Vermont reporters provide a snapshot of the top coronavirus news, upcoming laws, New Year walks and more for Thursday, December 30th.
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1. Health officials report a new record number of COVID cases and a positivity rate on Thursday
Vermont health officials reported a record 1,352 new COVID infections on Thursday, beating the previous one-day record of about 940 cases on Wednesday.
The state’s positivity rate – the percentage of new tests that come back positive – also rose to 7.3%, the highest rate Vermont has ever seen in the pandemic.
Four other Vermonters have died of COVID. The virus has killed 471 people so far.
– Matthew Smith
The Ministry of Health hired an analyst to fill gaps in data collection on racial equal opportunities
The Ministry of Health says there are gaps in the collection of data on equality of opportunity in the field of racial health and the ministry has hired an analyst to address the issue.
Legislators asked the Ministry of Health to investigate how health outcomes are measured by race and ethnicity, as well as gender, disability and socio-economic status.
In a report released this month, the department says it needs to improve data collection and implement consistent best practices.
The Department of Health has announced plans to create a health equity dashboard that will go online sometime next year.
– Howard Weiss-Tisman
Parents can pick up rapid children’s COVID tests at home today and tomorrow before they go back to school
Vermont plans to distribute 87,000 home test kits to parents and guardians this week so children can be tested for COVID-19 before going back to school.
Governor Phil Scott announced the details of the program on Wednesday.
Parents can immediately register for the program on the Vermont Department of Health website.
The tests are available for collection on Thursdays and Fridays from 51 different Transportation Department locations across the state between 7:00 and 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Parents or carers must register with the student’s name and school. One kit with two tests is given to each child.
Officials hope parents will test their children before sending them back to school next week, but the tests are not mandatory.
– Associated press
2. Bill to be presented at the next session would make ALS a reportable disease
Bill to be passed in the upcoming legislature would make ALS – also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – a reportable disease in Vermont.
Chittenden County Senator Ginny Lyons says public health experts have asked lawmakers for the measure.
“With this we can understand if there is a cluster in our state or if there is a cluster in one or more geographic areas of our state,” Lyons said.
Some health researchers say they have identified a link between ALS and the presence of blue-green algae blooms, which are common in some Vermont waters.
According to Lyons, the introduction of a reportable ALS disease will help scientists better target their research.
– Peter Hirschfeld
The chairman of the state senate establishes a reallocation committee
Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint said she would set up a bipartisan committee to recreate the Senate district maps to reflect changes in Vermont’s population over the past 10 years.
During this time, the population of Vermont has shifted from the southern and northeastern parts of the state to the northwestern region – mainly Chittenden and Franklin counties.
“But I know the most important thing is to have a bipartisan group working on it. I want Vermonters to know that this is not a political calculation, ”she said.
The Senate committee will decide whether or not to follow the recommendations of the Vermont Distribution Committee. The board has proposed that all senators be elected from individual districts.
Currently only three senators are elected this way.
– Bob Kinzel
Childcare allowances in Vermont could be withdrawn through Build Back Better Act
The collapse of the Build Back Better bill in Congress could undo plans to increase childcare allowances in Vermont.
At the beginning of this year, the legislature passed a draft law that will run until 20/23 aimed to ensure that no Vermont family had to pay more than 10% of their annual income for childcare costs.
But Chittenden County Senator Ginny Lyons says the pledge will be difficult to deliver without financial help from the federal government.
“We’re caught between a rock and a tough place,” Lyons said. “It’s no fun. It is really worrying that the Federal Congress, especially the Senate, is not providing the support that states need. “
The Build Back Better legislation had included nearly $ 400 billion to cut childcare costs nationally.
– Peter Hirschfeld
Anti-hunger organizations demand Vt. Legislature to make school meals free for all students
Anti-hunger organizations in Vermont are calling on lawmakers to make school meals free for every student in the state.
Legislators say the proposal is gaining momentum in Montpelier. Proponents of the Universal Free Meal Plan say it would remove food barriers and reduce stigma on students from low-income households.
Legislation requiring schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students was scaled back during the last Senate legislature. However, Chittenden County Senator Chris Pearson, a co-sponsor of the Free Meals Act, says the political landscape has changed.
“A few other states have moved forward so we’re no longer alone at the top and increasingly understanding that food insecurity is very real for far too many Vermont families,” Pearson said.
Government officials have raised concerns about the estimated $ 50 million cost of the measure.
– Peter Hirschfeld
3. Pollution lawsuit pending in Bennington
A federal judge has tentatively approved a $ 34 million class action lawsuit filed by residents of Bennington alleging that their water and soil have been contaminated by a dangerous chemical.
The chemical PFOA was reportedly released by two factories owned by Saint Gobain Plastics.
The judge’s pre-approval means people who live or have lived in Bennington in the areas affected by the pollution can start filing claims.
The money goes to property owners whose properties have depreciated due to pollution.
The deal will also cover the medical costs of monitoring people in the area who have elevated levels of the chemical in their blood.
– Howard Weiss-Tisman
4. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns wants to tackle the community’s battle to recruit police officers
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns says there should be a statewide plan to address communities’ struggle to recruit police officers.
Vermont’s worker relocation program pays people up to $ 7,500 to move here. The program includes certain jobs that are covered, but law enforcement is not one of them.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns is calling on lawmakers to change that. The League says police forces across the state are unable to fill vacancies and the problem “threatens to compromise their ability to protect public safety”.
The number of recruits leaving the police training academy this year is about a third of the annual average, while the number of departures has increased by about 50%.
– Howard Weiss-Tisman
5. Starting in 2022, Quebec will ban oil-fired heating in new homes
Quebec kicks off new initiatives to ban fossil fuels for heating homes in 2022. However, energy experts say more cooperation is needed to effectively curb greenhouse gases in the northeast.
Starting in the new year, Quebec bans oil-fired heaters in new homes. The province plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.
However, Pierre-Olivier Pineau, Chair of Energy Sector Management at HEC Montreal Graduate School, says it will take partnerships across the Northeast region to make further progress.
“We should be paying more in Quebec, more like a market price, and exporting more so that the New England people have access to cheaper, cleaner electricity,” Pineau said. “And that’s why there should be more integration and more cooperation on electricity in the northeast, including Canada, if we want to decarbonize our system.”
In 2020, New England’s regional power grid imported less than 15% of its electricity from Canada.
– Matthew Smith
6. Vermont State Parks, which offer free guided walking tours on New Years Day
Vermont State Parks offer free, guided walks for those looking to get some fresh air on New Years Day.
Professional guides and outdoor educators lead the hikes, which last between one and three hours.
The hikes take place in Allis State Park, Groton State Forest, Mount Hor in Orleans and a hike to the Butler Lodge near Underhill.
Hikers should bring microspikes or snowshoes, depending on the terrain.
Anyone who is interested can come by Vermont State Parks Blog to learn how to sign up for a hike.
– Kevin Trevellyan
Elodie Reed and Kevin Trevellyan compiled and edited this post.
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