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News Roundup: Vermont Sees Haze, Poor Air Quality Due To Distant Wildfires

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 COVID-19 cases among vaccinated people, wildfire haze and more for Wednesday, July 21.

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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. Vermont sees hazy conditions due to wildfires in Canada, western United states

Hazy conditions in Vermont are due to wildfires burning in Canada and in the western United States.

Bennet Leon with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources said Tuesday it’s unusual to see elevated pollution levels in Vermont from fires burning so far away.

"We often see them, see smoke from wildfires pass over Vermont at high altitudes that don’t affect the air quality down near the surface where people are breathing," Leon said.

Leon said most people will not experience any noticeable impacts. At-risk populations such as children, the elderly, and those with heart and lung diseases are advised to take precautions, such as limiting outdoor activity.

The agency anticipates air pollution was at its highest Tuesday and that air quality will continue to improve over the next couple days.

Reed Nye

2. COVID-19 cases climb in Vermont, mainly among unvaccinated people

There were 16 new COVID-19 infections in Vermont reported by state health officials Wednesday.

Hospitalizations from the virus jumped, with five people now in the hospital because of COVID-19.

Eligible Vermonters with at least one dose of a vaccine rose to 83.3%.

Matthew Smith

Cases climb

Vermont officials say the state is experiencing its second straight week of rising COVID-19 cases.

Eighty-nine cases were reported in the past week, compared to 54 cases the previous week.

Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak, who leads the state’s modeling efforts, says the state's forecast had anticipated cases to be a elevated this month compared to June.

And Pieciak says the increase in Vermont is largely driven by the more transmissible Delta variant spreading among those who remain unvaccinated here in Vermont.

"As the CDC has reported, whether in the Northeast or other parts of the country, 97% of those requiring hospitalizations recently were unvaccinated individuals," Pieciak said.

Pieciak notes more than 92,000 eligible Vermonters have yet to get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Marlon Hyde

Breakthrough cases are occurring, but are not the norm

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says 276 Vermonters have gotten COVID-19, despite being fully vaccinated.

But with more than 420,000 Vermonters fully vaccinated, he says that's just seven COVID-19 cases for every 10,000 vaccinated people.

"The so-called breakthrough case does not represent a failure of vaccination; it represents the success of vaccination," Levine said Tuesday. "Because these people are not having severe outcomes. These still represent the vaccine protecting Vermonters and the large proportion of Vermonters from any serious outcomes from contracting COVID-19

Vermont still has the lowest hospitalization rate and the highest vaccination rate in the country. And state officials say the majority of Vermont’s new COVID-19 cases are occurring in unvaccinated people.

Jane Lindholm

3. Vt. Dept. of Corrections will fund more housing for people getting out of prison

The Vermont Department of Corrections announced this week it will fund 274 beds for people getting out of prison — a slight increase from last year.

The agency has expanded the number of stand-alone apartments.

Eighty percent of the transitional housing program will be single person units.

Emily Higgins, corrections housing administrator, says they've scaled back the use of group housing programs.

"What the evidence showed us was that the more restrictive rules and criteria that are required in congregate, sober living environments were resulting in a lower number of people exiting to permanent stable housing and staying out of institutions," Higgins said.

D.O.C. will have beds in all 14 counties this year and for the first time have housing in in Lamoille and Orange Counties.

"We're excited to try to better match people with the communities of origin and make sure they're close to their natural supports," Higgins said.

Liam Elder-Connors

4. Vermonters along the Canadian border look ahead to August reopening

Starting next month, fully vaccinated Americans can once again cross into Canada. And for many families, that means reuniting after months apart.

Roger Rainville runs Borderview Farm on Line Road in Alburgh, literally across the street from Canada.

He says after the border closed to nonessential travel in 2020, people began showing up outside his house to see loved ones across the international boundary.

"They just sit on each side of the blocks. And we had some people here the other day that hadn't seen their family and their three kids in 16 months. And the Border Patrol, just say 'COVID meeting?' and they go, 'Yep, that's good.'”

The U.S.-Canada border officially reopens to fully vaccinated travelers on August 9.

Elodie Reed

Gov. Scott says he's asking U.S. officials if they will reopen the border to Canadian travel

After Canada’s announcement of a loosening of restrictions for people crossing into the country from the U.S., Vermont’s Gov. Phil Scott says he has asked White House officials if they plan to make a similar change to U.S. policy.

“I did ask them about the Canadian border, following Canada's positive announcement yesterday," he said. "Unfortunately, they continued to defer which is disappointing because I believe it's past time to open the border.”

Scott has requested a meeting between the White House and northern border governors and says there is more to come.

Marlon Hyde

5. Vermont Dept. of Health calls on Vermonters to be wary of Cyanobacteria blooms

The Vermont Department of Health is asking all Vermonters to check for cyanobacteria blooms before enjoying ponds and lakes.

Cyanobacteria blooms tend to happen in mid-to-late summer in Vermont. This week, several were reported along the shores of Lake Champlain, as well as at Lakes Carmi and Memphremagog.

Blooms on the water surface may be green or blue-green, and can look like pea soup or spilled paint.

The organisms occur naturally in lakes and ponds, but multiply quickly in warm, nutrient-rich water – often after heavy rains that produce runoff.

They can produce toxins that harm dogs and humans, and the health department warns not to swim, boat or wade where they are present.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, all of Burlington's beaches were closed to swimming. A large bloom had also been reported at the city's Perkins Pier.

Abagael Giles

6. Burlington Progressive candidate leads in fundraising in race for open city council seat

A Burlington progressive has received the most donations so far in a race for an open city council seat.

Joe Magee raised nearly twice as much as his closest rival.

Nearly 80 people have contributed to Magee’s campaign — which has raised more than $6,700, according to recently filed campaign finance reports.

The progressive has already spent over $4,100 on his bid to win the open seat in Burlington’s Ward 3.

Independent candidate Owen Milne has raised over $3,300 from 14 contributors and spent nearly $2,000.

Christopher Felker, the Republican candidate, has raised just under $1,800. So far, He’s spent about $1,050.

Ballots have already been mailed to Ward 3 residents. Voters can cast their ballots by mail, at a drop box location or at their local polling place on Election Day.

The Special Election will be held on Tuesday, August 17.

Marlon Hyde

7. Gov. Scott calls for bipartisan support of federal infrastructure package

Gov. Phil Scott is advocating in support of a bipartisan federal infrastructure package moving through Congress.

Speaking Tuesday at his weekly press briefing, Scott said he pressed President Joe Biden about Vermont's aging infrastructure at a recent White House meeting.

“At the meeting, I told the President and others that we have great needs here in Vermont, with a lot of deferred maintenance," Scott said. "But we need as much flexibility as possible for states, because our needs in Vermont are much different than those in our neighbors”.

Scott says Vermont would likely receive $1 billion to $2 billion of the total $1.2 trillion package.

The proposed bill is currently under deliberation in the Senate.

Marlon Hyde

Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.

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