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Vermont News Updates For Friday, July 10

A horse sculpture
Peter Crabtree
/
For VPR
Rita Dee's "Viva Christo Rey" is among the works on display at the 23nd annual North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show, which runs through Nov. 1.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, cyanobacteria blooms, and more for Friday, July 10.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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Five new COVID cases in Vermont

The Vermont Department of Health reported five new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with two in Chittenden County and one each in Windham, Windsor and Lamoille counties.

The positive tests came back with another 1,327 negative tests. The total number of tests administered in Vermont is now more than 74,000.

Two people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus, and 1,066 are reported to have recovered from the disease. To date, 56 people have died.

- Elodie Reed

NESCAC cancels fall collegiate sports season

There won't be any conference sports competitions between some small New England colleges this fall, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New England Small College Athletic Conference – which includes Middlebury and Williams Colleges – announced it won't hold contests for any of its sports this fall.

Presidents of the 11 colleges in the conference say student athletes and coaches will still be able to take part in practices and training.

Earlier this week, the Ivy League became the first Division 1 conference to cancel fall sports.

- Henry Epp

Welch supports federal funding to support safe school reopenings

Congressman Peter Welch said it will be difficult for public schools to reopen in the fall unless they receive federal money to help make their facilities safe from the coronavirus.

U.S. Senate Education chairman Lamar Alexander is seeking between $50 billion and $75 billion to ensure that schools can take steps to protect the health and safety of students and staff.

Welch said he supports this approach.

“This is an extraordinary burden on our schools,” Welch said. “They're not set up for this. But it's also going to be an extraordinary burden on our parents and a lot of anxiety, so I think [there are] resources we need to provide to help our schools make his incredibly difficult adjustment."    

The Senate is expected to consider the proposal at the end of the month.

- Bob Kinzel

Highway rest areas expected to reopen soon

Most of Vermont’s 17 highway rest areas will soon reopen for public use.

Gov. Phil Scott ordered the closure of all rest areas in March, in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Administration Secretary Susanne Young said the most frequently used rest areas, many of which also serve as information centers, are set to reopen by the end of July.

“So we’re limiting the phase one of the reopening to nine out of 17 of our existing information centers, and those should be up and running and online within the next two to three weeks,” Young said.

Young said the rest areas will be operating with fewer staff on duty.

Read the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Gov. Scott calls on pharmacies to host COVID-19 testing sites

Gov. Phil Scott is asking Vermont pharmacies to take on a larger role in COVID-19 testing.

Scott said Friday Vermont has one of the most successful coronavirus testing programs in the country.

But he said avoiding a resurgence of COVID-19 in the state will require a more robust testing infrastructure.

“So right now, I’m asking Vermont’s pharmacies and their parent companies to move as quickly as possible to join in this effort for their customers, staff and all Vermonters,” he said.

Scott said Kinney Drugs in Newport will begin a weekly testing program for customers next week. And he said a Walgreens in Essex will also begin offering testing services later this month.

Read the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld
 

More younger people are testing positive for COVID-19 in Vermont

Vermont reported 45 new cases of COVID-19 over the past week.

And state officials said Friday the average age of people testing positive for the disease is trending younger.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak said that in March and April, the average age of Vermonters testing positive for COVID-19 was between 50 and 55.

“Finally for the past six weeks, the average age of a Vermonter testing positive has generally remained under 40 years old. This illustrates that more vulnerable Vermonters, at least by age, have done a really good job of protecting themselves,” Pieciak said.

Pieciak said low rates of hospitalization due to COVID-19 are likely a result of fewer older Vermonters contracting the virus.

Read the full story.

Peter Hirschfeld

State officials move to restrict some quarantine-free travel to Vermont

A recent spike in COVID-19 cases across the nation is having cross-over effects in Vermont.

While COVID case counts in Vermont remain relatively low, the number of people eligible to visit the state without self-quarantining when they arrive has shrunk.

Michael Pieciak is the commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation.

"Approzimately 11.5 million people are eligible to enter Vermont without a quarantine, representing a decrease from 13.5 million who were eligible to enter Vermont last week without a quarantine," Pieciak said.

Residents of 14 states are allowed to visit Vermont without self-quarantining when they arrive, but only if they reside in counties with low active case counts.

The number of counties eligible for that quarantine exemption has decreased in recent weeks. Pieciak said it's likely the result of the higher incidences of COVID-19 across the country.

Read the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Rutland officials call for lower capacity limits for large hotels

Legislators and local leaders from Rutland are calling on Gov. Scott to rethink current capacity guidelines and lower them for large hotels.

Their request, in a letter to the governor, was prompted by the fact that 350 teenagers from the New Jersey area are staying at a local Holiday Inn as part of a six-week-long summer camp.

Under current COVID-19 guidelines, the hotel should have at most 300 guests, but Rutland officials like selectboard chair Joshua Terenzini think that's still too many.

"We would ask Gov. Scott to reevaluate that 50% capacity, and maybe that applies to smaller facilities: bed and breakfasts and motels," Terenzini said. "But when you have a facility as large as this one, 300 people are still a tremendous amount of visitors to that area at once."

