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News roundup: Vermont Dept. of Health reports 461 new COVID-19 cases Friday

A blue background with the words Vermont News Roundup with a green Vermont icon over the "R"
Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, Nov. 19.

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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 Dept. of Health reports 461 new COVID-19 cases

COVID-linked hospitalizations remain high in Vermont, as state health officials reported another day of near-record new virus infections today.

In all, the health department reported 461 new cases and one more virus-linked death.

Right now, 62 people are hospitalized with the virus, including 15 in intensive care. Vermont's hospitalizations haven't been that high since last winter.

The positivity rate remains unchanged at 4.2%.

To date, 22% of Vermont kids between the age of 5 and 11 have gotten their first vaccine dose and overall, 81% of Vermonters are likewise at least partially vaccinated.

Matthew Smith

FDA expands booster eligibility nationwide

About a third of Vermonters have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster.

That’s days after the shots became available to any adult in the state and after the FDA expanded eligibility across the country Friday.

Kelly Dougherty with the health department says the change simplifies what had been confusing guidance.

"You had to do this sort of mental calculation to decide for yourself whether you were at risk," she said. "So we felt like that it just wasn’t super clear."

She encourages anyone six months from their first shots to make appointments online or by phone.

You can also walk in to a state-run clinic to get a booster.

Health Department reports high demand for boosters

The health department has seen high demand for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, days after it expanded eligibility to all adults in the state.

Any adult can make an appointment, and if you’re having trouble scheduling your booster shot online, Dougherty says you might need to call.

"If you got your first dose or doses at a pharmacy or somewhere else, then you actually need to call and register if you want to come to one of our sites," she said. "Because the system won’t know that it’s been six months. So that’s the only caveat."

She is encouraging people to make appointments, but booster shots are also available for walk-ins.

Lexi Krupp

Lawmakers will hold a special session in Montpelier Monday to consider legislation on mask mandates

Vermont lawmakers will hold a special session in Montpelier on Monday to consider legislation that would allow municipalities to impose local mask mandates.

Karen Horn, with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, says her organization would prefer a statewide mask mandate.

But she told lawmakers Friday that Gov. Phil Scott has made it clear he won’t use his executive authority to institute one.

"And so we are where we are, and in the current circumstance, we support and think it would be helpful — more helpful than not — to give towns this authority.”

The masking legislation is expected to win approval in both the House and Senate.

Horn says she knows of about half dozen municipalities so far that plan to consider local masking ordinances.

Peter Hirschfeld

Health commissioner urges Vermonters to ask about vaccination status, get tested before and after Thanksgiving gatherings

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine is urging all Vermonters to be use caution over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

In the last two weeks, the number of COVID-19 cases has increased roughly 64%.

If you choose to gather, Levine says it's a good idea to be tested both before and after the holiday and to ask about the vaccination status of all guests

He also hopes the gatherings will be as small as possible.

"The more people and the more households, the higher the chance that someone could have the virus and expose other people," Levine said. "Even people you trust the most can have the virus and not know it."

Levine says it's also important for all Vermonters to follow indoor mask and social distancing guidelines during the holiday weekend.

Bob Kinzel

2. Governor says Vermont must expand its workforce quickly if it is to capitalize on federal infrastructure funds

Gov. Phil Scott says  Vermont must quickly expand its workforce development programs in order to take advantage of more than $2 billion in new federal infrastructure funds.

Under the bill signed into law by President Biden earlier this week, Vermont will receive almost $1.5 billion for road repairs, $225 million to fix deficient bridges, and $100 million to expand broadband.

Scott is concerned that there might not be enough workers in Vermont to complete many of these projects.

"We are still struggling and we are going to continue to struggle. As we've seen, pre-pandemic we had a workforce shortage and the pandemic has exacerbated that." 

Scott says he hopes to work with lawmakers this winter on legislation to attract more workers to the state.

Bob Kinzel

3. During the pandemic, outdoor recreation remained a significant driver of Vermont's economy, compared with other states

During the pandemic, outdoor recreation remained a significant driver of Vermont's economy, compared with other states. That's according to a new analysis from the federal government and Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance.

The outdoor recreation economy accounted for 3.7% of Vermont's gross domestic product in 2020. Only in Montana and Hawaii does the sector represent a larger portion of the state economy.

Last year, Vermont state parks welcomed more than one million visitors. That marks the highest visitation rate since 1988.

Outdoor gear sales in the state were up 4% in 2020, compared with 2019.

But employment in Vermont's outdoor recreation sector dropped by 26% during that time, a loss of more than 6,000 jobs. That's the biggest drop seen by any state other than Hawaii.

And while the industry adds more than $1.2 billion to the economy, it generates just under 3% of total compensation in the state.

— Abagael Giles

4. Agency of Education to delay kindergarten readiness survey

Vermont's Agency of Education is delaying this year’s kindergarten readiness survey.

Kindergarten teachers typically assess their students early in the year to measure social and emotional growth, along with physical health and academics.

But the delta variant of COVID-19 has hit the state’s youngest students especially hard, causing attendance issues, and teachers need more time to evaluate their students.

The agency hopes to get the new surveys out in December, and collect the data in January.

According to last year’s Ready for Kindergarten Survey, one of the most noticeable impacts of the pandemic has been a drop in pre-K and kindergarten enrollment.

Howard Weiss-Tisman

5. Vermont Cannabis Control Board announces proposed license and fee schedule for recreational cannabis

The Vermont Cannabis Control Board has designed a license and fee schedule they say will encourage small growers to be a key part of the state's cannabis marketplace when it launches next fall.

Board consultant Andrew Livingston told members of the House Ways and Means Committee this week that the goal is to create a system that makes it as easy as possible for small Vermont business people to become involved in this emerging market.

"We're looking at trying to lower that in order to ensure that local Vermont residents who want to start a cannabis business are able to be entrepreneurs if they qualify," Livinston said.

The Cannabis Board's administrative and regulatory structure is subject to legislative approval this winter.

Bob Kinzel

Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.

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