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Virus in New England: R.I. eyes vaccine rollout tweaks; Maine pulls back on in-person schooling

Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, who is set to take over as governor if Gina Raimondo is confirmed as President Joe Biden’s commerce secretary, says he'd like to see changes to the state’s coronavirus vaccine distribution plan.

The Democrat said Saturday he wants to speed up vaccinations for all Rhode Islanders aged 65 and older as well as for teachers and school support staff.

Under current guidelines, adults younger than 75 who are not in a nursing home or in another high-risk group have to wait at least until the second phase of the vaccine rollout to get inoculated starting next month.

Vaccinating educators will speed up the economic recovery, he said.

“We’re not going to open the economy until we do that, and teachers are not going to feel comfortable by and large until we get them vaccinated,” he said.

McKee said he also plans on enhancing the state’s COVID-19 Advisory Committee, including adding Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and a national expert on the pandemic.

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MAINE

School districts across Maine are cutting back on in-person classes in response to staffing shortages in a number of critical areas as a result of a statewide surge in COVID-19 cases that began more than two months ago.

The shortages are affecting not just teachers, but transportation and custodial staff, The Portland Press Herald reported Sunday.

The Maine Department of Education doesn’t track the number of open positions in schools but is responding to feedback from school districts about staff shortages.

More than 600 reciprocal and one-year emergency certifications have been issued to date under an executive order from Gov. Janet Mills to provide more flexibility for certifying education professionals. Nearly 2,800 educators have been certified without taking a standardized test that is normally part of the process but was also waived by the executive order.

The department is working with Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor to provide free “learning facilitator” training to students who can serve as substitutes or paraprofessionals in schools after a one-week boot camp.

Buxton-based School Administrative District 6 moved to remote learning recently due to shortages of bus drivers and mechanics who were in quarantine after potential exposure.

“We’re all thinking about teachers, but there’s another whole side that’s critical to the ability to function, and that’s maintenance and facilities," Superintendent Paul Penna said. "All the things that keep our schools functioning behind the scenes are critical.”

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MASSACHUSETTS

Funeral workers in Massachusetts are asking to be included in the first phase of the state's COVID-19 vaccination plan, but so far state officials have resisted the request.

C.R. Lyons, a Danvers funeral director and president of the Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association, said he was “dumbfounded" by the decision, The Telegram & Gazette reported.

The funeral association has been lobbying Gov. Charkie Baker to bump about 1,900 funeral workers into the first phase of vaccinations, noting that many other states have done so and funeral workers are the only COVID-19-facing workers in the state not currently in the first phase.

Funeral workers are caring for bodies of COVID-19 victims every day, requiring them to regularly visit COVID-19 wings of hospitals and nursing homes, they said. Many funeral workers have become sick with the virus, Lyons said.

A spokesperson for the state COVID-19 Command Center in a statement said the current plan is based on the recommendations of an advisory group made up of health professionals, community leaders and local officials, and that the funeral business was moved from phase three to phase two on Jan. 12.

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VERMONT

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce has named the whole community as its 2020 person of the year.

“All of you probably know an individual or an organization, an unsung hero who has gone above and beyond to take the sting out of the pandemic,” Tracey John, past president of the chamber’s board of directors, said at the chamber’s annual meeting held remotely on Thursday, the Brattleboro Reformer reported.

So, the chamber “is proud to salute all of the unsung heroes in our corner of southern Vermont who rose up to support their neighbors and keeping our community moving forward by naming them and each of you our 2020 Person of the Year,” he said.

Each year since 1954, the chamber has recognized someone for having a positive impact on the community. It would be impossible to pick just one for last year, John said.

The state Department of Health on Sunday reported 120 new confirmed cases of the disease but no additional deaths. The new cases pushed the total number of cases in the state since the pandemic began to more than 11,000.

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UVM WOMEN END SEASON

The University of Vermont women’s basketball team has decided not to play the remainder of its season, the school announced Sunday.

The decision was made by the players with the full support of the coaches and the athletic department.

The team has played just six of its 12 scheduled games this season and has not played since Jan. 4. They finish with a 4-2 record.

The university did not give a specific reason for the decision but it came two days after the school suspended all athletic activity due to COVID-19 cases within the athletic department.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

A coronavirus treatment that was once only available in hospitals is now being offered more widely across New Hampshire.

Infusion clinics for monoclonal antibodies have been set up at 13 hospitals and urgent care centers, according to Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette. The treatment also has been distributed to nursing homes.

“This is really set up for those that are at highest risk for hospitalization and very serious illness. It is not a treatment that is typically used for people that are in the hospital or receiving supplemental oxygen,” she said. “So it really is done on an outpatient setting.”

Patients will be referred to the clinics by their primary care providers.

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