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News roundup: 2 more people have died from COVID-19, as the state logs 164 new infections

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, retail cannabis and more for Wednesday, Oct. 27.

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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. 2 more people have died from COVID-19

Two more COVID-linked deaths and 164 new infections: that's the latest update on the pandemic from the health department Wednesday.

The new deaths from the virus means the coronavirus has now taken the lives of 358 Vermonters.

Hospitalizations remain high, at 54 people, 13 of whom are in the ICU.

The vaccination rate among eligible Vermonters ticked up slightly, to 89.7%.

Matthew Smith

Weekly COVID-19 case counts drop overall in Vermont for first time in nearly a month

Weekly COVID case counts in Vermont have dropped for the first time in nearly a month.

But Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says case rates remain elevated in the much of the state.

“And also remember that at least twice during the Delta wave, our cases have improved only to have those trends reverse. So it is certainly a good sign, but certainly a note of caution there," Pieciak said.

Peter Hirschfeld

Northeast Kingdom sees three times the rate of infection as rest of Vermont

The Scott administration recently met with state legislators from Orleans County to address high COVID-19 case counts in the Northeast Kingdom.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says Orleans County saw a modest reduction in cases over the past week.

“But the Northeast Kingdom continues to standout much more significantly, in terms of its recent case counts and its active cases, compared to southern Vermont, Chittenden County and central Vermont," Pieciak said.

Infection rates in the Kingdom are now three times higher than in the rest of Vermont.

Administration officials say they're planning a barnstorming tour in Orleans and Essex counties to improve vaccination rates in rural communities there.

Peter Hirschfeld

Gov. Scott encourages more Vermonters to register for vaccine boosters

The Centers for Disease Control has issued detailed guidelines on who’s eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot.

But Gov. Phil Scott says Vermonters shouldn’t let those guidelines dissuade them from registering for a booster appointment.

“We’ve said that we are going to interpret the eligibility of the booster in a broad and liberal way, so effectively anyone who wants a booster should get it," Scott said.

Scott said during a briefing on Tuesday that he’s been disappointed by the lack of interest in boosters so far in Vermont.

Fewer than 30% of Vermonters 65 and older have gotten a COVID booster shot.

Scott says the boosters are especially important for people at higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

Peter Hirschfeld

2. CDC advisory committee to meet next week on emergency authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine for kids 5-11

A CDC advisory committee will meet next week to decide whether to grant emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11.

Gov. Phil Scott says White House officials told governors on Tuesday that the federal government is prepared to distribute the pediatric vaccine as soon as authorization is granted.

"And we'll use a similar distribution plan for the adult rollout, but are adding in more pediatricians for those parents that would prefer to go through their trusted doctor,” Scott said.

Administration officials say Vermont is slated to receive about 15,000 doses of the children’s vaccine in the first three weeks of the rollout.

Scott says the state will use school-based vaccination clinics to immunize young students as quickly as possible.

Peter Hirschfeld

School based vaccine clinics will be concentrated in rural parts of state

Administration officials told Vermont lawmakers today [on Wednesday] that school-based COVID-19 vaccine clinics will be concentrated in more rural areas of the state.

Ted Fisher, with the Agency of Education, says the state wants to focus its resources on students with limited access to health care.

“They are targeted, trying to reach populations of students who may struggle to find a vaccine in other places, so things like access to pharmacy vaccines, access to transportation," Fisher said.

An advisory committee at the Centers for Disease Control could authorize a COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as next week.

State officials say they expect to receive about 15,000 doses of the pediatric vaccine in the first three weeks after its approved.

Peter Hirschfeld

3. Scott administration will keep mask mandate for schools until at least mid-Jan.

The Scott administration now wants Vermont schools to keep universal mask mandates in place until Jan. 18.

The masking guidance had been set to expire next week, in schools with student vaccinations rates of at least 80%.

But Education Secretary Dan French says masking policies should stay in place until children between the ages 5 to 11 have an opportunity to get vaccinated.

“This vaccination effort not only will keep our kids safe, but also be, I think, a game changer in terms of operating our elementary schools, in particular, and managing the cases at the younger grades,” he said.

French says the state also hopes that masks in classrooms will prevent holiday-related outbreaks in schools.

Peter Hirschfeld

4. Sen. Sanders stands firm on progressive agenda for budget reconciliation bill

Tired of seeing his priorities in the budget reconciliation bill cut back by moderate Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders is starting to make demands of his own — demands that could affect the outcome of the legislation.

Sanders,who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, has listened to complaints that the bill's $3.5 trillion price tag is too high, and that cuts need to be made.

Ina brief press gathering at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday, Sanders said the bill must include a provision allowing the federal government to negotiate Medicare drug prices.

It's a plan Sanders has supported for many years.

"So to my mind, any serious reconciliation bill must include real Medicare negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry to lower the cost of prescription drugs."

Sanders is insisting that an expansion of the Medicare program be included the final version of the bill.

Several moderate senators oppose the expansion because they say it will cause deficits in the Medicare program.

Sanders argues the plan can be paid for by taxing wealthy individuals and he says it's critical to include dental, hearing, and eye care services in the program.

"We have tens of millions of Americans — older Americans — who have no teeth in their mouth are unable to digest the food that they're eating — people cannot hear and communicate with their grand kids because they have no hearing aids, people are unable to see well. This is America — the richest country in the history of the world," he said.

Sanders says he'll also be disappointed if the bill doesn't include tough measures to address climate change.

Bob Kinzel

5. VA Medical Center in White River Junction to provide 13 inpatient mental health beds to the general population

The VA Medical Center in White River Junction has agreed to provide 12 inpatient mental health beds to the general population in Vermont.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith announced Tuesday that the beds will likely come online by Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

“This is a short-term solution to relieve some of the stress in our mental health system — particularly how it impacts hospital emergency departments,” Smith said.

Hospitals across the state are struggling to find capacity for new inpatient admissions.

Smith says the state has also worked to open up an additional 80 beds in rehabilitation facilities and nursing homes.

He says the new beds will relieve some of the pressure on hospitals.

Peter Hirschfeld

6. More than 15,000 people have signed petitions asking Horizon Organic to maintain operations in the Northeast

More than 15,000 people have signed petitions asking Horizon Organic to maintain its operations in the Northeast.

Two petitions were delivered on Tuesday to Danone, Horizon’s parent company. In August, Danone notified 89 organic dairy farms across Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and New York that their contracts would end next year.

Nine organizations are asking Danone to meet and discuss investing in the region. Among them is the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, led by Ed Maltby.

"The organic dairies are a significant part of that in rural infrastructure. And to have that many dairies disappear in a very short space of time will have a significant effect across the board."

Maltby says Danone has acknowledged they’ve received the petitions, and says they're willing to meet.

In an emailed statement to VPR, Danone says it is “continually connecting with each impacted farmer” to see how the company can support them during the transition.

Elodie Reed

Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.

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