Vermont News Updates For Tuesday, June 30
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, a Vermont-built electric aircraft prototype, and more for Tuesday, June 30.
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The latest coronavirus data:
Vermont Department of Health reports no new cases
The Vermont Department of Health on Tuesday reported finding no new cases of COVID-19. So far, 1,208 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont.
Just two people are currently hospitalized with confirmed cases, and 14 people remain hospitalized with symptoms under investigation. To date, 953 people are known to have recovered from the disease.
The state has now tested 65,764 for active cases.
The health department is now reporting distinct figures for people being monitored through the state's Sara Alert system because they are travelers who must quarantine upon arrival in Vermont, and those who are enrolled in the system because they were identified as a close contact of a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.
Currently, 53 people are being monitored as close contacts of a confirmed case of COVID-19, and 1,629 people are being monitored for their travel history.
- Abagael Giles
Advocates say child care system contributes to economic disparities between men and women
Advocates hope to see a big increase in child care spending to help reduce economic disparities between men and women in Vermont.
A new report from the Vermont Commission on Women concluded that women in the labor force have been disproportionately affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic because many work in the service industry - a sector that suffered many job losses.
Brattleboro Rep. Emilie Kornheiser said raising wages for child care workers could have a ripple effect through the state economy.
"Now more than ever is when we actually need to invest in our communities with state dollars, and especially for investments like child care that we know actually save money within five years," Kornheiser said.
Kornheiser hopes lawmakers will consider this plan when they return in August.
- Bob Kinzel
Rutland nonprofits team up to deliver kid-friendly summer activities in a box
COVID-19 has closed playgrounds, limited sports and camp activities and made summer a lot less exciting for kids.
The situation got several nonprofit groups in Rutland to brainstorm how to create kid-friendly hands-on activities to help.
Danielle Monroe, director of Wonderfeed Kids Museum, said they've designed a series of free activity boxes to show kids how to make butter and cheese, carve soap, grow plants and create things like a solar oven.
"It's kind of making lemonade out of lemons," Monroe said. "Kids are home and they have fewer things to do this summer, but maybe we'll be introducing them to things they've never thought to do before and they could find a new passion."
The group distributed the first 1,500 boxes last week to kids in Addison and Rutland counties. New ones will come out every other week during the summer.
- Nina Keck
New report suggests COVID-19 has disproportionately affected women's health, financial security in Vt.
A new report says that women have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cary Brown is the executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women.
She said that many women work in the service and tourism industries, two sectors of the economy that have sustained large job losses.
Brown said the situation has exacerbated the existing economic disparities between men and women.
"So before this even started of course, we saw a wage gap between men and women in Vermont of 16% and that had a lot to do with the kinds of jobs that women were doing," Brown said. "They tend to be lower paid, are more likely to be part-time, and so they were much more impacted when those jobs close down."
Brown said the report also shows that, for the first time, more women have filed for unemployment benefits than men.
- Bob Kinzel
Sen. Leahy urges Senate Republicans to support $75 billion contact tracing, testing program
Sen. Patrick Leahy is urging Senate Republicans to support a $75 billion plan for a rigorous COVID-19 testing and contact tracing program before the Senate adjourns this week.
Leahy said it's a recommendation that's backed by many leading public health officials.
"Create a comprehensive testing and contact tracing program and provide the resources needed to implement it for all 50 of our states," he said. " This is how other countries have succeeded in flattening the curve and containing the spread."
Republican Senate leaders said they want to wait until after the July recess to consider the plan, so that they'll have a chance to evaluate the effectiveness of other federal COVID-19 legislation.
- Bob Kinzel
Sen. Leahy wants Senate to vote soon on $3 trillion coronavirus package
Sen. Patrick Leahy said he's disappointed that Republican leaders won't consider voting on a second major coronavirus stimulus bill before the Senate's July recess.
The bill would provide billions of dollars to help states deal with a loss of revenue.
The $3 trillion package passed the House six weeks ago, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wants to "take a pause" so he can evaluate the effectiveness of an initial stimulus package.
"Well, while we wait, cases continue to climb, the death toll mounts, and people continue to struggle," Leahy said. "The people who have COVID-19 - you aren't able to tell them 'to pause' and it will go away. You can't tell the doctors and nurses who are working almost around the clock, working to exhaustion, 'just pause.'"
The bill would also provide new funds for food assistance programs.
- Bob Kinzel
Public Utility Commission orders installation of Bennington solar project to halt
State utility regulators took the unusual step last week of ordering a solar developer to stop work on a large project that doesn't have a permit.
In May, the Public Utility Commission rejected developer Thomas Melone's request to build a two-megawatt, large solar array in a wooded area in Bennington. The commission ruled the project did not comply with the town plan.
Fast-forward to mid-June, when neighbors saw that trees were being clearcut at the site. The PUC held a hearing Friday and a state botanist testified that rare plants were destroyed in the operation. Late Friday night, the PUC ordered Melone and his contractors to halt.
Brooke Dingledine represents a local homeowners association that is challenging the project. She said the integrity of the state's environmental review process is at stake when developers proceed without the required permits.
"That's a problem because the permitting process is designed to ensure that there is a balance struck between the desire for economic development and the protection of the Vermont environment and the Vermont way of life," Dingledine said.
Melone did not respond to a request for comment. He told the PUC he's clearing the land for a sheep and hemp farm, but the commission rejected that argument.
