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Vermont News Updates For Friday, June 5

Masked Moose Statue
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
VPR
A masked moose statue in Bennington on Wednesday, May 27.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus, protests against systematic racism and more for Friday, June 5.

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Public health officials offer new information about COVID-19 outbreak in Winooski

After a jump of 36 cases Thursday, the Vermont Department of Health reported just two new cases Friday. The new cases are in Franklin and Bennington counties. 

To date, 1,027 people have tested positive for COVID-19, and 55 people have died. There is currently no one hospitalized with the disease in Vermont.

However, public health officials are working to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 in the densely populated city of Winooski.

The municipality is also the most diverse city in Vermont. The majority of the 24 reported cases are among black and Asian individuals, according to Seven Days.

Winooski has a significant population of New Americans who don't speak English as a primary language.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the outbreak has highlighted some gaps in the department's translation services.

"There may be populations in the city that actually didn't understand what physical distancing is, didn't understand all the helpful information the health department tries to get our population to understand and comply with," Levine said. "Then this will be an important thing for us to know."

The health department said it will offer testing in the city all next week. Levine said he encourages every resident to get tested, even if they don't have symptoms.

State epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said the cases are spread across the city.

"There are multiple households... they're across the city, they're fairly well-spread out, they're not just in one spot," Kelso said.

As of Thursday, the health department had conducted 436 COVID-19 tests in Winooski. The department said it will offer testing in the city all next week as well.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors and Amy Kolb Noyes

New law offers greater flexibility for businesses receiving aid from the PPP

Rep. Peter Welch said Congress has taken an important step to provide additional help for small businesses hurt by COVID-19.

President Trump has signed a bill that gives these businesses greater flexibility in using the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

Welch said many Vermont businesses found the initial law restrictive.

"We want to get our eonomy going again and we want our small businesses to survive and then thrive, so if we have programs that have that as the goal, but there are some stumbling blocks that need to be changed, let's change them," Welch said. "In this case, we did."

Welch said a key part of the new law gives businesses an additional four months to use the federal funds.

- Bob Kinzel

Lake Paran Recreation Area closed following racist incidents

The Lake Paran Recreation Area in North Bennington is closed following reported racist incidents.

The Bennington Banner reports North Bennington Trustees Chair John Lamson made that announcement in a statement issued Friday.

Lamson is quoted as saying racist incidents reported on Thursday come after "multiple incidents of behaviors that are unsafe and unfitting in a shared community resource."

Lamson wrote that trespassers at the closed recreation area will be reported to the police.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Vermont House is set to consider legislation to implement voting by mail

The Vermont House is set to consider legislation putting a vote-by-mail plan into place for the November election.

Ballots would be sent to all registered voters, who could mail them back in or bring them to the polls on election day.

The Senate approved the bill recently.

Bradford Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, who is the chairperson of the House Government Operations committee, supports the legislation.

"In a time of social distancing when it is unsafe for us to be face-to-face, we want to make sure we put every necessary response in place so that we can protect the health and safety of not only votes, but our poll workers and our town clerk staff," Copeland-Hanzas said.

Gov. Scott said he doesn't support the bill, but he has pledged not to veto it.

- Bob Kinzel

Gov. Scott allows limited indoor dining for Monday

The Scott Administration said restaurants can begin limited indoor dining on Monday.

At his press conference Friday, Gov. Scott said restaurants will be able to open at 25% capacity with six feet between tables.

"We're going to have to change things up to re-open with this virus still among us," he said. "And that's why, as I said on Wednesday, it won't be dining as usual with this first step."

Traditional bar seating remains closed, and Scott said reservations will be required.

Read the full story.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Gov. Scott expands allowed capacity for camping, lodging

Gov. Phil Scott will allow lodging and camping businesses to increase the number of customers who are allowed to stay overnight.

The governor's announcement came on the same day that he dropped the 14-day quarantine requirement for some visitors from the Northeast.

"And in the coming weeks, we can expect to further reduce quarantine requirements to get this important sector of our economy moving again, but in a safe way," Scott said.

Two weeks ago, Scott said motels and campgrounds could open, but only at 25% capacity.

Starting Monday, all lodging and camping establishments can operate at 50% and visitors from 55 rural counties outside Vermont will be able to visit without having to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Visitors from places like Boston and New York City are not covered by the relaxed guidelines, and Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle said it will be hard to fully regulate the new rules.

"Opening up the counties around our state and inviting folks here is going to require a little bit of trust and a lot of education and some effort on the part of the lodging industry," Kurrle said.

Read the full story.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Vermont Public Radio is asking the Legislature for $900,000 in federal relief funds

Vermont Public Radio is asking the state Legislature for nearly $900,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds.

That's according to written testimony submitted by VPR President and CEO Scott Finn.

The requested items include transmitter replacement, remote technology and support, and funds for expanded education programming in VPR podcasts.

You can find the full letter and story, here.

- Mark Davis

Health Commissioner says protesters should get tested for COVID-19

The Vermont Health Department said people who attent protests and rallies should get tested for COVID-19.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the large gatherings could contribute to the spread of the new coronavirus.

