Vermont News Updates For Wednesday, June 17

Jun 17, 2020

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, demands for police reform and more for Wednesday, June 17.

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State health officials report zero new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health today reported no new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. One person is currently hospitalized with the disease.

To date, there have been more than 1,100 cases of the virus recorded in Vermont. So far, 915 people have recovered from known cases, and 55 people have died. No COVID-19 related deaths have been reported in the state since May.

The state has now tested 53,663 people for the disease.

- Anna Van Dine

Gov. Scott expects to allow larger gatherings soon

Gov. Phil Scott said he expects to loosen COVID-19 restrictions and allow larger gatherings in the near future.

Right now, groups of up to 25 are permitted.

But Scott said as long as the rate of new infections remains low, he'll increase that limit.

"I'm assuming in the next week or two, we'll be announcing some sort of increase in capacity or sizing of those outdoor gatherings," Scott said.

Wednesday, Scott eased some visitation restrictions at long-term care facilities. Beginning friday, residents will be allowed to have up to two people visit them outside.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Public health officials say it's too soon to say if outbreak in Winooski is contained

Public health officials said it's too early to determine whether a COVID-19 outbreak in Winooski has been contained.

There are 83 cases associated with the outbreak in the small, densely populated city. But the health department said no new infections have been found in recent days.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the incubation period for the virus is two weeks, and the health department doesn't consider the outbreak over until two incubation periods have passed.

"Right now, we would settle for just one incubation period, just to further solidify the fact that it is boxed in and detained and we're not getting increases in cases," Levine said. "But with four days, that is impossible to say from a scientific standpoint."

Wednesday, the health department reported no new cases of COVID-19 in Vermont. Statewide, one person is hospitalized with the disease and 915 have recovered.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Gov. Scott declines to declare racism a public health emergency

Gov. Phil Scott said he's not planning to declare racism a public health emergency at this time.

Cities around the country, including Pittsburg and Boston, have already done so. Multiple studies have shown racial disparities in health outcomes, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In Burlington, the mayor is expected to declare racism a public health emergency this week.

But Scott said he has not considered a statewide declaration.

"We're, I think, dealing with this in real time. We're dealing with it appropriately and we could consider something in the future, but at this point in time, we're focused on what we've been doing and seeing that through," Scott said.

Scott has said that Vermont still has a lot of work to do to combat racism. A new statewide panel is examining racial inequity in Vermont, starting with the disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infections among people of color.

- Liam Elder-Connors

More from VPR: Activism, Reform In A Country Built On Racism: A Conversation With Vt. Racial Justice Leaders

One inmate at Rutland correctional facility tests positive for COVID-19

One inmate at a state correctional facility in Rutland has tested positive for COVID-19.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said the person recently arrived at Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility, after being extradited from Florida.

Smith said the individual was symptomatic when he got to the facility and has been kept away from other inmates.

"He is still quarantined in a negative pressure cell, contact tracing is underway... and depending on the tracing, we'll determine what kind of test is involved, including facility-wide testing," Smith said.

Smith said the Department of Corrections employees who transported the inmate will be tested.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Legislative working group aims to develop ethnic and social equity standards for Vermont schools

A legislative working group that's developing new ethnic and social equity standards for Vermont schools gave the state Board of Education an update this week.

The Legislature set up the group last year, but chairwoman Amanda Garces said their work is even more important today.

"This is a long history of racism in schools in Vermont," Garces said. "As you know, today, there is more pushing for 'How do we change schools to look at communities who have been marginalized for too long?'"

The new standards are meant to increase attention to the history, contributions and perspectives of people of color and eradicate racial bias in all school curricula.

The working group hopes to send a report to the Legislature at the end of this year.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

New program allows towns to apply for short-term loans

State Treasurer Beth Pearce has announced a new program to help towns that are experiencing cash flow problems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the plan, towns will be able to secure short term loans without paying interest.

Pearce said the program is needed to help towns that have seen reduction in property tax revenues over the past three months.

"People are having various issues with the communities that extended the tax periods to assist homeowners going through strain and they are trying to ease the issues for the taxpayer so there are a variety of different circumstances," Pearce said. "The towns are doing what they can to assist the citizens in their communities."

Towns will be able to apply for the no-interest loans beginning later this week.

- Bob Kinzel

Legislative consultant says COVID-19 relief funds could go to broadbrand

A legislative consultant said a plan to spend $11 million of federal COVID relied funds to boost broadband should clear the strict requirements set by Congress.

The federal money must be spent on expenses related to the pandemic and it must be spent by the end of the year.

Dana MacKenzie of CCG Consulting told lawmakers that they should be safe allocating the money, so long as there is a COVID-related need to improve internet.

"CCG's interpretation of the guidance as it stands today is that you would need to establish a direct tie to a distance learning need, a telehealth need, or a telework need within the home you served using these funds," MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie said the federal government can take the money back if it deems it was not spent on appropriate projects.

- John Dillon

More from VPR: Did Your Zoom Video Freeze Again? COVID-19 Crisis Highlights Internet Inadequacies

State Treasurer says Vermont is prepared to meet coming financial challenges

State Treasurer Beth Pearce said the state is in good shape to meet the financial challenges post by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's estimated that the state's 2021 General Fund budget could experience a roughly $200 million revenue shortfall, because of slow business activity and lost wages for tens of thousands of Vermonters.

