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News roundup: Vermont officials report new record for single-day COVID case counts

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 coronavirus and more for Wednesday, Oct. 13.

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While Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended, the delta variant is now circulating around the state. Click here for the latest on new cases, and findthe latest vaccination data online any time.

1. Health officials report record single-day COVID case count, another death

Vermont health officials reported 327 new COVID-19 infections Wednesday, as well one more virus-linked death.

Some 340 Vermonters have now died due to the coronavirus, including 14 people so far this month.

Today's cases represent the state's highest number of new infections in a single day since the start of the pandemic.

A total of 47 people are hospitalized due to the virus, including 14 people in the ICU.

In all, 88.9% of eligible Vermonters are now partially inoculated with at least one vaccine dose.

- Matthew Smith

Vermont COVID 7-day case count jumps 26%

COVID case counts in Vermont jumped by 26% over the past seven days. And Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine says infection rates are highest among children younger than 9 years old.

“The super contagious delta variant continues to find ways to spread throughout our communities, especially among people who are not vaccinated, including children,” he said.

Levine says two children are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, though neither are receiving intensive care.

Rising case counts in Vermont comes as the rest of the nation sees a drop in COVID numbers.

The Scott administration says small and medium-sized gatherings are the main source of coronavirus transmission in Vermont.

Read/hear the full story.

 - Peter Hirschfeld

Governor rejects calls to impose indoor mask mandate

Gov. Phil Scott is rejecting calls for him to impose an indoor mask mandate in Vermont.

A number of health care groups have urged the governor to take this step as one way to deal with a growing number of COVID cases.

Scott says he doubts a mandate would result in more people wearing masks indoors, and he says there's a downside to imposing one.

"I just don't think we'd get the compliance, and I think that we would take our eyes away and our focus away from doing what we can to get through this,” he said. “It would just create one more controversy."

The administration says an increase in the number of small social gatherings this fall is largely responsible for the recent jump in COVID cases.

- Bob Kinzel

Educators hold call-in Tuesday asking governor for more pandemic mitigation measures

Educators and public health experts continue to call on Gov. Phil Scott to implement more stringent pandemic mitigation measures.

A campaign today called on people to phone the governor and ask him to implement a data-driven mask policy, and provide more resources to schools for testing and contact tracing.

Peter Langella is a librarian at Champlain Valley Union High School, and one of the organizers of the campaign. He says they were motivated, in part, by desperation.

"Yet one more time the burden of public health is being placed on schools, and so much else is left up to personal responsibility, which is not an equitable way to run a state in my opinion,” he said.

Some superintendents have expressed concern that the state's new testing program -- Test to Stay -- could be near-impossible to implement with the staff they have on hand.

At his press conference Tuesday, Gov. Scott expressed his appreciation for school staff.

- Anna Van Dine

Health commissioner now recommends Vermonters with COVID-19 to ask doctors about monoclonal antibody treatment

Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine is encouraging Vermonters diagnosed with COVID-19 to ask their doctors about monoclonal antibody treatment.

Levine had previously cautioned against treating COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies.

“These have been shown to meaningfully reduce the incidence of hospitalization and death in those with COVID-19 who are at severe risk of disease,” he said.

Levine says COVID patients 65 and older, or with an underlying medical condition such as obesity or diabetes, are the best candidates for antibody treatments.

Levine says the health care system has the capacity to administer the treatments to about 20 people a day.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Scott administration continues to encourage older Vermonters to get booster shot

According to the Scott administration, less than 25% of Vermonters over 65 have received a COVID booster shot.

This is taking place in an age category where virtually everyone has been fully vaccinated.

Financial Regulation Department Commissioner Mike Pieciak is encouraging older Vermonters to get a booster shot because, in recent weeks, there's been a rising number of breakthrough cases in this age category. These are cases where a fully vaccinated person still gets infected.

"For those who are visiting, maybe elderly friends or family, be cautious, take a test before you see them,” Pieciak said. “Those that are eligible for boosters, certainly important to do that and get boosted."

Pieciak says booster shots are widely available statewide at local pharmacies and through the Vermont Health Department's website.

- Peter Hirschfeld

COVID at-home tests may be on the way

It may soon become a lot easier to take a COVID-19 test.

The Vermont Health Department says as many as 45,000 Vermonters are getting tested at designated sites every week.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says it's likely that an accurate home test will soon be available.

“And I do expect that we will have a national strategy in the not-too-distant future where the use of at-home rapid accurate and free or inexpensive testing may become the norm and help guide us in our daily activities,” Levine said.

Vermont has seen a surge in COVID cases in the last two months. The increase has resulted in a doubling of the state's testing rate.

- Peter Hirschfeld

2. U.S. to reopen land borders with Canada for nonessential travel next month

The United States will reopen its land borders to nonessential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Associated Press reports the new rules, set to be formally announced Wednesday, will allow fully vaccinated travelers to enter the U.S. starting in early November.

That's when a similar easing of restrictions is set to kick in for air travel into the country.

By mid-January, even essential travelers seeking to enter the U.S., like truck drivers, will need to be fully vaccinated.

Canada reopened its land borders to fully-vaccinated American travelers in early August.

No testing will be required to enter the U.S. by land or sea, provided the travelers meet the vaccination requirement.

- Associated Press

3. UVM Medical Center announces plan to improve health care access following wait times investigation

The state's largest hospital has come up with a plan they hope will improve access to health care.

The University of Vermont Medical Center announced Tuesday that it would make new investments in "staffing, technology and infrastructure."

This includes hiring recruiters and the use of new health record technology, among several other measures.

The announcement comes just over a month after Seven Dayspublished an investigation detailing long wait times at the hospital.

UVMMC has said factors including Vermont's aging population, delayed care due to the pandemic, an ongoing mental health crisis, and a national shortage of health care workers all contribute to the issue.

Earlier this week, the union that represents nurses at UVMMC called for a 10% increase to base pay in order to address the staffing crisis.

- Anna Van Dine

4. Quebec child care workers go on strike

Quebec child care workers are in a second day of a planned 2-day strike Wednesday over stalled contract negotiations.

The Canadian Press reports some Quebec families scrambled to find alternate child care arrangements Tuesday and Wednesday due to a rotating strike across the province.

Educators from one of the major child care workers unions picketed Tuesday in and around Montreal, Sherbrooke and other areas of the Eastern Townships.

Today's strike is taking place in and around Quebec City, and western Quebec.

The Sherbrooke Recordreports the striking workers represent more than 3,000 workers in nearly 120 child care centers across the province.

Union officials say they're fighting for better pay, more hiring to support existing staff, and more resources for children with special needs.

- Matthew Smith

5. New solar project aims to supply Middlebury College with about a third of its electricity

A large new solar project aims to supply Middlebury College with about a third of its total electricity.

Developer Encore Renewable Energy broke ground on the project Tuesday, and plans to complete construction of the 30-acre, 5-megawatt solar array by next year.

The new project joins eight other solar arrays on and off-campus that help power the college.

The new large solar array will supply about 30% of the college's electricity, pushing Middlebury closer to its goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2028.

The other 70% of Middlebury's electricity comes from its biomass plant, other local solar sites, and the Green Mountain Power grid.

 - Matthew Smith

Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.

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