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News roundup: Vermont COVID hospitalizations drop by 17 people between yesterday, today

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Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Thursday, Feb. 10.

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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 findthe latest vaccination data online any time.

1. Vermont COVID hospitalizations drop by 17 people between yesterday, today

Vermont’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are down significantly between yesterday and today, according to state officials.

The Vermont COVID dashboard shows 76 people are currently hospitalized, down from 93 on Wednesday. Twenty-three of those people are in the ICU.

The state recorded three additional deaths Thursday, bringing Vermont’s death toll to 565 people.

Vermont’s seven-day positivity rate continues trending down, and is at 7.8 percent.

The state documented an additional 398 COVID cases Thursday.

- Elodie Reed

UVM Medical Center remains full despite downtick in COVID cases

Hospitals like the University of Vermont Medical Center remain full – even as COVID patients are no longer their biggest concern.

Chief operating officer Dr. Stephen Leffler says staff are stretched thin. The intensive care unit is nearly full, and several patients are waiting to be transferred from other hospitals.

“Before the pandemic, once or twice a month, we’d have a really, really busy day. And it was tough and stressful. And it was hard to get through it. And it took a lot of effort to manage all the pieces that day. That’s every single day now,” he said.

Leffler says he hopes this is not the new normal.

- Lexi Krupp

COVID shot unlikely to join list of mandated vaccinations for Vt. students 

It's unlikely that a COVID shot will join the list of mandated vaccinations for all Vermont students in the foreseeable future.

The issue was briefly taken up for discussion this week by the Vermont Immunization Advisory Council.

Health Commissioner and council member Dr. Mark Levine says there isn't much need to impose that kind of mandate at this time.

"We are by far leading the nation in the effort to get them vaccinated, and the percentage that are already vaccinated,” he said. “So though it needs to be discussed over time, it's certainly not an urgent matter at this point in time."

A decision to add a COVID shot to the mandated list of student vaccinations would need to be approved by the Health Department and Legislature.

- Bob Kinzel

2. Vermont Senate approves renter protections

The Vermont Senate on Wednesday gave its approval to legislation that could affect the vast majority of renters in Vermont.

The bill creates a registry of most rental units, and transfers the enforcement of health and safety complaints from the local level to the state level.

The legislation also provides grants to landlords who are willing to rehabilitate Vermont's 11,000-odd substandard and vacant rental properties.

Chittenden Sen. Michael Sirotkin says the bill offers essential renter protections.

"We have a rental housing inspection system that does not work. It hasn't worked for 30 years. Now we have a big problem and it's time for us to step up and fix it,” he said.

The bill's future is uncertain. Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a similar bill last year, and says he still has many concerns with the new version.

- Bob Kinzel

Lawmakers are weighing legislation that would temporarily ban a class of pesticides

Lawmakers are weighing legislation that would temporarily ban a class of pesticides.

The chemicals, neonicotinoids, are the most widely used pesticides in the world. They're applied most often in Vermont as a powdered coating on seeds.

Preliminary findings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show several are highly toxic to bees and other wildlife. But the agency still allows them.

University of Vermont researcher Samantha Algers says bees here and elsewhere face compounding threats.

"Here in Vermont, beekeepers have been experiencing overwintering losses in the range of 30-50% over the last decade,” she said.

From 2020 to 2021, Vermont beekeepers reported the second-highest annual colony losses in the United States.

The bill would ban the pesticides until Vermont's Agency of Agriculture releases best practices for how to use them sparingly. If the agency fails to do so by 2024, the ban would become permanent.

- Abagael Giles

3. Scott administration proposes cell tower expansion

The Scott administration says it's critical for lawmakers to take steps this year to improve internet and cell service in Vermont – and the administration says its proposal to build 100 new cell towers will help achieve this goal.

Public Service Commissioner June Tierney says the plan is to use $51 million in federal COVID relief to build infrastructure needed to serve parts of the state that currently lack service.

Tierney acknowledges that while many people support enhanced internet and cell service, there can also be a robust local debate concerning the siting of these towers.

"So there will be ample public notice and input. This approach makes respect for the will of the community the North Star of our planning process,” she said.

Several Legislative committees are now reviewing the governor's proposal.

- Bob Kinzel

4. Chipmaker to bolster Essex Junction plant

GlobalFoundries plans to invest $150 million in its Essex Junction plant this year, according to an earnings call.

GlobalFoundries says its revenue increased 35% last year, compared to 2020. The company increased its shipments of semiconductor wafers by 17% amid a worldwide shortage of chips, which has hit the automotive industry especially hard.

In its earnings call with investors this week, the company said it will spend 20% of its revenue on capital investments this year, including $150 million for the Essex Junction plant to diversify the types of chips made there.

The company also plans to heavily invest in its other facilities in Singapore, Germany and Malta, N.Y. – where it plans to spend over half a billion dollars this year.

- Henry Epp

5. Vermont home prices outpacing income

The median price of a Vermont home is far higher than what a family earning the median income here can afford, according to local housing experts.

Maura Collins, who heads the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, said onVermont EditionWednesday that housing has gotten much more expensive during the pandemic.

“Our median home price was $280,000. That's up 20% from before the pandemic. And it's far higher in Chittenden County, which was about $385,000,” she said.

Gov. Phil Scott's budget proposal includes $140 million for affordable housing projects for low- and middle-income families. Lawmakers this legislative session are debating numerous proposals for spending that money.

- Mikaela Lefrak

More from Brave Little State: How can Vermont solve its housing crisis?

Elodie Reed and Kevin Trevellyan compiled and edited this post.

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