Pearce said the state has a number of budget reserve funds available.

"Accumulated over the years by good financial management, by putting those dollars into reserves, I believe that the number is something in the area of 13% or 14% of the General Fund, and for me, that's good work and it's paying off in this public health crisis," Pearce said.

Pearce said Vermont's fiscal outlook should be more clear in the next month, with a new revenue forecast.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: Vermont Lawmakers Discuss Plans For COVID-19 Relief

Local historical societies weigh reopening for the summer

Most of Vermont's local historical societies closed for the winter, so the question now is whether they will be open and holding events this summer.

All rely heavily on volunteers, many of whom are older and at a higher risk for COVID-19.

Already, the decades-old Strawbury Festival, hosted by the Middletown Springs Historical Society, has been canceled.

Eileen Corcoran is Community Outreach Manager at the Vermont Historical Society.

"I would not be surprised to see the vast majority of them sort of end up staying closed in that traditional museum sense," Corcoran said. "I'm going to guess a lot of them will stay closed."

But, Corcoran adds, programs like recorded walking and virtual driving tours in Norwich, and virtual history kits in Saint Albans, will most likely continue.

- Betty Smith

Dartmouth research study examines response to COVID-19 in rural Vermont, New Hampshire

A research study has documented how health care systems and communities in rural Vermont and New Hampshire were able to respond effectively to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Elizabeth Carpenter-song, one of the study's co-leaders, said what she calls a "rural ethos" helped the region combat the spread of the virus.

"That's something that we describe as this kind of intersection between compassion and pragmatism, as well as solidarity within Northern New England that really worked to protect people," Carpenter-Song said.

The study was conducted by Dartmouth's Center for Global Health Equity, which also plans to look at what happens as the region reopens.

- Betty Smith

Vermont Senate to take up Act 250 revision Thursday

The state Senate will take up a bill on Thursday that changes key parts of Act 250, Vermont's 50-year-old development review law. Chris Bray, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said the goal is to ease regulation in areas like downtowns and extend protections for un-fragmented forest lands.

"We are looking to create balance," Bray said. "We want to support more development in town centers, so we do things that facilitate that. At the same time, we want to help protect our green, wild and working landscape that's outside these developed areas. And we want to help the businesses that operate there do better as well."

The House took two years on the legislation, and Bray's committee has spent a few weeks on the issue in remote session. That's led to complaints that the committee has rushed its work and not taken enough testimony.

- John Dillon

More from VPR: Vermont House Backs Act 250 Bill, But Governor Now Opposed

Gov. Scott allows residents at elder care facilities visits with two, outdoors

Gov. Phil Scott announced Wednesday that the state would begin easing visitation restrictions at elder care facilities.

The new rules will allow residents at places like nursing homes to visit with up to two people outdoors. Facilities will be required to follow a number of rules, including mandatory cloth masks and screening visitors for symptoms of COVID-19.

Scott said the state plans to ease visitation restrictions if Vermont continues to have low coronavirus case numbers.

"Like everything else, we'll be tracking any changes or concerning trends, and over the weeks to come, we'll slowly increase visitors and group activities in a way that keeps people safe," Scott said.

The new guidelines take effect on Friday.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said the new restrictions will also let residents of facilities visit each other outside.

"But it does not allow for group dining or activities within the facilities," Smith said.

A ban on visitors to long-term care facilities had been in place since March, and was part of the first order issued by Scott when he declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Nectar's in Burlington to re-start live, indoor concerts this weekend

Nectar's in Burlington will re-start live, indoor concerts this weekend for the first time since the pandemic hit in March.

The Queen City venue will host events Friday and Saturday. Attendees are asked to buy their tickets in advance, and will be assigned a designated seating time. Nectars will offer table service, but no bar service.

Capacity will be limited, and the venue said it will clean and clear its rooms between each set.

Some other event companies are also planning outdoor performances in the coming weeks.

- Henry Epp

Grafton Village Cheese factory could come under new ownership

A Vermont dairy factory could come under new ownership after a decrease in demand led the company to consider downsizing.

The Brattleboro Reformer reports that Retreat Farm is considering buying the building next door that houses the Grafton Village Cheese Company.

The executive director of Retreat Farm in Brattleboro said that conversations are still preliminary, but that the company wants to make a meaningful contribution to the local food system. The CEO of the foundation that revived Grafton in the 1960s said that a decision is anticipated by the end of July.

- The Associated Press

Marlboro College archives will move to the University of Vermont

Marlboro College, which is merging with Emerson College in Boston and closing its Vermont campus, is sending its archives and special collections to the University of Vermont in Burlington.

The announcement by Marlboro said the items now held in Marlboro's Rice-Aron Library will remain open to the public. Among the items headed to UVM are the college's Rudyard Kipling Collection, and photographs relating to the years British author Rudyard Kipling spent in southeastern Vermont in the 1890s.

Starting this fall, most Marlboro students and faculty will be movin to Emerson College. Marlboro announced last month that it had reached a deal to sell its 500-acre campus.

- The Associated Press