News roundup: 4 more Vermonters have died from COVID-19, as the state sees 163 new cases
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, education funding and more for Monday, Nov. 1.
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 find the latest vaccination data online any time.
1. Vermont Dept. of Health reports 163 new COVID-19 cases
Four more Vermonters have died from COVID-19, state health officials reported Monday, along with 163 new virus infections.
The pandemic death toll in Vermont now numbers 368.
The weekend saw more than 450 new infections. There are 47 people hospitalized due to the virus.
The vaccination rate, last updated Saturday, shows a solid 90% of eligible Vermonters have gotten at least one vaccine dose.
More than 80% are fully inoculated.
— Matthew Smith
Vermont Dept. of Health reported 450 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend
The Vermont Department of Health reported over 450 cases of COVID-19 over the weekend.
That includes 175 infections on Saturday and 278 on Sunday.
The state’s positivity rate is up to 2.9%.
Orleans and Essex Counties continue to have the highest case rates in the northeastern U.S., according to The New York Times data tracker.
Essex County has the lowest vaccination rate in the state — over 27 percentage points lower than the state average.
— Anna Van Dine
Milton pre-K program puts classes on pause this week due to COVID-19
A Milton pre-K program is putting classes on pause through this first week of November, due to a lack of staffing as a result of the pandemic.
WCAX reports the Milton School District announced Sunday the pre-k program will be put on pause Monday through Friday.
The district hopes in-person instruction for the pre-K program can resume next Monday, Nov. 8.
Parents were alerted to the closure with an email and voicemail noting the district had 5 cases of COVID-19 that affected preschool classrooms throughout October.
The district says those cases mean the pre-K program has not been able to meet state-required student-teacher ratios in its preschool program.
— Matthew Smith
2. Tune in Thursday to Vermont Edition, to hear Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd, speak with host Connor Cyrus
Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, spoke Friday in Burlington, as part of the Flynn Theater's Diversity Speaker Series.
George Floyd was a Black man murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in May of 2020. His name has become synonymous with calls for police reform and social justice.
VPR's Connor Cyrus spoke with Floyd:
"Unity — I want everyone to know that we can come together as a people and figure out the best situation where we can live in light and just be able to make life better for generations to come," Floyd said. "We are strong in numbers. We need to keep that."
Tune in to Vermont Edition on Thursday at noon to hear the full interview.
— Connor Cyrus
3. Rutland-based Casella reports it plans to continue with acquisitions
Rutland-based waste management company Casella plans to continue acquiring other businesses, as it looks to expand its control over the waste stream in the Northeast.
On the company's quarterly earnings call with investors Friday, CEO John Casella said the company has completed nine acquisitions so far this year, bringing it an additional $86 million in annual revenue. And he said there's more to come.
"Overall, the acquisition pipeline is robust, and we're actively working on several deals in various phases," Casella said.
Casella's acquisitions so far this year include a major waste and recycling company in eastern Connecticut, two transfer stations in the Buffalo, N.Y. area and Grow Compost, a compost hauling business in Moretown, Vt.
Casella reports strong revenue growth, continued pandemic impacts
The impact of the pandemic is still affecting Casella's business, even as the company reports strong revenue growth.
In its third quarter earnings call Friday, CEO John Casella said the amount of trash coming into the company's landfills is still below pre-pandemic levels, mostly due to decreased activity in the New York City region. He said it's hard to know when that will change.
"I think that there's still a lot of people out of offices, there's not the kind of activity that was there pre-pandemic. It really depends on how quickly things come back," he said.
Still, Casella reported $242 million in total revenue from July through September. That's up 19% compared to the same quarter last year.
— Henry Epp
Disclosure: Casella is a VPR underwriter.
4. Vermont Racial Justice Alliance to open 4,200-sqare-foot community center in Burlington's Old North End
A racial justice group plans to open a new community center in Burlington,focused on meeting the needs of Black and brown residents.
