MONTPELIER — The state’s top health official says Vermont should receive its first round of vaccine doses next week for the novel coronavirus.
Also, the state will roll out a new text-based method to assist contact-tracing efforts.
At Gov. Phil Scott’s regular Tuesday news conference, Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s health commissioner, said the state is set to receive 5,850 doses of the vaccine some time next week, though the timeline is subject to change. Levine said the state will receive more, but the supply is limited so it will take a while for the state to get enough doses for everyone.
Though the state will get nearly 6,000 doses of the vaccine, the commissioner said that doesn’t mean that many people will get vaccinated because two doses are needed per person.
Levine said the doses will be split among high-risk health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. He said he expects vaccination clinics to take place at such facilities starting Dec. 21.
While there might be administrative fees from companies offering to give residents the vaccine, Levine said cost will not prevent someone from getting the vaccine.
The governor said it will take months for the state to receive enough doses for everyone so residents need to remain vigilant and follow the state’s guidelines to help stem the spread of the virus.
The state reported 100 new cases of the virus Tuesday and four deaths, bringing the death toll to 85. Regionally, Scott noted Rhode Island has the highest number of daily cases per capita in the country and Maine recently hit a record of 427 cases in one day.
He said New Hampshire recently had a 7% positivity rate for its testing. Vermont has a 2.7% positivity rate over the past seven days. He said Massachusetts had over 7,000 new cases in the past two days.
To assist the state’s contact-tracing efforts, Levine said later this week the state Department of Health will launch a new text notification system. He said those who are considered a close contact of a positive case will receive a text message from the number 86911 informing them of the positive test.
Levine said the person who tested positive will provide the state with the phone numbers for their close contacts. He said the messages will be sent between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and will direct the close contact to healthvermont.gov/closecontact for guidance about what to do as a close contact of a person with the virus.
“We hope that by using this new communication tool Vermonters can start preparing quickly to take steps to protect themselves and others around them,” he said.
Levine said this new system will not replace the state’s contact-tracing efforts and those who receive a text should expect to receive a phone call from the state as well.
BENSON — Middle-schoolers here will head out of town next fall.
The Slate Valley Unified School District School Board voted unanimously Monday evening to realign Benson Village School to serve grades pre-K-6 beginning July 1, 2021. Seventh and eighth-graders will have in-district school choice, which includes Fair Haven Grade School, Castleton Village School and Orwell Village School.
SVUSD serves the towns of Fair Haven, Castleton, Hubbardton, Benson, West Haven and Orwell.
Last month, Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell announced a plan to consolidate district schools during the coming two years. In addition to realigning BVS, the plan will bring all district seventh- and eighth-graders to the Fair Haven Union High School campus to create a unified middle school by fall 2022. That same year, the district will close Castleton Village School, sending CVS sixth-graders to Castleton Elementary.
At the time, Olsen Farrell said realigning BVS would save the district roughly $160,000 annually, closing CVS would save the district another $170,000 annually in operational costs and middle school consolidation would see a reduction of approximately 20 to 25 staff members for a savings of “well over a million dollars” for the district.
“It’s about offering everybody similar educational opportunities,” Olsen-Farrell said. “And while Benson is a wonderful, little school and I admire what the staff has done for our students, right now we have two teachers teaching five grade levels, and it’s just not sustainable. They’re doing a fantastic job, but that’s not sustainable in the long run.”
BVS currently has 56 students in grades pre-K through 8, according to Principal Amy Roy. Combined, next year’s seventh- and eighth-grade classes will total eight students.
“We are a small but mighty school,” she said.
Roy said the district will continue to provide transportation for seventh- and eighth-graders in the fall. She explained that a bus already runs from Benson to Fair Haven en route to the high school, and another route overlaps with an Orwell route should any students choose to attend OVS.
As the first Slate Valley school to make the transition to pre-K-6, Roy said she and her staff are excited to “make the big leap.”
“Our focus is really going to be on this new configuration, and really setting the model for what pre-K through sixth grade looks like here,” she said. “We know there’ll be challenges, but we also know about the possibilities that lie ahead for us in this new configuration.”
Slate Valley School Board Chairman Tim Smith noted support from the Board, administrators and the community at large.
In recent weeks, the board has held a series of virtual public input sessions in district communities and with BVS families. Smith said no major concerns were raised; questions generally focused on transportation and making sure students were going to have greater educational opportunities.
“(They) just wanted to be clear on the reasons why we’re choosing to repurpose Benson and how that fits in with our overall plan to move all seventh and eighth graders to Fair Haven High School in two years time,” he said.
