News Roundup: Vt. DOC Reports 128 COVID-19 Cases Among Newport Prison Inmates
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Thursday, March 4.
The latest coronavirus data:
1. Vt. DOC Reports 128 COVID-19 cases among inmates at Newport prison
The Vermont Department of Corrections is working to contain a COVID-19 outbreak at a state prison in Newport.
As of Thursday, 128 incarcerated people and 10 staffers at Northern State Correctional Facility have tested positive for the virus.
DOC Commissioner Jim Baker says so far, none of the inmates have symptoms.
“We also will have a doctor on site seven days a week, 12 hours a day and the other 12 hours a day we will have a doctors on call that will be able to manage any medical situations that come up,” Baker said.
Baker said the department will transport people to the hospital if necessary.
He said all inmates who tested negative earlier this week are being re-tested Thursday
- Liam Elder-Connors
ACLU says Gov. Scott bears responsibility for prison outbreak
The head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont says Gov. Phil Scott bears the responsibility for an outbreak of COVID-19 at a prison in Newport, which has now infected over 100 people.
ACLU Executive Director James Lyall says Scott could have prevented this outbreak.
"And he could still take action to prevent future outbreaks in Vermont prisons by vaccinating all of the people in these facilities, and by taking steps to safely release more Vermonters from these facilities, where they are at a heightened risk of harm,” Lyall said.
The news broke hours after the Scott administration announced Tuesday that it was expanding vaccination access to teachers, corrections staff and others, but not to incarcerated people.
Vermont's Defender General Matthew Valerio told Vermont EditionWednesday that to prevent future outbreaks, that needs to change.
“First of all, I think that the corrections officers, [it] should be mandatory that they be vaccinated,” Valerio said. “And secondly, the inmates should be offered the vaccine upon entry to a facility. It seems like the only smart thing to do to make sure that the outbreaks don't continue.”
Officials with the Department of Corrections say the Northern State Correctional Facility is now being treated "like a hospital," with 127 incarcerated people testing positive in the last week, as well as 10 staff members.
- Henry Epp
2. Health Department reports 112 new COVID cases
Health officials report 112 new COVID-19 infections Thursday.
Of those cases, 44 – more than a third – were in Chittenden County.
Hospitalizations ticked up to 27 people, including five in intensive care.
Health officials say multiple first-dose appointments in South Burlington will be available in the coming days.
Vermont National Guard-run clinics start tomorrow, Friday March 5, and have openings through Sunday.
Eligible Vermonters can schedule online at healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine or call 855-722-7878.
- Matthew Smith
VA to hold vaccine clinic in Essex Friday for vets with existing medical conditions
Any veteran, regardless of age, with an existing medical condition — who gets their medical care through the VA — can get a COVID-19 shot this Friday.
The White River Junction VA Medical Center is hosting a vaccine walk-in clinic from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction.
No appointments are necessary. But the VA says veterans should bring their DD-214 and any supporting military documentation to the clinic.
The agency will be offering the Moderna vaccine. Second doses will be given on April 2 at the same location.
Veterans can sign up to get updated information at va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine.
- Brittany Patterson
Two long-term facilities remain with COVID cases
State health officials say there remain only two long-term care facilities in the state still grappling with COVID cases.
WCAX reports there's a total of nine cases in an outbreak at Valley Terrace in White River Junction.
Officials say another unlisted facility also reported cases within the last two weeks, but is not required to list them due to its small size and fewer than 25 residents and staff.
COVID cases in nursing homes have dropped nationwide with greater vaccine availability.
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living says cases in nursing homes have dropped to their lowest level since the government started tracking weekly cases.
- Matthew Smith
COVID variants continue to be detected in Burlington wastewater
City leaders in Burlington say ongoing wastewater testing shows an increased presence of the B-117 coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom.
The mutation has now been found in Burlington’s east plant, and continues to be found at the city's main wastewater treatment plant.
Speaking at the mayor's coronavirus briefing Wednesday, UVM Medical Center president and COO Dr. Stephen Leffler says the best protection against the variants is vaccination.
"Our immune system is very smart, and once you prime it with a good vaccine, any of the ones that are available right now, even if you get a variant, you'll have enough probably immune memory in there to really shut it down before you get very sick,” Leffler said.
Leffler and city officials say despite the evidence of the variants, it's too soon to draw conclusions about community spread of the mutations.