The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance announced this week that it will open a 4,200-square-foot space in the city's Old North End.
The group's executive director Mark Hughes says the center will have a variety of programming, including:
"Adult basic education, basic computer skills, various workforce development initiatives, entrepreneurial cultivation, youth programming, centers of excellence in math as well as science."
The group hopes to raise $450,000 for the project by the end of the year. The center will be named after Richard Kemp, a longtime social justice activist in Burlington who died earlier this fall.
— Henry Epp
5. Congressman Welch says he is ready to vote for both infrastructure bills before Congress
Congressman Peter Welch says he's prepared to vote for both infrastructure bills that are being considered in Congress.
The first bill allocates just over $1 trillion to roads, bridges and broadband projects.
The second bill, just endorsed by President Biden, spends $1.75 trillion on child care, pre-K services, affordable housing and climate change.
Some House Progressives are refusing to vote for the so-called physical infrastructure bill until all 50 Democratic senators pledge to support the "social programs" bill.
Welch says he trusts that the senators will do the right thing.
"And I'm saying that with some judgement and confidence that we would get the votes to pass this framework on the Build Back Better — at a certain point you really do have to trust people," he said.
It's not clear when the House will take these bills up for a vote.
Welch says he's hopeful Medicare drug pricing plan will be part of President Biden's social infrastructure bill
Congressman Peter Welch says he still hopes to include a Medicare drug pricing plan in President Biden's social infrastructure bill.
Under this proposal, Medicare would be allowed to negotiate prices with the prescription drug companies.
Welch says the provision was taken out of the President's compromise bill because several senators objected to it. But he supports it.
"It would save $600 billion over 10 years and that would save it just by getting rid of the rip-off," Welch said. "I mean, we pay in this country between three- and four-times what folks pay for the same drug in Europe and there's no justification for that."
Opponents of the plan argue it will stifle the development of new drugs.
— Bob Kinzel
6. Vt. lawmakers weigh legislation to divert a larger share of education funds to schools in low-income regions
Vermont lawmakers are considering legislation that would give a larger share of the state’s education fund to schools in low-income regions of the state.
But education officials in more affluent districts say the proposal would create large new deficits for their schools.
John Stroupe, who chairs the Addison Northwest School District, says his district would lose more than $1 million in revenue a year under the plan.
“And a lot of people would say, ‘Well, tighten your belt, you can do more with less.’ And I will tell you that we already are bare bones in our education.”
Proponents of the proposed overhaul say the existing funding formula doesn’t account for the higher cost of educating students from poverty.
Lawmakers are expected to unveil proposed changes to the system next month.
— Peter Hirschfeld
7. Harwood Unified Union School District to vote on $59.5 million bond Tuesday
Harwood Unified Union School District towns will vote on a $59.5 million bond on Tuesday.
Most of the money will go towards repairs and improvements to the 56-year-old high school, which serves six central Vermont towns.
According to The Valley Reporter, one of the goals of the bond is to attract new students to the district, which has seen a 3% decline in enrollment since 2019.
Voters in the district have expressed varying levels of support and concern about the plan, which would result in a tax increase for many households.
The school board approved the plan in October.
— Anna Van Dine
8. Richmond to receive $150,000 federal grant to help fund sewer project
The Northern Border Regional Commission, a federal-state partnership that supports investment in New England’s struggling counties, has announced a new series of grants.
The funding is part of a partnership between the commission and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
Three Vermont towns are among those receiving grants, including Richmond.
Richmond Town Manager Josh Arneson says that this grant will help with a sewer expansion project.
It’s been in the works for a few years, and the nearly $150,000 grant will supplement town funds.
“The grant certainly helps us get part of the way there to constructing the expansion," Arneson said.
Prior to beginning work on the project, a vote to approve the plan will be held in Richmond. Arneson says that if everything goes to plan, construction will likely start in the summer of 2023.
— Doug Phinney
You can find Phinney’s full story on the Community News Service website.
Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.