News roundup: Vermont Dept. of Health reports 137 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Tuesday, Oct. 19.
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. Vermont Dept. of Health reports 137 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday
The Vermont Department of Health reported 137 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, and one more death in the state.
Right now, 45 people are hospitalized, with 16 of those in ICU.
In the past seven days, 3.4% of tests have come back positive.
The percentage of eligible Vermonters who have received at least one vaccine dose is 89.2%.
— Karen Anderson
Canadian government to ease testing requirements for cross-border travel by citizens
Canadians will be able to cross the U.S border by land in just a few weeks and easing COVID-19 testing requirements may make the border crossing easier than anticipated.
WCAX reports the Canadian government last week updated its policy, allowing Canadians making a short-term trip to get tested in Canada before leaving, and not requiring testing again as long as they return within 72 hours.
If Canadians do not return within that 72-hour window, they need to get tested in the U.S. before returning home.
— Karen Anderson
2. Scott Administration proposes 18-month extension to motel housing program
Low-income Vermonters who’ve been living in motels could extend their stays for up to 18 months under a proposal unveiled by the Scott administration on Monday.
Sean Brown, commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, says the administration wants to make long-term motel residents eligible for federal rental assistance funds.
Brown says the new approach would unburden people from the bureaucracy of the existing motel housing program.
“It’s a lot of documentation to stay in the program, and [there's] uncertainty and complexity to it, and I think we want to provide some level of stability to the folks we’re serving,” Brown said.
But the plan is already drawing criticism from housing advocates who say that some motel residents may not qualify for the federal rental funds.
And advocates say the administration’s proposal won’t do anything to help the hundreds of people who lost motel housing assistance earlier this summer.
Scott administration calls for millions in additional housing funds
The Scott administration is asking lawmakers to allocate another one hundred million dollars for the construction of affordable housing in Vermont.
Gus Seelig, with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, says the increased funding would help alleviate a shortage of housing stock across the state.
“That would be a great signal to the entire development community that there are more resources on the way," Seelig said.
Earlier this year, the Legislature earmarked $144 million toward housing, from Vermont’s share of the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
The Scott administration says the additional funds could provide permanent housing options for people in emergency motel housing.
— Peter Hirschfeld
3. St. Albans naturalist hopes to make birding more accessible
A St. Albans naturalist wants to make birding more accessible to Vermonters.
Bridget Butler has been working with the nonprofit Birdability to detail birding spots in the state with accessibility features, like bathrooms that accommodate wheelchairs and trails with handrails and benches.
"The process of doing this was super eye opening for me, to see this trail that I love so much to go shore birding — I saw it through somebody else’s lens," Butler said.
The Birdability mapis available online. Anyone can submit a site review.
— Lexi Krupp
4. USDA to collect data on hemp for the first time
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will be collecting data this year from hemp growers across the country.
Stephanie Smith with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture says it’s the first time the USDA is gathering this information.
“We’re moving along in the movement towards normalization of hemp as a crop," Smith said. "And gathering information regarding its cultivation and gathering information about the end use of that crop; grain, fiber, or cannabinoids — it’s moving in that direction, most definitely."
Smith says the new national data will allow the Vermont hemp industry to compare the value of the crop, against what’s grown in other states —
data which she says is not available currently.
— Howard Weiss-Tisman
5. Sen. Leahy is raising funds at a slower pace than in previous pre-election years
As he decides whether or not to run for re-election next year, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont is raising money at a slower pace compared to the last time he was up for re-election.
In the third quarter of 2021, Leahy raised over $227,000. That's about half as much as he raised in the same quarter of 2015, ahead of the 2016 campaign, the last time he was running for re-election.
Leahy's campaign manager Carolyn Dwyer says the senator has other priorities this year.
"The reality is 2021 is radically different than 2015, with a 50-50 Senate and an ambitious agenda by the Biden administration, his focus is simply on the legislative and appropriations process," Dwyer said.
Dwyer says Leahy will make an announcement about his re-election plans at a later date.
— Henry Epp
6. Burlington City Council votes 8-4 to raise cap on police officers
The Burlington City Council voted 8 to 4 Monday evening to raise the authorized cap of officers at the Burlington Police Department to 79.
With eight officers currently serving at the Burlington Airport, this brings the number on the force up to 87.
Burlington City Mayor Miro Weinberger praised the council’s decision, saying it, “sends a positive message to the officers and Burlington community about public safety.”
— Karen Anderson
7. Clarendon school librarian named Vermont's 2022 teacher of the year
A school librarian and technology integration specialist in Clarendon is Vermont’s 2022 teacher of the year.
The state Education Agency announced Monday that Karen McCalla of the Mill River Union High School is the recipient of the esteemed title.
McCalla has been the librarian and technology integration specialist at Mill River for 19 years and is an advocate for hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering, art and math. She also coaches students in robotics.
As the 2022 Vermont Teacher of the Year, Ms. McCalla will serve as an advocate for the teaching profession, education and students.
The Agency of Education has recognized outstanding Vermont teachers through the Vermont Teacher of the Year award since 1964.
— Karen Anderson
Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.