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News roundup: Vt. health officials report 11.3% COVID positivity rate Monday

A red 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 and more for Monday, Jan. 3.

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While Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended, the delta and omicron variants are now circulating around the state.Click here for the latest on new cases, and findthe latest vaccination data online any time.

1. Vt. health officials report 11.3% COVID positivity rate Monday

The Vermont Department of Health reported 245 new COVID cases on Monday, on top of more than 2,500 cases combined between Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The COVID positivity rate — the average percentage of tests for the virus that come back positive over seven days — is 11.3%, a dramatic increase from historic levels.

A total of 74 people are currently hospitalized with COVID, including 14 in the ICU. Health officials reported six more Vermonters died from the virus between Friday and today, bringing the state's pandemic toll to 480 people so far.

- Elodie Reed

Health Dept. working to contain COVID-19 outbreak at Killington Ski Resort

Vermont’s Health Department is working to contain the spread of a COVID-19 outbreak at Killington Ski Resort.

WPTZ reports as of last Thursday, 86 resort staff have tested positive for the virus. None have been hospitalized and there are currently no deaths associated with the outbreak.

According to WPTZ, the Health Department has been working with resort management to offer special testing for staff.

Special testing clinics have also been arranged for members of the Killington community. The first took place on Sunday and the second is scheduled for today from 2 to 6 p.m.

- Lydia Brown

Quebec sees massive COVID-19 spike

The Quebec government reported more than 14,000 new COVID cases Thursday -- shattering the province's previous single-day record.

The CBC reports there has been a 172% spike in cases there compared to last week.

Meanwhile, the number of people hospitalized with COVID rose sharply for the second day in a row to 900. The province's health department projects the number of hospitalized and ICU patients could double within three weeks.

Strain on Quebec's hospitals has led government leaders to create a four-level system determining when health-care workers who have tested positive for COVID can return to work.

- Kevin Trevellyan

Quebec closes non-essential retail stores to try and curb COVID-19 wave

Non-essential retail stores in Quebec closed Sunday – the first of three planned closures announced last week by Premier Francois Legault.

According to the Associated Press, the closures come as Quebec tries to curb a new wave of COVID-19 driven by the omicron variant.

Only pharmacies, convenience stores and gas stations are exempt.

- Lydia Brown

2. Vt. council looking to use federal funds for Climate Action Plan initiatives

Last week, Vermont's Climate Council asked lawmakers and the governor for a major investment to fund the state's first ever Climate Action Plan.

Gov. Scott and the Legislature have already committed about $200 million in federal funds for carrying out the Climate Action Plan.

But the Climate Council says the state should more than double that investment, according to a memo shared Wednesday with lawmakers.

The memo calls for investing up to nearly $200 million in electric vehicles and charging stations alone. More than $100 million would go to weatherizing homes. It also calls for major investments in flood resilience, agriculture and upgrading the electric grid.

The council says programs for lower-income Vermonters should be a priority.

The eight administration officials that sit on the Climate Council abstained from the recommendations.

- Abagael Giles

Data shows significant warming taking place atop Northeast’s highest peak

A new analysis of meteorological data collected atop the Northeast's highest peak shows statistically significant warming taking place on New Hampshire's Mount Washington summit.

Georgia Murray, a staff scientist at the Appalachian Mountain Club, says a shortage of data remains a challenge to understanding climate change on mountains, but the Mount Washington Observatory has maintained an extensive and continuous record.

Murray has recently published a study analyzing data from the last 15 years from both the observatory's summit weather station and nearby Pinkham Notch, and found statistically significant warming in both locations.

- Associated Press

3. Vermont House to vote by February on constitutional amendment enshrining unrestricted right to abortion

The Vermont House of Representatives will vote by early February on whether to put an abortion-rights amendment on the general election ballot in 2022.

House Speaker Jill Krowinski says the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to block an anti-abortion law in Texas has raised the stakes in Vermont.

“And to see the type of decisions the Supreme Court is making, it is so entirely important that we do not take anything for granted in Vermont,” Krowinski said.

