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News roundup: Five more people have died from COVID-19, health officials report Tuesday

An orange 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, mediation for dairy farm families, deer hunting and more for Tuesday, Oct. 26.

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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. Vermont health officials report 91 new COVID infections, 5 additional deaths Tuesday

Vermont health officials reported 91 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, as the state surpassed 39,000 total infections since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Health Department also reported that five more Vermonters have died from the coronavirus, bringing the state's pandemic death toll to 356.

A total of 53 people are in the hospital today with COVID, including 15 who require intensive care.

To date, 89.6% of Vermonters have gotten at least their first dose of a COVID vaccine.

All Vermont counties have hit 76% partially vaccinated or greater, save for Essex County, where just over 62% of eligible residents have gotten their first jab.

- Matthew Smith

Group of Vermont professionals call on governor to reinstate state of emergency, mask mandate

A group of lawmakers, educators and health care professionals say Vermont's COVID policies are no longer working.

They're calling on Gov. Phil Scott to reinstate a state of emergency so that he can immediately reimpose a statewide mask mandate.

At a Montpelier press conference yesterday, the group said the huge growth in cases over the last few weeks shows that the administration's vaccine-only approach is having"a drastic health impact across the state."

Lincoln Rep. Mari Cordes, who has been a nurse for more than 30 years, said the time for action is now.

"Telling all of us to have a personal responsibility was cruel and way out of line," Cordes said. "This is an emergency — this is your job to decrease community transmission by declaring a universal mask mandate."

Scott has said repeatedly that he doesn't think a statewide mask mandate would be an effective way to reduce COVID cases.

- Bob Kinzel

Nearly 40% of Vermonters diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this month did not provide close contacts

A new report from the Health Department found the state's contact tracing efforts are facing headwinds.

Nearly 40% of Vermonters diagnosed with COVID-19 in early October did not provide information about their close contacts to the Health Department, according to the report.

In the first two weeks of October, the department says it interviewed 71% of confirmed patients within the first day of their diagnosis. But less than half of all close contacts were tested within 14 days of their possible exposure.

Some 10% of all contacts ended up contracting COVID-19. The positivity rate is currently highest among children.

- Mark Davis

2. Plans to close the Sears Lane encampment today proceed

The City of Burlington will proceed with plans to close the Sears Lane encampment today.

That's after several resolutions at last night's city council meeting failed to stop the disbanding of the camp, where an unknown but growing number of people experiencing homelessness have been living for months.

VTDigger reports the city says it will issue trespass citations to anyone left on the site of the encampment after 9 o'clock this morning, save for the handful of residents councilors say are working with the city in good faith on a housing plan.

City officials say they have funds from the Department for Children and Families to help those displaced by the Sears Lane closure to find temporary housing, and store their belongings for up to a month.

- Matthew Smith

More from VPR: Vermont communities clear out campsites in the woods, but unhoused residents say they have nowhere else to go

3. State offers family counseling for dairy farmers facing tough choices

A new program is offering free counseling for Vermont dairy farm families who are facing tough decisions about their future.

The Vermont Agricultural Mediation Programis a federally-funded service that's provided free financial counseling for farms since 2007. And now with a $20,000 state grant, the program wants to help create a safe space for difficult conversations.

Matt Strassberg is the mediation program director. He says with the price of milk at or below the cost of production the past several years, the program is intended to help Vermont farmers discuss adjusting operations — or an exit strategy.

"These are things that I'm sure keep them awake at night," he said. "And our role is to try to surface those feelings, and allow them to have a constructive conversation, so that they can be more in control of their future."

Strassberg says two or three families have expressed interest so far, but there's room for more.

- Elodie Reed

Vermont will expand mental health services for farmers experiencing stress

Vermont officials say they will reach out to all farms in the state in an effort to provide mental health services to farmers experiencing stress.

The agencies of agriculture and human services last week announced that their jointly-funded farmer resource program, Farm First, will expand, thanks to a federal grant.

New initiatives will include building a farmer peer support network, and developing behavioral screenings and intervention sessions.

Officials say the expanded services will begin in November.

- Elodie Reed

4. St. Albans school district has run out of money to hire staffing help

Ongoing staff and teacher shortages has stressed staffing and exhausted budgets at the Maple Run Unified School District in St. Albans.

Superintendent Bill Kimball tells the St. Albans Messenger the district's behavioral, instructional and other needs have already exhausted its $61 million budget for the year.

The district can pay the staff it already has, but Kimball says more staff are now needed, but there are no funds to pay for them.

That's as growing numbers of school staff have to quarantine because of possible COVID-19 exposure, leaving the district in constant need of substitutes.

Kimball says he's concerned that unmet needs for more paraeducators and mental health professionals could worsen staff fatigue and burnout.

- Matthew Smith

5. Burlington International Airport introduces a new sound monitoring system

A new sound monitoring system is in place near the Burlington International Airport to track noise made by aircraft using the airport.

The installation of the $340,000 system comes in response to the 2019 arrival of F-35 fighter jets at the Vermont Air National Guard base at the airport, which are much louder than the F-16 jets they replaced.

Two microphones, one at Winooski City Hall and another at Chamberlin School in South Burlington, will measure decibel levels, and feed that information to a computer overlaying the noise measurements with a map tracking airport flights.

Acting airport director of aviation Nicolas Longo says sound impacts felt by individuals are often subjective and the new system aims to change that.

A third monitoring microphone under construction in Williston will be online in November.

- Associated Press

6. Vermont's deer hunting season is set to open in just under three weeks

Vermont's deer hunting season is set to open in just under three weeks.

The Fish and Wildlife Department says regular deer season begins Saturday, Nov. 13 and runs for 16 days.

Hunters may kill one legal buck, as long as they didn't take one during archery season.

More information, including information on how to get a license, can be found on the department's website,

- Brittany Patterson

Marlon Hyde and Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.

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