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Vermont News Updates For Friday, June 19

Two people stand in waders in a river with a fly-fishing rod.
Peter Crabtree
/
For VPR
Diane Daveluy casts a line as instructed by fly fishing guide Christian Betit on the Walloomsac River in Bennington on Tuesday, June 16.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, Juneteenth and more for Friday, June 19.

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Vermont Department of Health reports nine new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health on Friday reported nine new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases identified to date in the state to 1,144.

Two people are currently hospitalized with confirmed cases, while six people remain hospitalized under investigation.

So far, 56 people have died from the disease in Vermont.

The Health Department reports it has tested 55,887 people for the new coronavirus. To date, 918 people have recovered from known cases of the illness.

- Abagael Giles and Karen Anderson

Clemmons Family Farm to hold online Juneteenth commemoration Sunday

On Sunday, the Clemmons Family Farm in Charlotte will observe Juneteenth online with historical accounts, storytelling and performance.

It’s one of the few African American-owned farms in Vermont and practices engagement across differences of race and culture.

Lydia Clemmons says recent events bring new urgency to their mission.

“Vermonters particularly who really are concerned, are seeking to connect, of course express their anger and dismay and outrage, but also just want connection with someone who is African American,” she said. “So we’re responding to that, giving people a way to connect with us, and around a very important day.”

- Betty Smith

House passes resolution honoring Juneteenth 128-17

The Vermont House has passed a resolution honoring Juneteenth, and declaring that the state and the nation continue to struggle for racial equality.

Juneteenth marks the day 155 years ago when the last enslaved people were given their freedom, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Hartford Representative Kevin "Coach" Christie spoke in favor of the resolution, and addressed systemic racism in the state.

“I know how difficult it is to understand how Black and Brown Vermonters are feeling at this moment,” Christie said. “So I ask you to reflect, as you and I sit on the floor of the people's House, when was the last time you were told to ‘go back to the jungle?’ That was what my daughter was told here in a school in Vermont. We still have a lot of work to do, and we need to do it together.”

The resolution passed 128 to 17.

- John Dillon

Outbreak in Winooski appears contained

Public health officials say the state appears to have contained an outbreak of COVID-19 in Chittenden County.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says new cases associated with the outbreak are waning. And he says the state confirmed a total of 27 new COVID-19 cases over the past seven days.

“We will need more time to confirm, but it appears that we have settled back into a low-level case count that we were experiencing prior to the outbreak,” he said.

Pieciak says nine of the 27 new cases are associated with the outbreak, which was centered in Winooski.

He says fewer than 1% of COVID-19 tests statewide are coming back positive, the lowest rate in the United States.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Director of racial equity calls on white Vermonters to act to dismantle systemic racism

Vermont’s director of racial equity is using the anniversary of the end of slavery in the U.S. to call on white Vermonters to address racism in their state.

Xusana Davis says mitigating systemic racism in Vermont will require a more active role from people who don’t directly experience it.

“Because as people who wield outsized and often unearned power and privilege in our society, it’s especially important and necessary that you be the ones to exercise that privilege in a way that makes things more equitable for everyone,” she said.

Phil Scott issued a proclamation on Friday that recognizes June 19th as “Juneteenth Recognition Day” in Vermont.

The day marks the anniversary of the freeing of the last slaves in the United States, in 1865.

Read the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Scott administration anticipating bankruptcies in lodging sector

The Scott administration is anticipating imminent bankruptcies in the lodging industry.

Gov. Phil Scott says he spoke with representatives of a lodging group this week.

“I think their prediction is they’re going to see bankruptcies, and it’s not going to be too far in the future that we’ll see that,” he said.

Hotels, motels and inns have been among the hardest-hit businesses in Vermont’s tourism industry.

Scott has limited operational capacity to 25% at lodging facilities, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

And restrictions on travel have dramatically reduced the number of out-of-state visitors planning trips to Vermont this summer.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Juneteenth commemorations take place across Vermont Friday

Events were planned across Vermont Friday to mark Juneteenth, the day when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free 155 years ago.

From marches to rallies, the events come after weeks of demonstrations for the racial justice movement.

In Burlington and Bennington, criminal defense attorneys marched in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

A vigil was also held in Essex to honor those who have died of police violence. And Montpelier hosted an evening event on the Statehouse lawn. A rally also took place in Shelburne.

- Associated Press

Vermont's unemployment rate decreases to 12.7%

Vermont’s unemployment rate decreased last month to 12.7% as the state slowly re-opened many sectors of the economy. That's down from 16.5% in April.

The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic led to millions of layoffs across the country, as many businesses were forced to close their doors.

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said in a statement that while the May figures indicated people are going back to work, he cautioned that the pandemic was still “significantly impacting Vermont’s economy.”

Economic and Labor Market Information Director Matthew Barewicz agreed.

“That may be down from April levels, but that’s still a very high level," Barewicz said. "And it far surpasses the depths of the last recession in 2009-2010, so by no stretch of the imagination are things back to normal.”

The U.S. unemployment rate in May was 13.3%, slightly above Vermont’s rate.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Health Commissioner: Antibody tests have low rate of accuracy in Vermont

Serology — or antibody — tests have limited utility as a predictor in a state like Vermont with a relatively low rate of COVID-19 infection, according to Health Commissioner Mark Levine.

Levine says because of the tests' low accuracy, in a state like Vermont with a low infection rate, most positive results do not accurately reflect the presence of antibodies.

More often than not, a positive test would be a false positive,” Levine said. “In Vermont, when you do the math, three out of every four positive results would actually be false positive.”

Levine says that there is a place for antibody tests in the state's strategy, but the priority will continue to be the nasal swab tests for the virus itself, which is more accurate.

Read the full story.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Ski resorts open for summer operations

Three Vermont ski areas will reopen for outdoor summer operations next week. 

Stowe, Okemo and Mount Snow resorts, owned by Vail, announced Thursday that hiking, chair lift rides and other outdoor activities will resume in accordance with state health and safety guidelines. 

Hunger Mountain in New York, and Attitash and Wildcat resorts in New Hampshire will also begin summer operations next week. 

- Karen Anderson 

Binary gender census question presents issues for non-binary people

Male and female are the only two options for gender on the U.S. census form. But some have expressed concern since they don't necessarily identify as male or female.

Jeff Behler, a director at the U.S. Census Bureau, told Vermont Edition Thursday that this binary question could change.

"Based upon a lot of the concerns and complaints or issues that we've heard around the gender question, I think that will be a change for 2030,” Behler said.

Behler says through surveys, the Census Bureau can test new gender-related questions to potentially include on the next census form.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Emily Aiken

Advocates call for change to state education amid COVID-19

An education advocacy group is pushing for fundamental changes in Vermont's education system as the state receives one-time federal money to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Infinite Culcleasure is with the group Voices for Vermont's Children. He says he wants Vermont's schools to improve literacy programs, and that proficiency levels in recently released standardized test scores are troubling. He expects the disruption of COVID-19 to impact proficiency in the future.

"It only gets worse from here on out,” he said.

Culcleasure also says he's concerned schools will "go back to normal" this fall and could miss an opportunity to make greater changes.

Read the full story.

- Henry Epp

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