Vermont News Updates For Friday, July 31

Jul 31, 2020

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, candidates running in the upcoming primary election and more for Friday, July 31.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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Eight new cases of COVID, including six inmates

The state reported eight new cases of COVID-19 Friday. Six of them were in Rutland County, where six inmates were transferred to the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility from Mississippi this week and tested positive. All six inmates who tested positive are in medical isolation, according to the Department of Corrections.

The other two new cases are in Franklin and Chittenden counties. Two people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus.

A total of 57 people have died from the disease to date. The state reported its first new death in 43 days on Thursday.

- Henry Epp

Statewide mask mandate takes effect Saturday

The state will distribute more than 200,000 cloth masks to towns as the statewide mask mandate takes effect Saturday.

Each town will be allotted enough masks for 25% of their population.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smiths says it will up to communities to figure out how they’ll distribute the facial coverings.

“You could have home in box in a lobby in a town office,” Smith said. “If the town office is open of course, you could make them available by appointment at the town office or the health officer can deliver them directly to those in need.”

The National Guard will also hand out masks at food distribution sites around the state, and the Health Department will have masks at pop-up testing locations.

The new mandate requires people to wear cloth facial coverings in public places, including outdoors when physical distancing isn't possible.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

All out-of-state inmates being tested for COVID-19

All of Vermont's out-of-state prisoners will be tested for COVID-19 after six inmates who returned to the state tested positive for the virus.

The prisoners arrived this week from Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, a private prison in Mississippi. They were quarantined and tested when they arrived at Marble Valley Correction Facility — which is the Vermont Department of Corrections policy whenever new inmates enter a facility.

More from VPR: Six Vermont Inmates Return From Mississippi Prison With COVID-19

Gov. Phil Scott said Friday the state should know the results from the out-of-state inmates' tests soon.

“They’re being tested today, tonight, we should get all the results back,” Scott said. “Mississippi has agreed graciously to administer all the tests and give us the results, probably tomorrow.”

Vermont houses more than 200 inmates at the Mississippi facility.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Gov. announces retail businesses allowed to open at 50% capacity

Retail business will be able to open at half-capacity starting Saturday. 

It's been weeks since Gov. Phil Scott eased economic restrictions – until now, stores were only allowed to admit 25% of their total capacity.

But Scott says he’s allowing retail operations to expand because the state is continuing to see low levels of coronavirus activity.

“This step will come on the same day that our statewide mask mandate goes into effect, which will help support our retailers and their hard working employees, many of whom have been working on the front line since this pandemic started,” Scott said.

State modeling shows Vermont has the lowest positivity rate for the virus in the country.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

New Hampshire to host 12,000 NASCAR fans Saturday

New Hampshire's governor says the state is ready for the 12,000 fans expected to gather for Sunday's NASCAR race in Loudon.

At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu said 90% of the people attending this weekend's race will be coming from New England.

He announced modified quarantine requirements and restrictions for NASCAR staff and drivers when they're in the state. They'll need to limit their travel to between the racetrack and their hotel.

"They don't go out to dinner, they don't go out for coffee, they're really quarantined in that bubble between where they work and where they sleep,” Sununu said. “They cannot  go out in public."

Other aspects of the race will be different. Sununu said the opening and closing ceremonies will be modified to maintain social distancing. There will also be temperature screenings and health checks at the track.

- New England News Collaborative

Vermont Army National Guard, Air National Guard announce deployments

Nearly 1,000 Vermont Army National Guard soldiers will be deployed starting early next year and more than 70 Air National Guard members will be deployed this fall, officials announced on Thursday.

The Vermont National Guard says more than 70 airmen from the 158th fighter wing will leave starting in October, but did not say where they will be serving.

Nearly 400 soldiers from the Mountain Battalion and the 172nd Law Enforcement Detachment will be deployed in the first few months of 2021 but details about the deployment were not released.

- Associated Press

Brattleboro pilots "Everyone Eats" community food program

Eight Brattleboro restaurants will get a financial boost through a new program that uses federal COVID relief money to prepare free food for the public.

Stephanie Bonin is director of the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance and says the idea came after watching the National Guard give out pre-packaged food.

“Actually, let’s figure out a creative solution with knowing what we urgently need right now,” Bonin said. “And the pillars of the program are feeding our community, to saving our restaurants, to making an impact with local producers and growers.”

The Legislature approved $5 million for the program, which is called “Everyone Eats,” and it’s being used as a pilot that will be replicated in other towns in Vermont.

 - Howard Weiss-Tisman

More from VPR: As 'Food Box' Program Is Renewed, Questions Remain If It's Best Way To Feed Hungry

Republican gubernatorial candidate Emily Peyton says she'd reform Vermont's criminal justice system

Republican gubernatorial candidate Emily Peyton says she favors overhauling the policing and criminal justice systems in Vermont.

Peyton is one of five candidates seeking the Republican nomination. The field includes incumbent Gov. Phil Scott, who is running for a third term.

