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Vermont News Updates For Thursday, July 2

Masked crossing guard, bus driver wait on school bus for families to pick up lunch
Aliya Schneider
Bus driver Ray Dean and crossing guard Diane Farrell wait for families to pick up the free bagged lunches at Rutland High School on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 24.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, expected furloughs, and more for Thursday, July 2.

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The latest coronavirus data:


Vermont Department of Health reports 17 new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health on Thursday reported 17 new cases of COVID-19 across six counties. Chittenden and Franklin counties saw the largest case increases, with eight new cases reported in Chittenden County and three in Franklin County.

To date, the state has identified 1,227 cases of the new coronavirus in Vermont. Two people are currently hospitalized with the disease, and 19 people are hospitalized with symptoms under investigation.

So far, 960 people are known to have recovered from COVID-19. There have been 56 deaths associated with confirmed cases so far, and 67,341 people have been tested.

The health department reports that it is currently monitoring 1,571 travelers for COVID-19, and 42 people who are close contacts of confirmed cases.

- Abagael Giles

Coronavirus highlights local agriculture's role in Vermont's food security

The Coronavirus is highlighting just how critical local agriculture is to Vermont's food security.

University of Vermont Extension agronomist Heather Darby told Vermont Edition that local producers fill the void created by problems in the national food supply chain.

"When you go to the store and you can't get produce because it's been plowed up in Florida, because there was nobody there to harvest, or meat because plants have been shut down in the pandemic, where are you going to get it?" Darby asked. "You're going to get it from your neighbor that's growing beef or vegetables or milk."

Darby said wearing masks, washing hands and keeping distance at farmers' markets and farm stands helps keep farmers and the food supply safe.

She said a single sick worker on a small farm could spell the end of production for the season.

Listen to the full conversation, as heard on Vermont Edition.

- Matthew Smith

Vermont sees a bumper year for chipmunks

If you think you've been seeing more chipmunks than normal this summer, you have been.

According to biologist Bill Kilpatrick, an emeritus professor at UVM, this year's chipmunks are benefiting from last fall's bumper crop of nuts and other seeds.

"And so as they were arousing during the winter, they found they had an abundance of food. That meant that they actually arose from hibernation earlier in the year and they also then had very high survivorship of their first litter of young," he said.

And if you think you're seeing a lot of chipmunks now, just wait. Kilpatrick said chipmunks have the ability to control their reproductive cycles to have a second litter right around now, just as our gardens are coming into their own.

Listen to the full conversation, as heard on Vermont Edition.

- Matthew Smith

Drought conditions have had an adverse affect on Vermont's hay crop

Recent rains have helped farmers with drought conditions - but it maybe to little, too late for Vermont's hay crop.

Heather Darby, an agronomist at the University of Vermont Extension's Northwest Crops and Soils program, said a dry winter and spring coupled with dry summer weather, is affecting hay more than any other crop.

People are reporting about 50% of a normal yield. Some less, maybe some a little more. But hot and dry weather for our hay crop is really bad," Darby said.

Energy-dense hay is critical feed for dairy cows, and a poor haying season could require farmers to purchase expensive feed for their cows.

Listen to the full conversation, as heard on Vermont Edition.

- Matthew Smith

Hopkins Center partners with Dance Theatre of Harlem for summer residency program

The Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College has begun a partnership with Dance Theatre of Harlem for a three-summer residency.

The residency is expected to include development of a new ballet and courses in dance, theater and African-American studies. There will also be performances, master classes and discussion events for the public.

But due to the pandemic, this summer's residency is virtual.

Mary Lou Aleskie is director of The Hopkins Center.

"It's online, but we are hopeful that next year and the following year, the company will actually be with us," Aleskie said.

Aleskie said the partnership will stimulate conversations about innovation in dance, as well as discussions of race, activism and equity in the arts.

- Betty Smith

Franklin County for Justice and Equity to hold weekly workshops on racism and activism

Beginning this Sunday, a group of activists known as Franklin County For Justice and Equity will hold weekly gatherings in St. Albans to reflect on racism and work for change.