The constitutional amendment, known as Proposition 5, would enshrine the unrestricted right to abortion in Vermont’s constitution.

Planned Parenthood launched a campaign in November to boost public support for the amendment.

- Peter Hirschfeld

To build affordable housing, state representative says Legislature needs to address development barriers

Vermont has earmarked at least $250 million for the construction of affordable housing.

But Waterbury Rep. Tom Stevens says new housing units won’t come online unless the Legislature addresses barriers to development.

“We have to think about zoning, we have to think about our downtown designation programs, our neighborhood programs,” Stevens said. “You know, people are going to have to figure out a way to allow some of this building to be in their backyards.”

Vermont is hoping to use money from the American Rescue Plan Act to bring 1,500 housing units online over the next two years.

Stevens says lawmakers will consider reforms to existing land use policies that might otherwise impede development of affordable housing.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Legislature economic adviser says Vt. economy could grow at fastest rate in 30 years, if pandemic recedes

In 2022, Vermont's economy could grow at the fastest rate in over 30 years, according to the Legislature’s main economic adviser. But there's a caveat.

Vermont's gross domestic product could grow by nearly 10% this year. But as economist Tom Kavet told lawmakers last month, that’s if the pandemic recedes. And that’s a big if.

Kavet says there are some positive economic impacts from COVID in Vermont… namely, that more people may move to the state to work remotely.

"The ability to work remotely, and the investment in broadband, could have enormous potential economic development impacts for the state,” Kavet said.

There are negatives too, particularly in the labor force. Many older Vermonters have retired during the pandemic, and the state’s population skews older. The labor force is significantly smaller than it was before COVID, and Kavet says its unclear whether older Vermonters will return to the job market.

- Henry Epp

4. Older cell phones may no longer work as service providers phase out 3G wireless network

Older cell phones may no longer work this year as the 3G wireless network is phased out.

AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile all plan to shift to higher speed 4G and 5G technology.

Barbara Neal, executive director of the Vermont Enhanced 911 Board, says most people will be notified by their carrier if impacted.

Some Vermonters have been given free, older model, no-contract phones from community groups, like women’s shelters, so they can call 911 in an emergency.

“Really what we want to do is make sure that those without a cell service provider are aware that they may not get a notification and they should perhaps do some research on their own to check out their device and its capabilities,” Neal said.

She encourages people to look at their phone settings or ask the manufacturer to learn more.

AT&T will pull the plug on 3G service in February, followed by T-Mobile in March and Verizon in December of 2022.

- Nina Keck

5. 34-year-old man held inside Newport prison died over the weekend

A 34-year-old man held inside Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport died this weekend.

Michael Cornell of Newport was found unresponsive in his cell on Saturday morning, according to the Department of Corrections.

Cornell had recently returned from an outside medical appointment, and was in the prison's quarantine unit in compliance with COVID-19 protocol.

DOC says staff and emergency medical services brought Cornell to North Country Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The official cause of death has yet to be determined, but the department says it is not considered suspicious.

- Anna Van Dine

6. Police investigating shooting of mother and son in Holland

Vermont State Police are working to identify whoever shot and injured a mother and son in the town of Holland.

Police received a report Saturday of what was thought to be a motor vehicle crash.

Upon arrival to the scene, Derby Line residents Jason Willey and Valerie Lyon were found injured inside the vehicle from gunshot wounds.

Both Willey and Lyon were transported to North Country Hospital and then to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center for treatment.

Police say the victims were targeted and that the incident was not a random act. An investigation is underway.

- Lydia Brown

7. Free ice fishing clinics offered by Vermont Fish and Wildlife

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department is holding a series of free ice fishing clinics this winter.

The department says each clinic lasts two and half to three hours and will include instruction about ice safety, hole drilling, equipment and techniques, and regulations.

The clinics will range from “Introduction to Ice Fishing” to a trout fishing program.

Pre-registration is required and can be done on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife website.

- Associated Press

Elodie Reed and Kevin Trevellyan compiled and edited this post.

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