- John Dillon
Vermont to monitor out-of-state travelers using Sara Alert system
Vermont will begin monitoring travelers to the state who are under self-quarantine using the Sara Alert system.
Veronica Fialkowski, a spokesperson for the health department, said people who sign up for the voluntary system receive daily reminders to check their temperature and be aware of the early signs of COVID-19.
"You know, places are opening back up and so I think we should expect to see this number grow," Fialkowski said. "But, you know, knoing that people are taking it seriously, and participating in the symptom monitoring is a good thing."
The department reports that about 1,570 travelers are being monitored.
Fialkowski said the monitoring system also allows the state to quickly test and identify people who end up catching the virus.
- Howard Weiss-Tisman
Quebec to require masks on all mass transit
Riders on the Montreal subway system and other mass transit services in Quebec will be required to wear masks, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced today.
The rule will apply to anyone over the age of 12. Legault stopped short of implementing a mask rule at indoor public spaces like stores, but said it was possible such a measure would be implemented in the future.
COVID-19 cases have declined in Quebec in recent weeks, even as some businesses have been allowed to reopen.
- Mark Davis
Vermont Law School elaborates on decision to move to remote learning
After checking in with students, faculty and state officials, the Vermont Law School has decided not to hold classes on campus this fall.
That's a change from the school's stated goal just a month ago.
VLS President and Dean Thomas McHenry said it comes down to equity between students with differing abilities to travel to the South Royalton campus during the pandemic.
"We ultimately concluded that we'd do best by our students, and offer them the most consistent educational experience, if we simply provided all of the classes virtually," McHenry said. "Which means our students - whether they're in South Royalton or in El Paso, Texas, or Redlands, Calif., which some of them are right now, or St. Louis, Mo. - they would be able to be offered the same educational experience."
McHenry said the law school is planning for in-person classes in the spring, and is offering some first-year students the opportunity to start in January.
"We are still going to try to make portions of our campus open, including our library, if we can do so with the right protocol," McHenry said. "So those students who come to South Royalton will have the ability to come use the library - maybe even have study spaces. We're going to maybe retrofit some of our classrooms for study spaces."
Several other Vermont colleges have announced they will be holding in-person classes in the fall. But McHenry said the law school has more flexibility to move its programming online because VLS does not have dormitories or organized sports programs.
- Amy Kolb Noyes
New Hampshire Legislature passes bill to streamline remote voting
It's still summer, but fall was the focus on Monday for lawmakers, college administrators and others responding to the coronavirus in New Hampshire.
The state Senate passed a bill to streamline the absentee voting process by allowing voters to use one application to receive absentee ballots for both the Sept. 8 state primary and Nov. 3 general election.
Meanwhile, an education taskforce fine-tuned its recommendations for reopening schools, and Dartmouth College released its plan to bring students back to campus in the fall.
- The Associated Press
Vermont Attorney General's Office charges former St. Albans cop with assault
The Vermont Attorney General's Office charged a former St. Albans police officer with assault Monday for pepper-spraying a handcuffed man in a holding cell in 2017.
Seven Days reports that Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan initially declined to prosecute former corporal Joel Daugreilh in 2018, but reopened the case in January of this year, when VPR requested video of the incident.
Daugreilh resigned from the St. Albans force during an internal investigation into the pepper-spraying incident.
- Sam Gale Rosen
New Hampshire Legislature passes 'Red Flag' bill
A bill allowing guns to be taken from people who present a danger to themselves or others is on its way to Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who is likely to veto it.
The Democratically-controlled Senate voted 14-10 on Monday for the bill, which would allow relatives or police to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms.
Supporters argue the so-called "red flag" measure is needed in a state where the suicide rate is rising faster than elsewhere and would be used only in cases of extreme risk.
Opponents say the bill violates not only the right to own firearms, but also other constitutional guarantees.
- The Associated Press
Health Commissioner says asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 appears rare in Vt., outside of outbreaks
It's possible for people to spread COVID-19 without experiencing any symptoms, but health officials say asymptomatic spread is rare in Vermont, except in cases linked to specific outbreaks.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that recent outbreaks in Winooski and Burlington included many people who tested positive without symptoms. In the general population of those tested in Vermont, however, positive cases without symptoms are rare.
"We are not finding asymptomatic people who test positive," Levine said. "Our positivity rate, as you know, for our virus, is well below two- or 3%. And some days, often in the less-than-1% range. So we are doing a lot of testing of people who have no symptoms, and we are not finding disease."
Levine said weekend testing in Fair Haven saw 200-plus tests all come back negative.
- Matthew Smith
Burlington-built electric aircraft prototype undergoes flight tests
A prototype electric aircraft developed by a Burlington company is undergoing flight tests, and is designed to initially focus on transporting time-sensitive medical supplies between hospitals.
The aircraft is codenamed Alia. It's fully powered by electricity, and takes off like a helicopter but flies like an airplane. Kyle Clark, founder of Beta Technologies, which produced the craft, said its mission will continue to develop over time.
"Right now, we're at the mission range of 150 to 200 nautical miles, which initially supports things like organ, tissue and blood product delivery, which are time sensitive and high-value, moving between hospitals," Clark said.
Earlier this month, the prototype was transported via a transport helicopter to Plattsburgh, where it is now undergoing flight testing.
- Sam Gale Rosen