Olsen-Farrell said the board’s approval of the BVS realignment “definitely puts us on the right path towards reorganization.”
In May, she said she will return to the board to recommend the second phase of the reconfiguration plan, which will shutter CVS and create a unified middle school.
This new plan is a paired down version of the ambitious $60 million bond voters rejected in March. While the bond was unpopular, Olsen-Farrell said many of the needs it addressed still exist.
“We can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results,” she said. “We have almost 20% less students than we had 10 years ago. We need a reorganization in order to realize equal educational opportunities for all of our students and the value for taxpayers and to address our significant infrastructure needs in the district.”
With the departure of founding president Tabitha Moore, Mia Schultz, of Bennington, will take over leadership of the Rutland area branch of the NAACP at the start of the new year.
In a statement announcing the transition, Schultz called the position a “profound honor.”
“I will be driven by the guidance and the knowledge of Tabitha and the members who have built this organization from the beginning. It is a collaborative effort to make a change in our communities and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve,” she said.
This week, Schultz said she was “totally surprised” when Moore asked her to consider the position of president.
In September, Moore said she was planning to move from Rutland County because she was being racially harassed.
Schultz said she had reached out and asked what she could do to help. She said Moore asked her to be the next president of the Rutland NAACP.
“It was a surprise. It took me aback. It took my breath away for a minute,” Schultz said. “It’s been a journey, honestly. It’s been such a journey of discovery for myself, too, to be faced with such a daunting position.”
Schultz said she considered the ancestors who came before her like W.E.B. Du Bois, Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and Moore.
“You think, ‘Oh, my goodness, can I do that?’ Tabitha thought I could and I respect Tabitha so here we are,” Schultz said.
The Rutland Area NAACP is the second-largest branch in New England, with more than 550 members serving individuals from Bennington to Addison counties, as well as working with its sister branch in Windham County.
Schultz admitted “those shoes are big to fill” when a branch that started about five years ago, which includes the year before Rutland was officially chartered, is so prominent.
“Yeah, we have to keep up that momentum. The pressure is on for sure. But also I can see and envision an expansion of leadership in our Black and brown communities. I can envision doing more work that is joyful and satisfying, working some of those systems that Tabitha and the rest of the NAACP have been doing tirelessly, putting all this emotional labor into systems that are really designed against equity. It’s hard. I look forward to bringing in fresh new perspectives and finding little bits of joy in solutions that can plant seeds around,” Schultz said.
In a statement announcing Schultz’s new position, Moore called the decision not to run again for presidency of the Rutland branch a “difficult decision.”
“But Mia is incredible and has a much-needed perspective, vision and skill set that will take the branch to the next level. I am grateful to her and the other branch leaders whom I have had the privilege of working with and look forward to supporting future leaders as I am a lifetime member of the Rutland area branch,” she said.
Schultz, 44, identifies as a Black woman, but acknowledges that as someone who is bi-racial, she has a privilege of which she’s “very aware.”
“I identify as a Black woman because that is the life I live. I may be be light-skinned but at the end of the day, I still face a lot of the challenges that Black women face,” she said.
Schultz said her family is very “intersectional.” She learned Spanish in her home state of Arizona partially to better communicate with Mexican friends and her family includes non-cisgender and disabled members.
“Marginalized identity is in my house, just about, or in my body,” she said.
Schultz moved to Vermont after leaving Tuscon for California and realizing she wanted to get away from the “hustle and bustle of Southern California.”
While insurance work pays the bills, Schultz said she considers her real work the advocacy that she does for her three teenage boys and the community. She also is chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Bennington.
Schultz said one reason she decided to take on the challenge of leader of an NAACP chapter was that many people in Bennington didn’t realize the Rutland branch was available for them.
While Schultz said she is hoping to continue positive momentum for the Rutland NAACP, she said she understands there is some ugliness in Vermont. During the six years she has been in Vermont, she said she knows three Black women, including Moore and former state representative Kiah Morris, who represented Bennington, who have moved because of harassment.
“There is a lot of insidious behavior that happens with a smile, I like to say. I think we’ve had all across the state, education on micro-aggressions and things like that. So those small things that may look insignificant and sound insignificant, they accumulate over time and create, especially for kids, a different sense of self,” she said.
Schultz said a lot of education is still needed in Vermont but said she has hope. Despite data showing disparities in the criminal justice system, health care and education, Schultz said she is encouraged because there are people in the majority who are willing to be allies and who want to help.