The organization has booked Taylor Park in St. Albans every Sunday afternoon for the next two months. Co-organizer David Glidden said the events will consist of two parts: a vigil and skill-building workshops.

"So this week, we're going to be focusing on making signs as well as on how to participate in a city hall event, or school board meeting, or city council," Glidden said.

The Episcopal St. Paul's Cathedral in Burlington has also begun holding weekly vigils on Sundays in response to racism nearby and across the nation.

- Emily Corwin

Vermont's corn crop is ahead of schedule

Vermont's corn crop is ahead of schedule this year, despite some dry growing conditions.

University of Vermont Extension agronomist Heather Darby said corn crop samples are close to tasseling in some parts of Vermont - which means a harvest is about a month away.

"Now, if we could get those timely rains, that will help, so, fingers crossed, if we can keep getting some rain, the corn crop should be good but also early this year," Darby said.

Even with corn ahead of schedule, about 30% of Vermont is experiencing moderate drought - affecting hay and other crops.

Listen to the full conversation, as heard on Vermont Edition.

- Matthew Smith

U.S. House approves bill to create massive public works infrastructure program

The U.S. House has given its approval to a bill that creates a massive public works infrastructure program.

The legislation allocates $1.5 trillion to repair bridges and roads, it provides energy efficiency upgrades to housing and school construction projects, and it appropriates $100 billion for broadband services in rural parts of the country.

Congressman Peter Welch said there's a desperate need for the bill.

"This is not so much to address the impact of the COVID economic collapse. This is looking over the horizon, saying, America, we've got to reinvest. We've got to restart, we've got to create jobs by fixing up what we have and improving it," Welch said.

The bill faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he won't support many of the mandatory energy efficiency measures.

- Bob Kinzel

Vermont wildlife officials see surge in bear complaints

Vermont wildlife officials say they've received a surge in complaints about bears over the last month.

Forrest Hammond of the Fish and Wildlife Department estimates the number of bear-related calls this June was five times greater than last year.

Hammond said while the complaints have come from all over the state, the towns of Morrisville and Stowe have been hotspots.

"The people of Stowe and Morrisville are gradually learning to live with these bears, and having more bear-proof dumpsters and garbage containers and taking down birdfeeders," he said.

Hammond said he's not sure why there have been so many complaints, but he thinks the bear activity might be up due to factors like a shorter winter and less naturally-occurring food.

- Liam Elder-Connors

More from VPR: Vermont Bears Emboldened By 'Stay Home, Stay Safe'

Drive-in movies make a comeback in Rutland

Drive-in movies are making a comeback in Rutland starting Friday with a showing of Grease.

Eric Mallette, Interim Executive Director of the Paramount Theatre, said because COVID-19 has made indoor entertainment impossible, they've erected a 600-square-foot outdoor screen at the state fairgrounds.

He said they'll show movies each weekend.

"I think it solves a problem that we all have right now," Mallette said. "And that is: boy, I've gardened. I've raked. I've painted that spare bedroom. I've painted the other spare bedroom. I need something to do. This helps people have something to look forward to at a time when there hasn't been a whole lot to look forward to."

Tickets are $25 per car and go on sale two weeks before each movie. The drive-in can accommodate 60 cars. Mallette said so far, they've sold out in minutes.

"The image quality is out of this world," he said. "We tested it on Tuesday night and it blew my mind. I mean, it was like you were sitting in the theater somewhere."

No movie will be shown this Saturday, as the Paramount is hosting fireworks. But the drive-in will showcase Dirty Dancing and Jurassic Park next weekend.

- Nina Keck

Green Mountain Care Board aims to develop sustainability plans for hospitals

The Green Mountain Care Board wants to restart efforts to create sustainability plans for Vermont's financially troubled hospitals.

Board member Jessica Holmes said the plan was put on hold at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Rural hospitals are closing around the country. So without a roadmap towarrds a sustainable future, we could potentially see hospital closures in our state," Holmes said.

Many Vermont hospitals have been losing money for years, and Springfield Hospital is in bankruptcy. Just before the COVID pandemic hit, the board was developing the framework for the sustainability plans.

