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Library continues to talk move

Rutland Free Library Director Randal Smathers opened discussion Thursday about the library’s planned move by talking about the late John Gulash, a wheelchair user with Parkinson’s disease who frequented the library

As Gulash’s disease progressed, Smathers said, it got harder for him to navigate the library’s wheelchair access.

“Eventually, we had to fetch books for him, which he found frustrating because it was difficult for him to speak,” Smathers said, noting that none of the access meets code.

Smathers said access is an abstract issue to a lot of people, but to the library staff, it is a real barrier for the people they try to serve.

“We will be able to serve the entire community at the new space,” he said.

The new space is the former College of St. Joseph administration building, which includes the college library. The library announced plans late last year to move there from its current location on 10 Court St. Smathers and members of the board of trustees have said the current building is expensive to maintain and would be prohibitively costly to reconfigure as a modern library, whereas the CSJ space is newer, in better shape and already a modern library.

RFL plans to buy the building from Heartland Communities of America, which is buying the campus from Heritage Family Credit Union with plans to convert it into a senior living facility.

The announcement was met with a fierce pushback from people who want the library to stay in the current building or at least downtown. Smathers said while that group has been vocal, the majority of the comments the library has received either through Facebook or a feedback form on the RFL website have been positive.

“The comments from people with valid library cards are even more positive,” Smathers said. “They are in this building daily and weekly and they understand its shortcomings.”

Smathers and Sharon Courcelle, board of trustees president, pushed back against the notion that the library had rushed into the move or did not look at other options, saying the board had been working on their facilities issues for years, consulting with multiple architects.

“If a unicorn was dropped in front of us right now and was ready to go, we’d have to take a look at it,” Courcelle said. “Prior boards have looked at this and looked at this and looked at this.”

Several of the move’s opponents expressed a feeling that the trustees were “not listening” to them. Smathers and Courcelle said that’s exactly what they were doing at this meeting, and invited people to come to tours of the new space being conducted next week.



On a brisk afternoon, Lexi Hedding and her dog Thea enjoy the fresh air while walking along Center Street in Rutland.

Winter walking

99 vaccine doses spoiled at CVMC

MONTPELIER — Officials say 99 doses of the novel coronavirus vaccine were spoiled or wasted last month at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin.

Fully vaccinated residents can now gather together, but can only gather with one unvaccinated household at a time.

VTDigger first reported the spoiled doses at the hospital in Berlin on Thursday night.

Anna Noonan, president and chief operations officer at CVMC, said in a statement Friday, “This occurred because a waitlist process we had used in December and January for no shows and cancellations was dropped as we made operational changes to accommodate increased volume from the 75+ age group.”

The state started vaccinating Vermonters aged 75 years old and older in January.

Noonan said before February, the hospital had only lost six doses due to a faulty vial and 10 more expired before they could be used.

“For the past 12 months, as we responded to the many challenges of this pandemic, the safety of our community has always been paramount. As professionals trusted with the health care of our neighbors, we understand what these vaccines mean to ending the pandemic, and I am deeply sorry that these doses went unused,” she said in the statement.

Noonan said the hospital has revised its system to make sure all vaccine doses are used.

Mike Smith, secretary of the state Agency of Human Services, said at Gov. Phil Scott’s regular Friday news briefing he was not aware of the spoiled doses until the report from VTDigger came out. Smith said hospitals, including CVMC have been doing an “incredible job” in getting residents vaccinated.

The secretary cited the state’s low number of spoiled or wasted doses, calling it “a fraction of a fraction.” He said about 170,000 doses have been administered so far and fewer than 500 doses have spoiled.

State officials had feared 860 doses of the vaccine had been spoiled at Springfield Hospital in January. That’s because the doses might have reached a temperature of 9 degrees at the hospital when they are meant to be stored at 8 degrees. But after consultation with the vaccine manufacturer, state officials were told the doses were still usable.

Last week, the governor announced because of the progress the state has made in vaccinations, anyone who has been fully vaccinated, meaning an individual getting their second vaccine dose more than two weeks previous or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, can meet with multiple unvaccinated households in a single day. Moreover, people who are vaccinated are no longer required to observe a two-week quarantine when they travel to Vermont.

Scott said Friday he was ready to relax the gathering restriction a bit more. He said effective immediately, multiple households that have been fully vaccinated can meet together at the same time. But they can still only meet with one unvaccinated household at a time and unvaccinated households cannot gather with each other.

“For example, if eight fully vaccinated individuals wanted to get together at someone’s house for dinner, they are now able to do so,” he said.

The governor said he expects to announce more changes to the state’s guidance next week.

According to the state’s vaccine dashboard, more than 20% of Vermont’s eligible population have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The vaccines currently available can only be given to those 16 years old and older because they haven’t been tested on people younger than that.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com

Noah Beauchain from Awesome Graphics takes measurements for a sign in front of Downtown Rutland Partnership in Rutland City.

Vaccines for educators offer hope for a return to normal

With vaccines for educators on the way and new research showing schools continue to be safe from COVID-19, Gov. Phil Scott’s goal for a return to full in-person learning by the end of April seems within grasp.

Earlier this week, state officials announced that school employees can start registering for COVID-19 vaccine appointments beginning Monday.

Eligible in the next phase will be anyone who works inside a school building or has contact with students. Educators at private schools and early childhood educators are eligible as well. In total, a little more than 35,000 people will be able to get vaccinated if they so choose.

Educators in the first group will be able to choose between the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses, several weeks apart.