Terenzini said he feels bad that some of the children may have to go home, and is frustrated that the hotel broke the rules, but said public safety has to come first.

Read the full story.

- Nina Keck

Burlington's airport acquires temperature screening technology

The Burlington International Airport recently added new technology to screen people for high temperatures, a symptom of COVID-19.

The full-body scanners are located at the entrances and exists of the airport and will alert people if they're running a fever.

Director of Aviation Gene Richards said they've been using the devices for about two weeks.

"We've had a couple of people that have come in warm and we've made sure they were masked and they knew they were warm," he said. "But it has not been a large amount of people with temperatures so far."

Business at Burlington's airport has dropped dramatically due to the pandemic. Normally, 15,000-17,000 people travel through weekly in the summer. Currently, only about 4,000 people pass through each week.

"It's not good, but we're no different than anybody else in the state. I think we're going to be fine. We did have a CARES package, and we received about $8.7 million," Richards said.

CARES is federal coronavirus relief money.

Richards said he hopes the federal government will issue another stimulus package to help the aviation industry.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Legislature, governor set aside $5 million for homeowner relief

Homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages due to COVID-19 may soon be eligible for financial assistance from the state.

Lawmakers and the governor have set aside $5 million for homeowners whose incomes have been affected by COVID-19.

Maura Collins is with the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, which is administering the aid program.

“We anticipate that there will not be enough funding for the applications that we expect, so we’ll be prioritizing those who have the lowest income and the highest risk of foreclosure,” Collins said.

Collins says 60% of Vermonters owe money on a home mortgage.

She says as many as 10% of homeowners have already sought forbearance from their banks on mortgage payments.

Read the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Welch calls on Congress to pass second economic recovery package

Congressman Peter Welch said the continued surge of COVID-19 cases across the country highlights the need for Congress to pass a second massive economic development recovery package as soon as possible.

Congress allocated roughly $2.2 trillion in its first Coronavirus bill.

And a second bill appropriating over $3 trillion to businesses and state and local governments has been passed by the House.

Welch says the money is needed now.

“You could try to use this money in a way that helps us get through until we get back to normal,” Welch said. “We don't know when that will be but we do know that if we don't help these businesses hang on when we go back to normal they won't come with us and we need them."     

Senate Republican leaders have indicated a willingness to pass part of the legislation when they return to Washington at the end of the month.

- Bob Kinzel

State to roll out renter, landlord assistance

With an estimated 13,000 Vermont renters already in arrears, lawmakers and the governor have established a fund to help them avoid evictions due to COVID-19.

Lawmakers and the governor are hoping a $25 million housing assistance program will help avert evictions and foreclosures. The program will provide $20 million to people whose rental payments are past due.

Starting Monday, Gov. Phil Scott says the state will accept grant applications from renters and mortgage holders whose incomes have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Landlords, renters, homeowners and those experiencing homelessness have all been impacted by this virus and need some help,” Scott said.

The Vermont State Housing Authority and Vermont Housing Finance Agency will administer the aid programs.

Richard Williams with the Vermont State Housing Authority said a quarter of Vermont renters spend more than half of their income on housing costs.

"These renters are at high risk of housing instability, which can lead to frequent moves, eviction and even homelessness," Williams said.

The rental assistance is being disbursed on a first-come, first-serve basis and aid is available to anyone whose rental payments are past due, regardless of income.

Read the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Tropical Storm Fay is not expected to bring Vermont out of drought

Vermont is seeing some rainfall due to the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay, but it's likely not enough to bring parts of the state out of a drought.

The storm is expected to reach Vermont tonight and tomorrow, and the impacts are expected to be minimal the National Weather Service said.

Meteorologiest Peter Sisson with the National Weather Service in Burlington said the state could see 1-2 inches of rain.

"Since we've been dry, we should be able to absorb that rain into the dry soil, so we're not expecting any major river or stream flooding at this time," Sisson said.

He said the drought could persist, even with more rain in the forecast.

"We are looking at fairly active, above-normal precipitation over the next several days. So it'll help some, but it won't take everyone out of the drought," Sisson said.

As of this week, the southern half of Vermont is experiencing a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The rest of the state is considered "abnormally dry."

- Henry Epp

'Boil water notice' issued for some parts of Montpelier

A boil water notice has been issued for some areas of the capital city.

Montpelier officials say the notice is due to two leaks that are affecting some residents of Liberty Street and Sherwood Drive, along with several other streets. Details and updates are posted on the city's website.

- Steve Zind

Montpelier City Council rejects bid for American flag mural on State Street

The Montpelier City Council has unanimously rejected a request by a Republican candidate for governor to paint an American flag and part of the Pledge of Allegiance alongside the words "Black lives matter" on State Street.

The Times Argus newspaper reports that the council discussed the proposal for almost 90 minutes this week.

Local volunteers, with the approval of the council, painted "Black Lives Matter" on the street in front of the statehouse last month, in the midst of nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Gubernatorial gandidate John Klar had asked the city council to close the street so an American flag and the words "liberty and justice for all" could be painted alongside "Black Lives Matter." Klar claimed his effort did not clash with the Black Lives Matter message.

