News roundup: State officials report seven more Vermonters have died from COVID-19
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Monday, Jan. 24.
While Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended, the omicron 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. Vt. officials report seven additional people have died from COVID
Health officials reported Monday that seven more Vermonters have died from COVID-19. That’s after no new deaths were reported over the weekend.
Vermont’s Health Department dashboard shows 105 people are hospitalized with COVID, 23 of them in the ICU.
The state reported an additional 525 COVID cases Monday, and a seven-day positivity rate of 11.2%.
- Elodie Reed
Vermont prisons in lockdown after more people test positive for COVID-19
Ten more people incarcerated at the Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury have tested positive for COVID-19.
Nine reside in the work camp building where an outbreak was first detected in the first week of January.
The 10th case was detected in the general population at the facility’s second building.
The Department of Corrections also detected one positive case each at Chittenden Regional Correctional facility in South Burlington and one at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield.
All three facilities are on full lockdown.
- Mary Engisch
UVM student body president says he hasn't heard any vax mandate pushback
The University of Vermont's student body president says he hasn't heard any pushback against the school's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
All UVM students are required to get their booster by Feb. 1, or within 14 days of becoming eligible after getting their second vaccine dose this month.
Samuel Pasqualoni is the head of UVM's Student Government Association. He says he receives a lot of emails from students, staff and faculty, but hasn't fielded a single one expressing concern at the vaccine mandate.
"I think that the most pushback I've heard was students saying 'Oh man, it's really tough to get an appointment nearby.' Which is maybe indicative of good things if so many people are trying to get this booster,” Pasqualoni said.
UVM also has a vaccine mandate for faculty and staff.
- Kevin Trevellyan
2. UVM Medical Center dealing with staff shortage
At the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, hospital leaders are improvising to work around staff shortages and an increase in COVID patients.
That means National Guard troops are cleaning rooms and helping with other custodial work.
The main employee cafeteria is closed because too many food service workers are out with COVID.
And the hospital converted its board room into a treatment area for COVID patients to receive monoclonal antibodies.
Chief operating officer Dr. Stephen Leffler says the changes have been challenging.
“We've seen many, many things over the past two years we never expected to see, like having the employee cafeteria closed or giving monoclonal antibody treatments in our board room,” he said.
Leffler says the hospital continues to provide its basic main services. And more staff are back at work than earlier in the month.
- Lexi Krupp
3. State lawmakers advance retention bonuses for health care workers
House lawmakers have approved legislation that would provide $60 million in retention bonuses to frontline health care workers in Vermont.
Morrisville Rep. David Yacavone says health care organizations, including community mental health agencies, would get $3,000 per employee under the proposal.
“So if you have 100 employees, that’s $300,000 that you would manage and best allocate where your workforce crisis is,” he said.
Supporters of the legislation say the money is needed to address a staffing crisis in community health centers.
The bill still needs approval from the Vermont Senate.
- Peter Hirschfeld
State lawmakers support proposal to clarify constitutional language on slavery
A House committee on Friday advanced a proposed constitutional amendment that "clarifies that slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited."
Amendment backers say it's needed because Article One of the Vermont Constitution bans slavery for people "after arriving at the age of 21."
St. Albans Rep. Michael McCarthy says it's critical to change the language.
"Because I want people who read the first article of our Constitution to not see exceptions to the prohibition on slavery, and just to have our values be really clear,” he said.
Lawmakers say the proposed amendment will be considered by the full House in the next week or two.
- Bob Kinzel
Vt. Senate gives strong support to legislation updating medical aid-in-dying law
The Vermont Senate on Friday gave strong support to legislation that updates Vermont's medical aid-in-dying law.
The existing law requires terminally ill patients to meet with a doctor in person before they can prescribe life-ending drugs.
Addison Sen. Ruth Hardy says patients will now be able to use telemedicine when appropriate.
"Clinical practice has determined when telemedicine is and is not appropriate,” Hardy said. “Thus, S.74 allows for the use of telemedicine using both audio and visual when clinically appropriate to request medication to aid in dying."
Hardy says 116 Vermonters have chosen to use end-of-life services since the law first went into effect in 2013.
- Bob Kinzel
Vt. lawmakers to hold public hearing on abortion rights amendment this week
A proposed Constitutional amendment guaranteeing that every Vermonter is "afforded personal reproductive liberty," is a top priority for House lawmakers this session.
Advocates say passing the amendment has become more urgent because the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing a case that could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling.
Deputy Solicitor General Eleanor Spottswood told a House committee this week that the proposal has an impact on both women and men.
"Proposal Five encompasses more than just abortion,” Spottswood said. “It protects both women and men protecting the rights to choose or refuse contraception, to choose or refuse sterilization, the right to become pregnant and the right to choose abortion."
Lawmakers will hold a public hearing on Proposal Five this week.
- Bob Kinzel
4. Champlain Parkway project receives key federal permit
A controversial highway project in Burlington that's been stalled for decades received a key federal permit last week.
City officials say construction of the Champlain Parkway could begin as soon as this summer. The highway, first proposed in the 1960s, would connect Interstate 189 to downtown Burlington.
But the project has faced numerous delays over the years, including a 2019 lawsuit over the proposed design. Activists have also raised concerns that the new road would increase traffic in neighborhoods they say are more racially diverse and lower-income, while diverting traffic from wealthier, whiter areas.
Burlington Public Works Director Chapin Spencer says the city plans to phase development of the Champlain Parkway to allow time to complete other infrastructure projects.
“Once all these South End improvements are made, there will be – projected to be less traffic in the King and Maple neighborhoods than today,” Spencer said.
Spencer says the Champlain Parkway could be finished by 2027.
- Liam Elder-Connors
5. Plan to return MLB to Montreal dies
A plan to bring Major League Baseball back to Montreal has been rejected by the league.
The owner of the Tampa Bay Rays had proposed a split-season for his team, where the Rays would play half their home games in Florida and half in Montreal. But Major League Baseball's executive council dismissed the plan this week, according to multiple news reports.
Montreal was home to the Expos from 1969 until 2004, when the team moved to Washington D.C. to become the Nationals.
Stephen Bronfman, a Montreal businessman who led the effort to bring baseball back to the city, said there's currently no "plan B," according to the Associated Press.
- Henry Epp
6. Gov.'s budget proposal includes funding to study cost of keeping Green River Reservoir State Park dam
The governor's newly proposed budget includes $350,000 of funding to study the cost of operating and maintaining the dam that creates Green River Reservoir State Park.
Right now, the dam is owned by Morrisville Water and Light. This fall, the utility announced plans to decommission it and end electricity generation. That amplified existing concerns about the Lamoille County state park's future.
As many as 16,000 people camp there every year.The shoreline surrounding the 650-acre reservoir is completely undeveloped.
Meanwhile the utility has called for the state to purchase the dam.
Sally Laughlin is president of the Friends of the Green River Reservoir. She says this study feels like a step forward.
"This is wonderful news, because of course preserving the dam at Green River Reservoir is essential to preserving the state park, which is one of the most wonderful and unique places in Vermont,” she said.
The Agency of Natural Resources has said details about the dam's operation and maintenance costs, as well as its structural integrity, will be essential to any future decision.
A complete study would take at least a year.
- Abagael Giles
Elodie Reed and Kevin Trevellyan compiled and edited this post.