"You are protesting in support of fellow man, and against all of the causes that you are out there talking about," Levine said. "But now, be altruistic again and get yourself tested."

Levine said he fully supports the right of Vermonters to protest.

Marches have been held in several communities, including Burlington, Brattleboro and St. Johnsbury. Levine said there is no indication that the events have led to an outbreak.

More from VPR: Crowd Confronts Burlington Police During Protest For George Floyd

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Protest scheduled for Sunday in Rutland

Protesters are scheduled to gather in Rutland Sunday, as prat of a wave of events across the state opposing racism and police violence toward people of color.

Rutland City Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said he and other officers plan to be there.

"We share the outrage of many people showing up on Sunday, and so we express that. We give them a voice, let them speak, let them be heard," he said. "And we're not dismissive of what their concerns, their fears may be. You know, again, who are we to dismiss someone if they're telling us with a police encounter, that they're fearful? Are we to be dismissive of what their feelings are?"

Before Kilcullen took over, high ranking members of the city's police force were sued over alleged racism and misconduct. Kilcullen said the department has worked hard to address that.

- Nina Keck

Vermont State Police are investigating human remains found in Chester

The Vermont State Police are investigating human remains discovered along Wymans Falls Road in Chester Thursday evening.

Police report the body is badly decomposed and they do not feel there is a threat to the public.

An autopsy will be conducted to confirm the victim's identity and cause of death. Anyone with information is asked to call the  Vermont State Police.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Limited indoor dining allowed to resume Monday

Limited indoor dining at restaurants will be allowed in Vermont starting on Monday.

At a press conference today, Governor Phil Scott said that restaurants will be able to open at 25% capacity, with 6 feet between tables. Traditional bar service is still not allowed. Municipalities are allowed to keep indoor dining closed if there are health concerns in their communities.

Travel restrictions will also change starting Monday - to allow people in counties in New England and New York state that have low numbers of cases to travel to Vermont and stay here without quarantine.

Read the full story.

- Sam Gale Rosen

College students returning to Burlington can get tested for COVID-19

College students returning to Burlington this month can get tested for COVID-19 on the University of Vermont campus.

Many students living off-campus have leases that started June 1. UVM announced Wednesday that returning students can sign up with the university to get tested starting on Monday.

Champlain College students can also get tested at UVM on specific dates. Champlain students should call their college health center to register.

Both schools said they plan to hold in-person classes this fall.

The State of Vermont requires everyone returning from out of state to self-quarantine for 14 days.

People who are symptom-free on day seven of their quarantine can be tested. If the test is negative, they can end their quarantine.

 
- Amy Kolb Noyes

Vermont State Police are unlikely to get body cameras this year

Vermont State Police say they're unlikely to get body cameras this year due to budgetary restraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

State police have said for five years that they wanted body cameras, but say the cost has been prohibitive. VSP Captain Garry Scott said the funds were initially part of the agency's budget proposal this year, but the pandemic is delaying things.

And Scott said he doesn't expect the state police to get body cameras this year.

"[We're] not actively pushing because of the financial situation and whta has happened legislatively with the pandemic, so I think it's sort of [going to be], see where we're going to be at, budgetary-wise," Scott said.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Bomb threat resolved at Northeast Kingdom Community Action

Police said a Northeast Kingdom Community Action staff member received a call from a man later identified as 54-year-old Scott Toupin, who apparently claimed to have left a small box on a food shelf at the facility and indicated it might be a bomb.

WCAX reports Toupin was apparently at NEKCA the day before and became aggravated when employees refused to give him a ride to Irasburg.

He's been charged with false public alarms and disturbing the peace by use of telephone.

Police evacuated the area and found nothing. The building is back open to the public.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Pride celebrations proceed this month, with social distancing

June is Pride Month, but plans for celebrations have been altered this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lisa Carton is the founder and director of the organization Queer Connect in Bennington. She said a pride parade will take place this weekend in southwestern Vermont, but it will be a bit different than in past years.

"Because we can't have the parade we were planning for that day, we are having a car caravan, a 'Pride caravan,' and we're all going to drive around our towns, playing loud music and being joyful and spreading pride cheer in a completely safe way," Carton said.

She said a special effort has been made this year to reach out to members of the African American community, of all sexual orientations, to participate in a show of solidarity over the death of George Floyd.

- Mitch Wertlieb

Read the full story.

Dentistry reopens, with new safety protocols

While dentists have been providing emergency care during the pandemic, dental practices across Vermont are only now resuming normal operations following strict new guidelines.

Linda McCarroll is a dental hygienist at Cornertsone Dentistry in Rutland. She said before patients walk in they're screened to ensure they don't have a fever and have not been exposed to COVID-19.

McCarroll wears a face mask and a plastic shield over the mask. There's also an air filtration system in her exam room - among several new protocols.

"Because people can be asymptomatic, the thought is to decrease aerosols," she said. "So things that you'l notice are different when you come in, is a pre-rinse... you'll notice an air filter going and something that you may notice is, we now fog between patients to kill the virus that's in the air."

McCarroll said clients are asked to rinse their mouths with diluted hydrogen peroxide and patients are spaced 15 minutes apart to ensure enough time to disinfect.

- Nina Keck

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