officials announced more than 100 new cases at the prison Tuesday.

Now a total of 10 staff and 127 inmates are infected, making it the largest coronavirus outbreak in a Vermont prison since the pandemic began.

The outbreak began last month after one staffer and 21 inmates tested positive.

Corrections officials say the Newport facility remains on full lockdown as contact tracing continues. The entire facility will be tested again tomorrow, Thursday March 4.

- Matthew Smith

More from Vermont Edition: Vermont Defender General On COVID-19 Outbreak At Northern State Correctional Facility

2. Health officials say Johnson & Johnson vaccine approval key to Vt.'s ability to expand vaccination efforts

Health officials in Vermont say FDA approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will substantially increase the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses coming to the state.

Vermont currently has the capacity to administer about twenty thousand doses of the vaccine per week.

Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine says he expects that number to jump by more than 50% by the beginning of April.

“This third vaccine will be a game changer, so that more of us can vaccinated more quickly – our pathway out of this pandemic,” Levine said.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is less effective than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines when it comes to preventing moderate cases of COVID-19.

But Levine says the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 100% effective at preventing hospitalization and death.

- Peter Hirschfeld

More from Vermont Edition: Health Commissioner Discusses Johnson & Johnson Vaccine, Vt.’s Vaccination Strategy

Roman Catholic Diosece of Burlington tells parishioners to avoid new Johnson & Johnson vaccine

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington is suggesting that parishioners avoid getting the newly available Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine if they can receive one of the other available vaccines instead. 

In a statement issued Monday, the diocese pointed to Johnson & Johnson’s use of cell lines derived from abortions to make its vaccine.

It calls the Johnson & Johnson vaccine ‘morally compromised.’

Similar statements have been issued by Catholic diocese officials around the country.

The Washington Post reports that the statements appear at odds with the approach taken by the Vatican and Pope Francis. The paper says in December, the Vatican gave its approval to vaccines that have used fetal tissue cell lines from abortions in research and production.

- Steve Zind

3. Homebound older Vermonters who haven't been contacted for a vaccine appt. can schedule one Friday

Homebound seniors who haven’t yet received a COVID-19 vaccine can make an appointment with the Department of Health starting on Friday.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said Tuesday home health agencies are already scheduling vaccines for their homebound patients.

But he said seniors who don’t get services from those health care organizations will need to make their own appointments.

“If you are homebound and have not been contacted, please call the vaccine call center,” Smith said.

You can also register here.

Smith says health care providers will travel to seniors’ homes to administer the vaccine.

More than 106,000 Vermonters have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

- Peter Hirschfeld

4. Vt. National Guard to assist with expanded vaccination efforts starting next week

Gov. Phil Scott is mobilizing the Vermont National Guard to assist in the state’s vaccination rollout.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said Tuesday guard members planned to hold their first vaccination clinic Wednesday.

“They will administer vaccines in South Burlington at the Doubletree Hotel, and starting next week their efforts will expand to Barre and Springfield,” Smith said Tuesday.

Smith said the National Guard will stand up more clinics as Vermont’s vaccination supply increases.

Vermont currently has the capacity to administer 20,000 doses of vaccine a week.

Smith says capacity will ramp up to 35,000 doses a week by the beginning of April.

Child care providers, staff at schools eligible for vaccines next week, with help of National Guard

Childcare providers and staff at schools will become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine next week.

But they won’t be able to get immunized through the state’s normal vaccination program.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith says the Vermont Department of Health will be setting up special vaccination clinics for school staff and childcare providers.

“EMS, Department of Health staff, Vermont National Guard and school nurses will be on site at vaccination clinics, school districts or in smaller schools to assist with this effort,” Smith said Tuesday.

Smith says teachers and other school staff can also schedule appointments at Walgreens and Kinney Drugs.

He said the state likely won’t be able to vaccinate all school staff and childcare providers until the middle of April.

Meanwhile, frontline workers at grocery stores and other essential retail businesses will have to wait.

Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine said Tuesday, employees in retail settings can usually minimize their risk of contracting the coronavirus.

“They still do work in an environment where there can be physical distancing – there is supposed to be –and there generally has been good adherence to masking,” Levine said. “And the facilities are generally large enough so that being in a crowded part is not much of an issue.”

Gov. Phil Scott says vaccinating teachers and other school staff will expedite the return to fulltime in-person learning.

Scott says virtual learning is taking a toll on students’ social and emotional wellbeing.

- Peter Hirschfeld

More from Vermont Edition: The State Has Expanded Vaccination To Include Select Professions. Here’s What You Should Know

5. Vermonters with select medical conditions will soon be eligible for vaccination

The wait for a COVID-19 vaccine is nearly over for Vermonters with certain high-risk medical conditions.

During the Scott administration’s COVID-19 media briefing Tuesday, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Vermonters with diabetes, heart disease, COPD and other eligible conditions will be able to sign up for the vaccine starting next week.

“We’re glad to be that much closer to protecting these Vermonters who, as the data shows, are at higher risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19,” Levine said.

The full list of eligible conditions, which includes people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities, is available on the Department of Health website.

Levine says about 75,000 Vermonters below the age of 65 fall into the high risk category.

Because there are 75,000 people in this group, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said it's being divided in two for registration purposes.

Vermonters ages 55 to 64 can begin to register next Monday, March 8, and those from ages 16 to 54 can register the following Monday, March 15.

Smith said the state will use the honor system to determine who's eligible for this round of vaccines.

“We trust you to work with us and help make sure that these Vermonters at highest risk due to their medical condition are protected,” Smith said.

The state hopes to double the availability of vaccine doses by the end of the month.

- Bob Kinzel and Peter Hirschfeld

6. Gov. Scott says CDC is expected to unveil new COVID-19 guidelines for public schools

Gov. Phil Scott says the Centers for Disease Control will soon unveil new COVID-19 guidelines for public schools.

And he says the revised protocols could allow for a return to fulltime in-person instruction for all students.

“If we’re all on the same page, we all want the same thing for our kids, then anything is achievable,” Scott said. “We can work through these, if we have the right approach.”

School officials say social distancing protocols have in some cases made it impossible to have all students in the school building at the same time.

Scott said Tuesday CDC officials have indicated they’ll issue new guidance that will allow schools to ease distancing requirements.

- Peter Hirschfeld

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