At Friday’s regular news briefing, the state provided additional details on how that rollout would work.

Mike Smith, secretary of the state Agency of Human Services, announced that seven school districts are scheduled to receive vaccines beginning next week: Rutland City Public Schools, Mill River Unified Union School District, Harwood Unified Union School District, Springfield School District, Barre Unified Union School District, North Country Supervisory Union and all schools in Bennington County.

All remaining schools in Rutland County will have access to the vaccine beginning March 15, according to AOE spokesperson Ted Fisher.

“Details are being finalized for at least 28 additional clinics in the next few weeks,” Smith said, explaining that the program will start slowly and ramp up quickly during the next couple weeks.

He said people should await instructions from their employers before making an appointment.

Also, Smith announced that regulated child care programs will be eligible to be vaccinated beginning March 15.

Dan French, secretary of the state Agency of Education, said the results of a recent survey of more than 15,000 school staff, found that 92% indicated an interest in getting vaccinated, and of more than 2,200 child care staff members surveyed, 81% wanted the vaccine.

During the briefing, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine addressed the eventuality of children getting vaccinated, noting that there is at least one vaccine being evaluated for children ages 12 and older.

“So stay tuned on that front, because there may be opportunities in the future for kids to get vaccinated with a vaccine that’s been adequately studied in their population,” he said.

The rollout coincides with the governor’s stated goal of getting all K-12 students back to in-person learning by the end of April.

Scott’s push has gained urgency recently as state officials reported increasing levels of depression and anxiety in school-age children, arguing that more in-person instruction would improve mental health.

“The sooner we can restore more in-person instruction, the sooner we can stop the negative impacts of the pandemic, and we can begin the work of the recovery,” French said Friday.

That push was supported this week by a new study released by the UVM Medical Center, which found being in a school does not correlate with higher infection rates of COVID-19.

The voluntary survey measured COVID-19 antibodies in more than 500 students, teachers and staff in the Colchester School District. It found a prevalence of antibodies in 4.7% of samples — 4.6% among students and 4.9% among teachers and staff.

Among students in grades pre-K-5, only 1.8% showed signs of antibodies, confirming research that has shown younger children are less likely to contract and transmit the virus.

The numbers are cumulative, meaning that the presence of antibodies indicates exposure to the virus at any point in the past. That measure differs from the PCR tests, like the ones educators currently take on a regular basis.

Dr. Benjamin Lee, an infectious disease expert at the UVM Medical Center Children’s Hospital, said the Colchester cohort is “fairly representative” of conditions across the rest of the state.

“Areas that are utilizing the same type of mitigation strategies within the school settings within Vermont and elsewhere, I think, would be able to look at these results and find them to be applicable,” he said.

The study provides another point of reference showing schools have been successful at mitigating the virus and continue to be safe, and Lee said it should provide some peace of mind for those who are skeptical of schools bringing more children back into the classroom.

“We know that our kids have been struggling throughout the winter, and the right thing to do is to do everything we can to get as many kids back into school as possible. We have shown in many different ways at this point that it’s safe to do so and that the school is a safe environment,” he said.

Still, Lee warned against complacency — just because educators are getting vaccinated and schools are considering bringing back more students doesn’t mean the pandemic is over.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter by the day, but we’re still not through it yet. … The playbook still is the same,” he said, reminding people to continue to wear masks, limit nonessential travel and avoid large gatherings.

But those assurances only go so far with school officials back in their home districts.

David Younce, superintendent of the four-town Mill River School District in Rutland County, is glad his employees will be vaccinated, but still sees other obstacles preventing a successful full return for students.

He said adhering to physical distancing requirements put forth by the state has necessitated the implementation of hybrid schedules where students alternate between in-person and remote learning to limit the number of bodies in a building. At MRU, grades 7-12 currently operate on such a schedule.

“While we have heard it stated that the distancing requirements are not likely to change, we’ve also heard from the weekly press conferences a not-so-subtle expectation and message to ‘figure it out’ as we approach a possible April in-person full return,” Younce said, noting the disconnect creates “significant tension” for districts.

On Friday, French made one such recommendation, calling for districts to find “creative solutions” to distancing issues. He went on to suggest schools set up outdoor classrooms as the weather improves and highlighted an example from Woodstock Elementary School where sixth-graders attend classes in a space provided by Billings Farm Museum.

Younce pointed to students who have opted to remain fully remote as another issue needing to be addressed. He wondered if remote students would be required to return in person even if their families do not wish for them to do so.

When asked about that issue at Tuesday’s news conference, Scott said it was a question that was “on the table” and the state would reach out to local districts about it.

Scott said Friday that while he would like to see all Vermont schools return to full in-person learning before the end of the school year, he acknowledged the importance of local control and said individual school districts will ultimately decide what’s best for them.

“I believe that the superintendents, the principals, the staff, the teachers — all want the same thing: They all want to get back to in-person instruction for the kids. They just want to be safe in order to do so. We think that (the vaccine) was a major obstacle and (are) providing for that.”



SPORTS rail topper

Fans or no fans?

Little East Conference personnel talk about the ability to have fans or not at their collegiate spring sporting events. B1

Mount Mansfield, seen here from Stowe, is known in Abenaki as Mozdebiwajo, or Moosehead Mountain.

According to the author, we must call on our leaders to act now to take important steps to better protect Vermonters’ health by banning toxic PFAS chemicals from products, allowing victims of contamination to seek coverage for medical monitoring costs, and regulating PFAS chemicals in our drinking water.