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News Roundup: As Delta Variant Becomes Dominant U.S. Strain, Health Commissioner Says Getting Vaccinated Is Key

A yellow background with vermont news round up written, with a small green graphic of vermot on the "R" of roundup
Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the Delta variant, a proposed senior living community in Rutland and more for Wednesday, July 7.

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.

As Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended and coronavirus restrictions lifted statewide, we will no longer be reporting daily case numbers at the top of this newsletter. Click here for the latest on new cases, and findthe latest vaccination data online any time.

1. Health Commissioner says getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself against the Delta variant

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Tuesday being vaccinated is still the best protection against the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19.

Speaking at the state's weekly press conference, Levine urged the nearly 100,000 Vermonters who have not yet been vaccinated to get a shot.

"All the vaccines we're using in the United States are highly effective. That includes J and J," he said. "So if you are fully vaccinated, you are protected, including from the variants currently circulating in the country, such as Delta."

Vermont currently has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, but state officials say they will continue to hold pop-up vaccination clinics in the coming weeks.

Vermont saw very low case counts in June

Vermont saw one of the lowest monthly totals of reported cases in June.

Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak attributes the low infection rates to Vermont’s high vaccination rate, which is currently above 82%.

“We can see that cases really have nowhere to go in Vermont when they do turn up, due to our high vaccination rate," he said. "And the high vaccination rate [means] when people are interacting with each other, you know, they're more likely than not interacting with people who have been fully vaccinated.”

State officials will continue to hold pop-up vaccination clinics across the state to continue vaccination efforts.

— Marlon Hyde

Survey data show most unvaccinated Vermonters are not philosophically opposed

Nearly 100,000 Vermonters have yet to receive even a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

But Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine says recent survey data suggests that only a small fraction of them are philosophically opposed to getting immunized.

“We believe the remainder are still in the wait and see, or concerned about missing work, or just failing to prioritize getting the vaccine categories, so our current strategies continue," Levine said this week.

Levine said the state will use pop-up vaccine clinics throughout the summer to make it as easy as possible for unvaccinated Vermonters to get immunized.

Peter Hirschfeld

More than 65% of primary care practices will offer COVID-19 vaccines

More than 65% of primary care practices in Vermont say they plan to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to their patients.

And Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine says their participation in the vaccination rollout could help boost overall vaccinate rates in Vermont.

“And some people who have not yet been vaccinated say they would be more likely to do so if the vaccine were offered to them during a routine medical visit," Levine said this week.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith says 67 primary care practices have already begun administering COVID-19 vaccines to patients.

He says that number will increase significantly, as the state ships doses to primary care doctors who have indicated they want to be able to offer the vaccine to patients.

— Peter Hirschfeld

2. Developer of proposed multi-million-dollar project at the former College of St. Joseph expects to move forward

The developer of a proposed multi-million-dollar senior living community on the campus of the former College of St. Joseph in Rutland says the project is moving forward.

Stuart Mills initially expected to close on the 117-acre campus in May. But he says the sale has been pushed back to later this fall, pending development review.

Mills says he expects to submit his Act 250 application within the next 30 to 40 days.

“The first phase is 120 units. That's we're going to start building as soon as we get all of our approvals and all of our our financing in place," Mills said. "We were hoping to get that started by the end of the year, but it appears, with the process as difficult it is, that it's going to have to be in the spring."

Mills says the worker shortage in Vermont will make construction more challenging. Despite the delays, Mills says he believes there’s a clear need for senior housing in Rutland and he’s optimistic about his plans.

Nina Keck

3. Rutland County kids' 'camp in a box' program expands statewide

An innovative effort to get free, educational activity boxes to kids and families in and around Rutland County is expanding.

Kimberly Griffin, 4-H educator for Rutland and Bennington Counties, says nearly 2,000 boxes went out in their first installment, with four more to follow this summer.

“Last year, a group of us came together and figured out can we kind of put camp in a box,"Griffin said. "This year, although we are not as isolated as last year, we are still very much coming out of COVID-19, and coming out of the isolation and coming out of all of what was 2020."

Activities are geared toward kids aged 7 to13, and focus on self care, belonging and community.

Griffin says donations and volunteers will make it possible to send out 10,000 boxes from Bennington to Franklin County.

- Nina Keck

4. Lt. Gov. Molly Gray leads in campaign fundraising among statewide office holders

Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray is only six months into her first term in office.

But Gray — Vermont’s newest statewide office holder — has already raised $50,000 for her reelection campaign.

All six statewide office holders in Vermont filed their latest campaign finance disclosures last week. None has come close to raising more than Lt. Gov. Gray, who collected slightly more than $50,000 from more than 300 individual donors.

“If you want to get reelected in Vermont, if you want to stay in office in Vermont, having a little bit of money to spend on hiring someone who can do political work is really important,” Gray said.

Gray’s focus on campaigning this early in the electoral cycle has fueled speculation about a possible run for Congress.

Gray says she hasn’t decided whether she’ll seek a second term as lieutenant governor yet, and says she hasn’t given any consideration to a future run for the U.S. House or Senate.

— Peter Hirschfeld

More from Vermont Edition: Lt. Gov. Molly Gray Reflects On An Unusual First Year In Office

5. Most — but not all — Vermont courts reopened Tuesday

Most Vermont courts will re-open to the general public Tuesday, after more than a year of restricted access due to the pandemic.

But a handful will remain closed.

The civil and probate division in Bennington County, all divisions in Essex and Grand Isle Counties and the criminal division in Orleans County are among courthouses not open to the public.

The Vermont Judiciary says the buildings aren't large enough to allow physical distancing and some need better air circulation systems. The judiciary says it's working to upgrade the closed courthouses.

Some coronavirus restrictions will remain at all Vermont courts, including wearing masks most of the time.

Remote hearings will also continue across all Vermont court divisions.

— Liam Elder-Connors

6. Director of aviation at Burlington's airport placed on administrative leave, pending investigation

The director of aviation at Burlington International Airport has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Seven Days reports airport aviation director Gene Richards was placed on paid leave June 30, after the city's human resources office received a complaint against him and started an investigation.

The city did not share any details about the nature of the investigation. The weekly paper reports Richards did not return multiple requests for comment.

Richards was appointed interim aviation director in 2012. The city council approved his becoming permanent director a year later.

Deputy aviation director Nic Longo is now acting director at the airport.

Matthew Smith

This post was compiled by Abagael Giles.

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