Peyton says she believes there are some good police officers, but that others have a tendency towards violence.

"What we need to do also is to restore the idea and the function of the peace officer,” she said. “As governor, I will convene a people's assembly, especially so that we may re-envision how we do justice."

This is Peyton's fifth run for governor. She last ran in 2018 as a Liberty Union Party candidate.

Read the full story.

- Henry Epp

VPR is seeking interviews with all of the candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor and Congress. You can find our full coverage of the 2020 Vermont primary, including debates, here.

Live arts event Sunday to raise money for southern Vermont racial justice organizations

Seven Windham County art organizations will hold a live, online performance Sunday over the local community TV YouTube channel.

Keith Marks is director of Next Stage, a performing arts organization in Putney, and he said the event is called Arts Unite Windham.

“Right now, bringing people together is complicated,” Marks said. “And so I think this speaks to that moment of bringing people together to experience arts and culture.”

The four hour show will include music, theater, circus arts, puppetry, and a fine arts lecture.

The event is a fundraiser for the NAACP of Windham County and Brattleboro’s The Root Social Justice Center.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Corbo wants to reduce funding for police

Activist Ralph Corbo, who's one of four Democrats running for the party's nomination for governor, thinks Vermont police departments should lose some funding.

Corbo says the police have become overly-militarized in recent decades.

"It's become also a characteristic of local law enforcement to try to militarize them right to the hilt with a lot of taxpayer surplus weaponry and stuff,” Corbo said.

Corbo is best known for interrupting Gov. Phil Scott's 2019 State of the State address in a brief protest focused on environmental issues. He is also seeking the Democratic nomination for Vermont's only seat in the House of Representatives, challenging incumbent Congressman Peter Welch.

Read the full story.

- Henry Epp

VPR is seeking interviews with all of the candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor and Congress. You can find our full coverage of the 2020 Vermont primary, including debates, here.

School administrators worried about lack of broadband for remote learning

Access to broadband internet became a huge issue for students and families when schools shut down this spring.

Now that many schools are choosing a hybrid mode of remote learning and in-person classes, the head of the Vermont Principals Association says many students still lack access.

Jay Nichols testified before the House Education Committee on Thursday.

“There's also worries about the capacity related to broadband and connectivity,” he said. “It hasn't gotten a lot better, it may be a little bit better, but there are still, the last time I talked to anybody that was in the know said 50% of our kids still do not have the level of broadband connectivity they really need to do the remote learning we're talking about across the state.”

The state says some 70,000 addresses in Vermont lack access to internet that meets the federal definition of broadband. But that number does not include families who can't afford the service.

- John Dillon

Vermont Law School gives artist 90 days to remove mural

Vermont Law School trustees have given artist Sam Kerson 90 days to remove a mural he painted – now seen by some as racist – from the school's community center.

A portion of mural at Vermont Law School by Sam Kerson.
Credit Sam Kerson, Courtesy

The deadline conforms with a federal law designed to protect the rights of artists, according to David Mills of Champlain College. The law includes those who create public art.

“Especially in the case where it's part of a building, like a mural, the building owner, if they have plans to modify the building or the work, they have to make a good faith effort to give that artist 90 days within which to remove the work themselves, or to waive the right to do that,” Mills said.

Kerson now lives in Quebec, however, and with the international border closed until at least mid-August, the deadline may be problematic.

VLS originally said they'd paint over the mural if Kerson doesn't claim it, but now the school says it will remove it “by other means.”

- Betty Smith

Progressive Party endorses David Zuckerman, who's on the Democratic primary ballot

Progressive Party leaders are encouraging their members to write in David Zuckerman for governor on this year’s primary ballot.

Zuckerman — who’s also seeking the Democratic nomination — can only appear on one party ballot.

The only two candidates for governor appearing on the Progressive ballot are Cris Ericson and Boots Wardinski, two perennial candidates who have run for various statewide offices over the years.

Josh Wronski, the executive director of the Vermont Progressive Party, says it's not an ideal system.

“But we work within the law that is given, and we’ve definitely proposed ideas to change the system and change the way it works,” he said. “But this is kind of the rules we have right now.”

The Progressive Party has endorsed a dozen candidates running for the legislature. Wronski says he expects the party will issue more endorsements before the primary.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Have questions about voting during a pandemic? Who the candidates are? Check out VPR's guide for the 2020 Vermont Primary.

Cuomo puts funding proposal for projects addressing climate change in N.Y. on hold

New York's governor says the state's economy is too "murky" to move ahead with his sweeping proposal to address climate change by borrowing $3 billion to fund environmental restoration projects across the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a Thursday conference call with reporters that the bond won't appear on November's ballot but said he hopes voters will weigh in on it the following year. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the state's sales tax revenues and tourism industry.

Some environmental leaders criticized the Cuomo's removal of the bond from November's ballot, saying it would have helped stimulate the state's ailing economy.

- Associated Press

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