Schultz is expected to officially take office Jan. 1.
FAIR HAVEN — The local rescue squad has informed the town that it plans to ask voters for a steep increase in funds this year.
John Seighman, a member of the Fair Haven Rescue Squad Board of Directors and liaison to the town Select Board, told the selectmen at a Dec. 1 meeting that the squad intends to raise its per capita rate to $48.
The Fair Haven Rescue Squad serves Fair Haven, West Haven, Benson and Hubbardton. It asks voters at Town Meeting Day to appropriate an amount of money based on a town’s population.
According to Fair Haven Town Manager Joe Gunther, the current rate, set in 2018, is $20 per capita.
Seighman said at the meeting that for many years, baring years when there was an equipment purchase, the rate was left at $10 and never went up with the cost of living or inflation.
Gunter said Monday that the $20 rate is costing Fair Haven about $51,000 per year. He has yet to be sent a finalized budget by the rescue squad, but the last draft he saw had the annual fee being $128,000.
Sean Galvin, EMS chief at Fair Haven Rescue, said Tuesday that the squad once had a reserve fund, but previous boards of directors appeared to have depleted it rather than raise the per capita fee to accompany rising costs.
Using the $48 rate, Fair Haven will be asked for $128,208. Benson will be asked to supply $51,120, Hubbardton $30,912, and West Haven $13,248.
According to the budget document Galvin sent to the Herald, this year’s expenses for the squad will be $515,475. It’s budgeted to raise $12,000 from a membership drive, $275,000 from patient billing, and $228,475 from the per capita rate.
Seighman said at the Select Board meeting that while he’s a newcomer to the board, he said he understands that the squad has only recently been undertaking measures to shore up its finances, notably working with health care providers and institutions to secure more scheduled transfers, and it’s also having an outside firm handle its billing, which had netted it more funds.
He said the volunteer organization, like many other emergency services, has become more complex and costly to run over the years, and with the way it’s been managed it finds itself in a difficult financial position where the current level of town appropriations won’t cover costs.
“In other words, in the next year or two, that money is not going to be there at all,” he said. “So, what we were requesting was for the per capita to be raised, which can be put on the ballot in March, to $48. Unfortunately it’s a reality because there hasn’t been any adjustment for the cost of living or inflation for 25 years.”
He said he was aware that Gunther had been given permission to speak with Rutland Regional ambulance service about the town switching rescue squads. He claimed the response times might be longer, which would be a problem for people in need of more immediate help.
“We’re not trying to make a buck out of it; we’re just trying to make ends meet any way we can,” he said.
Gunther said on Monday he’s made contact with Rutland Regional, but talks haven’t gone anywhere yet and he’s been given no quotes or estimates.
Selectman Glen Traverse asked what would become of the squad if the appropriation were to be voted down.
“We’ve been asking ourselves that same question and we’re not sure what’s going to happen,” Seighman said, noting that Fair Haven is the town where the squad sees most of its funds.
He said the squad had approached Poultney to discuss a potential merger, but was rejected.
The squad plans to send out flyers and do public outreach ahead of the March vote, according to Seighman.
“I was just going to say this is huge,” said Select Board Chairman Bob Richards. “It’s doubling what we’ve been doing. Do your homework, and do your politicking, get the word out. We’ll put it on the ballot anyways, it’s there. Show as many numbers as you can, whatever you can do to get the word out. It’s going to be a tough sell, there’s going to be sticker shock, for lack of a better term.”
It was suggested that the squad do outreach even sooner than it had been planning since Town Meeting Day will likely be done via absentee ballot.
Selectman Jay Brown was critical of the increase.
“You couldn’t have picked a worse year to increase this the way it is,” he said. “The taxpayers in this town can’t keep affording this.”
He said if the squad was looking for less or if this was a different year it might be another story, but he couldn’t, as a board member, support the squad’s request. He noted that the town is still looking for how to fund its wastewater treatment facility upgrades.
Richards said the squad might still be able to get the increase passed, but it will take a great deal of outreach.
“The thing you have going for you, and this particular budget may stretch that as much as it’s going to be stretched, is people have a real ownership of this rescue squad, because there’s a lot of people that remember it starting up,” he said.
Standing 6-foot-2, with the ability to dominate down low and step out for a mid-range jumper, Springfield’s Gabby Wardwell is a college coach’s dream. B1
High on herbs
This week’s Herald Food page focuses on the use of herbs to highten your soup experience, which in a cold season will warm the heart and satisfy the appetite. B6