"Already, weak balance sheets have only been exacerbated by the revenue losses associated with the COVID crisis. So it's more important than ever that we ask our hospitals to help us think about how we keep our healthcare system sustainable in the future," Holmes said.

The board is asking six of Vermont's 14 hospitals to develop sustainability plans.

Holmes said with the COVID crisis improving, she wants to begin the conversation again at the board's meeting on July 15.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Unemployment fraud is the rise in Vermont

Many states are reporting a surge in fraudulent unemployment claims.

Vermont Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said rates in Vermont are relatively low, but they're rising.

He said the most common are fraudulent claims Vermonters are making on their own behalf to bilk the system.

More troubling, he said, are identity thefts where claims are made on someone's behalf without their knowledge.

"Most of these are being filed by out-of-country individuals. And so it becomes a much more complex process because... what we're hearing across the country is it's not someone down the road on their computer who got a piece of data and filed on someone else's behalf," Harrington said. "These are part of a large crime syndicate of some kind that are perpetrating these crimes across the country."

Harrington said the state has seen more than 225 cases like that - all of which are passed on to the state police.

- Nina Keck

More from VPR: Report: COVID-19 Disproportionately Impacts Women's Health, Work & Financial Security

Brandon and other towns move to reschedule fireworks displays

Many Vermont towns that throw big Fourth of July parades and celebrations are having to change plans this year because of COVID-19.

Bill Moore is chair of Brandon's Independence Day Celebration Committee.

He said this year, locals had hoped to throw an especially big party to herald the completion of a massive three-year infrastructure overhaul.

"We were really excited about unveiling our beautiful downtown, but the pandemic had another plan for us," he said.

Moore said good things come to those who wait, however, and Brandon plans to reschedule their two-day celebration and fireworks display for late September.

- Nina Keck

Vermont Symphony Orchestra to see new executive director

A new executive director will take the helm of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra later this summer.

Elise Brunelle has most recently led the Cape Town Opera, South Africa's largest nonprofit performing arts organization. A former violinist, Brunelle is originally from Minnesota.

VSO board Chair Barbara Wessel said Brunelle will be a good fit.

"She has proven herself in arts administration and is completely dedicated to symphonic music and it just seemed the perfect combination," Wessel said.

Brunelle became familiar with Vermont while working briefly at the Weston Playhouse.

- Betty Smith

Vermont sees a surge in backyard swimming pool, hot tub sales

Travel restrictions due to the coronavirus are contributing to a surge in backyard swimming pool and hot tub sales.

Ed Allen is one of the owners of Allen Pools and Spas.

"I think people are certainly increasing maybe their outdoor living space," Allen said. "They know they can't travel or they're not comfortable traveling yet. So I think they've kinda just turned their focus on their home, and want to make it as nice to live there as they can."

Allen said the demand for pools has created a shortage, with many items sold out.

- Betty Smith

More than 1,000 to be furloughed St. Albans United States Citizenship and Immigration Services center

Sen. Patrick Leahy said looming furloughs at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services center in St. Albans would idle more than 1,000 workers on Aug. 3.

Speaking Wednesday on the floor of the Senate in Washington, D.C., Leahy said the Vermont furloughs would be part of more than 13,000 furloughs nationwide caused by a $1.2 billion budget shortfall in the agency, which handles citizenship issues.

Leahy is urging the Senate to begin negotiations on another COVID-19 relief bill that would provide money to cover the shortfall.

Gov. Phil Scott said Wednesday he was unaware of the size of the furlough in St. Albans, but said it would be another blow the state's economy.

- The Associated Press

Minor league baseball is officially canceled nationwide

Minor league baseball is officially canceled across the country, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that means the Vermont Lake Monsters won't be taking the field in Burlington.

Joe Doud, the team's general manager said he feels sorry for the fans, especially those who might have attended their first professional baseball game this summer.

"Those people I of course feel bad for too, because it's a massive void," Doud said. "It's gonna be a pretty big hole this summer, as far as filling people's time."

Doud said the team will be reaching out to all season ticket holders in the coming days to go over their options, which will include refunds.

Read the full story.

- Henry Epp

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