- Matthew Smith
3. Town Meeting Day voters approved majority of school budgets
Some 93 school districts in Vermont put their budget proposals to voters Tuesday. And residents were largely in a supportive mood.
Jeff Francis is head of the Vermont Superintendents Association. Based on results so far, he says only three districts saw their budgets rejected.
“I think that the electorate understands what schools are up against, and they are supporting the work that’s being done in schools right now,” he said.
Francis says the coronavirus pandemic has increased workload and costs for school districts. But he says federal coronavirus relief funds helped districts temper their proposed budget increases.
The only districts to suffer budget defeats were in Barre, Georgia and Wolcott.
- Peter Hirschfeld
Ripton Elementary School principal worries about equity re: leaving district
On Town Meeting Day, six of the towns in the Addison Central School District voted to allow the community of Ripton to leave the district.
Ripton residents voted to leave earlier in the year in order to keep their school from closing due to a decrease in students.
Ripton Elementary School Principal Tracey Harrington tells Vermont Edition the loss of resources, and impact from the school leaving, will not be the same for students.
“Oh I definitely think it's not going to be equitable across the board,” Harrington said. “I think that always, we're seeing some services and some opportunities that children receive that others don't. So I'm most concerned about the most vulnerable families and children, of course.”
The final decision to allow Ripton Elementary to leave the district now rests with the State Board of Education.
- Emily Aiken
4. Green Mountain Power tries out microgrid in town of Panton
Residents of the Addison County town of Panton soon won't have to worry about losing power during major storms. Green Mountain Power has designed a microgrid system that will use stored electricity to keep the lights on.
Think of the utility grid as a vast, interconnected highway. When a major circuit fails — say, because a tree branch breaks a major power line — electrons stop flowing and the lights can go out over a large area.
Now GMP says it believes it's the first utility in the country to reconfigure a portion of its grid so it can operate independently during power outages.
GMP spokeswoman Kristin Kelly says the electricity will come from batteries that are energized by a large-scale solar array in Panton.
“Which means that we can pull away part of the electrical circuit and keep the lights on, even when the rest of that circuit is out because of an outage,” Kelly said.
About 50 customers will be served initially. An expansion project would reach another 900 customers. GMP hopes to develop similar microgrids around the state.
- John Dillon
5. Danville students, faculty ask school to replace "Indian" mascot
A special meeting of the Danville school board Wednesday looked at potentially changing the district’s current mascot and nickname, the “Danville Indians.”
High school and elementary students presented at the meeting, calling for the change and presenting a letter from the faculty's equity, diversity and inclusion committee.
Danville wouldn't be the first Vermont school to make such a change. Rutland City school commissioners last month dropped Rutland High School's "Raiders" nameand arrowhead symbol and changed its name to the “Rutland Ravens."
A group of students and alumni asked for the change over concerns the old name was racist. But the changes were divisive with some in the community. Three commissioners elected during this week's town meeting have vowed to reconsider the decision.
- Matthew Smith
6. Max Misch willing to settle over ammunition violation charge
A Bennington man charged with violating a 2018 Vermont law that restricts the size of ammunition magazines for firearms says he's willing to settle the case after the state Supreme Court denied his appeal.
The higher court upheld the new gun law last month in a case filed by Max Misch, who was charged in 2019 with the misdemeanor counts for allegedly buying two 30-round magazines in New Hampshire and bringing them back to Vermont.
The 37-year-old Misch, a self-described white nationalist who faces disorderly conduct as a hate crime for unrelated incidents, was the first person charged with violating the new law.
The Bennington Banner reports a Vermont assistant attorney general stated in a Monday court hearing the office will send Misch a plea offer on the gun magazine charges.
- Associated Press
7. State trooper on leave after being cited for domestic assault
A Vermont state trooper from the St. Johnsbury barracks has been cited for physically assaulting and threatening a woman he was in a relationship with.
State police say they started investigating 25-year-old trooper Nicholas Cianci in December, after a court issued a temporary relief-from-abuse order against him. The victim also spoke with detectives.
Cianci has been on paid leave since Dec. 7. He was cited Wednesday on suspicion of misdemeanor domestic assault. He's now on unpaid leave as the investigation continues.
Cianci is due in court at the end of March.
- Matthew Smith
We've closed our comments. Read about ways toget in touch here.