The paper said council members were told by the city's attorney that they were on firm legal ground if they rejected Klar's request.

- Steve Zind

Three candidates vie for Democratic gubernatorial nomination

VPR will be speaking with candidates running for office or nomination in August over the next few weeks. Look out for more coverage, as well as ways to participate and view live debates.

Pat Winburn

Political newcomer Pat Winburn is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. He says his outsider status will be an asset in Montpelier.

Winburn is a trial attorney from Bennington. He said Republican Gov. Phil Scott's political rhetoric hasn't translated into meaningful change for Vermonters.

"And I think that's the problem in Montpelier, is that people talk," Winburn said. "And you know, I talk too, but I'm not part of Montpelier, and I really would like to see things get done."

Winburn delivered his remarks during a Democratic gubernatorial forum hosted by the Washington County Democrats on Thursday evening.

David Zuckerman

Lieutenant Gov. David Zuckerman is touting his long track record in Montpelier as he seeks the Democratic nomination for governor in next month's primary.

Zuckerman said that, as a state representative and state senator, he played a key role in marriage equality, raising the minimum wage and GMO labeling laws.

"And it's that work of getting issues through by working with Vermonters and the Legislature that's the track record that I bring and would like to, being your governor, bring more issues to the forefront that people have been talking about," Zuckerman said.

Zuckerman appeared at a forum Thursday evening alongside his two opponents in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Rebecca Holcombe

Democratic candidate for governor Rebecca Holcombe said Vermont needs a mandate for facial coverings in order to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 in the state.

Holcombe said incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott has left the state vulnerable to a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic by failing to require the use of face masks in public spaces.

"Because masks aren't just about suppressing a surge," Holcombe said. "It's also about preventing one from happening in the first place. We need to mask up to open up."

Holcombe issued her critique of Scott at a Democratic gubernatorial forum on Thursday evening.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Record number of Vermonters requesting mail-in ballots

A record number of Vermonters has applied for early voting ballots for the August 11th Primary, and there are still more than four weeks to go before that election.

Secretary of State Jim Condos says more 50,000 people have requested ballots in just the last two weeks.

He says that's far more than the total number of early ballots used in the 2016 and 2018 primaries combined.

Condos says it makes sense that voters want to protect themselves and older poll workers from COVID-19.

“And that's one of the reasons why we and the town clerks are hoping that more people will use the mail-in version,” he said. “Because that will drive down the in-person voting and actually help protect."    

Condos says all active registered voters are being sent a postcard reminding them of the availability of the early voting ballots.

- Bob Kinzel

Blue-green algae blooms close Burlington beaches

Three beaches in Vermont’s largest city were closed Friday due to blue-green algae.

The Burlington Parks Department said in a tweet that North Beach and Texaco Beach are closed due to cyanobacteria blooms – also known as blue-green algae.

Blooms were also spotted at Leddy Park, which has also been closed.

The recent hot and muggy weather creates ideal conditions for algae blooms. Temperatures in Burlington today are expected to climb into the mid-90s, with heat index values as high as 101

Blue-green algae can cause skin rashes and sickness if it’s swallowed. It’s also a dangerous for animals – like dogs – if ingested.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Welch applauds Supreme Court decision over releasing Trump's financial records

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch is applauding a U.S. Supreme Court decision that President Trump must release his financial records to prosecutors in a New York state criminal investigation.

Welch says the decision upholds the Constitutional principle that not even the president is above the law.

“It's about transparency, and about whether people can have confidence that the person who is leading our country is … making decisions that are on the basis of the best interests of the American people, or is doing something that is going to enrich him,” Welch said.

At the same time, the high court sent back to a lower court a case involving a Congressional subpoena of Trump's records.

Legal experts say that's why it's highly unlikely any of the president's financial records will be publicly released before Election Day.

- Bob Kinzel

Dartmouth cuts five varsity athletics programs, closes country club

Dartmouth College will eliminate five varsity athletic teams and a number of staff positions to help ease a budget deficit worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement issued Thursday, the college says this is one of the steps it's taking to address a $150 million financial deficit brought on by the pandemic.

Additionally Dartmouth is permanently closing the Hanover Country Club after years of the club's running in the red.

- Karen Anderson

New Hampshire monitoring increase youth, younger adult COVID-19 cases

New Hampshire public health officials are closely monitoring an increase in the number of children and young adults testing positive for the coronavirus.

From June 8 to July 8, the number of positive tests among people under age 30 increased 22%.  The increase among older residents was 16%. 

New Hampshire officials say they are watching those numbers carefully given trends happening in the rest of the country.

- Associated Press

Police investigating fatal crash in Proctor

Police are investigating a fatal crash in Proctor that killed an 18-year-old and injured three other people. 

The crash happened early this morning when police say a car went off West Street in Proctor and struck an embankment.  The car flipped over multiple times. 

The driver and two other passengers suffered non-life threatening injuries.

- Associated Press

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