Governor tests negative; teachers want vaccine

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday tested negative for COVID-19 after possible exposure to the coronavirus from a participant at the governor’s recent coronavirus briefing who tested positive, the governor’s office said.

Scott will continue to quarantine and be tested again on Tuesday, Press Secretary Jason Maulucci said in a statement.

Scott and five other Vermont state officials are quarantining after possible exposure at the virus briefings on Tuesday and Friday.

“Everyone from the Administration currently in quarantine is feeling good and remains focused on our pandemic response,” Scott said in a statement. “We appreciate the expressions of support and we will keep everyone updated, every step of the way.”

The officials quarantining are Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith, Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling and Communications Director Rebecca Kelley. Former Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon, who was a guest speaker at Tuesday's briefing, is also quarantining as a precaution.

Scott is quarantining in his Montpelier office, which has a small apartment, he said. There has been no impact on the daily operations of the governor's office or Scott's ability to perform his duties, he said.

The Department of Health has contacted everyone who attended each of the media briefings, Scott's office said.

State officials who are in quarantine will participate in Friday's coronavirus briefing by video.

___

TEACHERS' VACCINE

Thousands of Vermont teachers want to be included in the state's next phase of vaccinations.

More than 3,800 teachers and school staffers had signed an online petition by Wednesday morning.

“We the undersigned, petition Governor Phil Scott of Vermont to prioritize the COVID-19 vaccination for K-12 teachers and school staff, in accordance with the CDC and Federal guidelines,” the petition states, according to the Burlington Free Press.

Scott and Levine have said that they feel that teachers do not need to be prioritized because there is no evidence of community spread within Vermont schools, the newspaper reported.

Surveillance COVID-19 testing in schools is monitoring school exposure, state leaders have said.

But petitioners say that the opt-in surveillance testing of teachers doesn't give a complete picture of the impact of the coronavirus on schools.

State officials said last week that Vermont had nearly completed giving coronavirus vaccines to residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities and to front-line health workers, including emergency responders, and will start vaccinating residents ages 75 and older starting next week.

In other Vermont pandemic news: ___

TOWN MEETING DAY

Vermont voters could cast ballots by mail for their local municipal and school meetings this year as a way to reduce the possible spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Scott signed into law Tuesday a bill that allows municipalities to move the date of their annual meetings to potentially safer dates later in the year and to mail ballots to all active registered municipal voters.

Scott encouraged communities to conduct municipal elections this year.

“Not only would it accomplish the primary objective of helping keep our friends, families, and neighbors safe, but it will also increase access to the democratic process, ensuring Vermonters don’t need to choose between their right to vote and risking attending a town meeting gathering during a pandemic," Scott said in a statement announcing that he had signed the bill.

Most communities hold the annual Town Meeting Day votes the first Tuesday in March.

Secretary of State Jim Condos said in a statement on Wednesday that the legislature also made $2 million in federal coronavirus relief funding available to municipalities to help pay for the costs of conducting annual meetings differently because of the pandemic.

Last year, ahead of the November General Election, Vermont sent all active registered voters ballots for the national, state and municipal elections.

___

THE NUMBERS

Vermont reported 124 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, for a statewide total since the pandemic began of 10,471.

A total of 42 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, including seven in intensive care. Two more deaths were reported for a total to date of 165.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 119.43 new cases per day on Jan. 5 to 153.43 new cases per day on Jan. 19.