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Vermont News Updates For Monday, July 13

Two photos, one of a woman in a face mask pulling green beans out of a wooden bucket, and one of a chalk board with stand written in colorful chalk next to a bottle of hand sanitizer and a sign saying masks required.
Peter Crabtree
/
For VPR
Ashley Brush bags snap peas at Clear Brook Farm in Shaftsbury last week, where masks and hand sanitizer were the order of the day.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, a small Vermont town trying to grow its economy, and more for Monday, July 13.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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Vermont goes nearly a month without COVID-related death

The Vermont Department of Health reports six new cases of COVID-19 Monday, bringing the total number of cases to 1301. In addition to the six positive results, another 717 tests came back negative, and 76,581 tests have been administered to date.

Some 1,076 people are reported to have recovered from the coronavirus, and two people are currently hospitalized. While there have been no new deaths in nearly four weeks, 56 people have died in Vermont from the disease.

The state recently began sharing the number of people it is monitoring using its Sara Alert app. On Monday, Vermont was monitoring 1,555 travelers and 70 contacts.

- Karen Anderson and Elodie Reed

Enosburg Falls hoping to grow recreation economy

The community of Enosburg in eastern Franklin County hopes to build on Vermont's growing recreation economy by promoting the town's proximity to the Missisquoi River rail trail.

The 27-mile-long path runs on an old rail bed from St. Albans to Richford.

Mary Larose manages The Great Outdoors store just off Main Street in Enosburg Falls. She says the trail is getting more and more use these days.

“When I go home at night, I take [Route] 105, and seeing people on the rail trail, it’s always a joy to know it’s being used and people are out there,” Larose said.

A volunteer-driven revitalization effort in Enosburg Falls has focused on making the village center more tourist-friendly, with streetscape improvements and signage highlighting the trail.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

Corrections Commissioner: Inmate death reflects systemic failures

Jim Baker, Vermont's top prison official, told reporters Monday that an inmate's death in December reflected systemic failures by prison and medical staff. The inmate, Kenneth Johnson, was a 60-year-old African American man with existing health conditions. He died because of an undiagnosed tumor that blocked his airway.

Commissioner Baker said Johnson had complained for some time that he could not breathe. And although a number of investigations into the incident are ongoing, he said this:

“I've been briefed enough to know that no one should die in our custody the way that Mr. Johnson passed away.”

In response, Baker announced a revamped and re-named Department of Professional Standards, which he said, will add accountability to prison operations.

- Emily Corwin

Londonderry town offices close following positive COVID test

The town of Londonderry has closed its town offices after someone who was inside the building doing research later tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Kelly Pajala is Londonderry’s town clerk.

“There was a known potential exposure,” Pajala said. “I feel like hitting the pause button is the safest thing for myself, my staff, the community.”

The town has been letting people in to the office on a limited basis during the pandemic.

Pajala said the office will remain closed while town officials get tested and the Vermont Health Department performs contact tracing on the person who tested positive.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

UVM scraps standardized testing requirement for applicants

The University of Vermont will not require standardized test score submissions for undergraduate students applying in 2020-2021. 

The decision comes among uncertainty surrounding test-taking opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  In a press release Monday, UVM President Suresh Garimella said changing the test requirements will "optimize equity among applicants." 

The move is in line with changes being made in higher education throughout the country.

- Karen Anderson

Vermont's libraries beginning to reopen on limited basis

Brattleboro’s Brooks Memorial Library began offering limited, in-person services Monday.

State Librarian Jason Broughton says Vermont has 185 libraries, and about 30 are open on a limited basis during the pandemic.

“Libraries assist a community on so many different levels,” Broughton said. “Even if it is for people to kind of come in and get a book out really quickly or just come pick up books and chat and say hello. That is always a positive thing to kind of help with stress, socialization and mental health.”

Broughton said libraries have been offering virtual services, and recent state health and safety guidelines are allowing more to open their buildings.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

More from VPR: 'I Feel Like A Superhero': Pittsford Librarian Gets Books To Her Patrons

New health provider for Vermont prisons

Vermonters who are behind bars have a new medical provider.

Department of Corrections interim commissioner Jim Baker told reporters Monday the Kansas company VitalCore Health Strategies had replaced Centurion, which has provided health care to inmates in Vermont for the past five years.

VitalCore was the lowest of three bidders, receiving a contract worth $20 million a year.

Viola Riggin, the company's chief executive, said her company is different from other prison medical providers.

“We're making sure in the industry, that we are breaking down the walls,” she said. “That we would provide care internally just as you would get it externally.”

VitalCore began operating inside Vermont prisons on July 1.

- Emily Corwin

Vermont AG joins lawsuit against ICE over international college students

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan has joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in a lawsuit to stop a new federal rule that threatens to bar hundreds of thousands of international students from studying in the U.S.

On July 6, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students can no longer live in the U.S. and take all of their classes online during the pandemic, which would force thousands of students  to leave the country.

The lawsuit, filed against ICE, seeks a nationwide injunction to stop the rule from going into effect.

- Karen Anderson

Vermont Supreme Court upholds school merger law

The Vermont Supreme Court has upheld the state law that requires some school districts to merge.

The high court found in its 3-2 ruling released Friday that the State Board of Education's implementation of the Act 46 education reform law did not violate Vermont's constitution.

The law was passed in 2015 to address declining enrollments and was designed to make school operations more efficient, reduce costs and expand educational opportunities. About 30 school districts sued, saying the law was unnecessary and violated local voters' control.

- Associated Press

More from VPR: New School Year, New Districts — But Act 46 Conversations Continue Around Vermont

Lawyer: Ariel Quiros to change plea in EB-5 fraud scheme

Ariel Quiros, the alleged ringleader of a multimillion ski resort fraud scheme, plans to withdraw his not guilty pleas, his lawyer says.

Neil Taylor, an attorney for Florida businessman Ariel Quiros, told a federal judge Friday that he is cooperating with the government and anticipates ending the case with a plea in the near future.

Quiros, who owned Jay Peak ski resort, pleaded not guilty in May 2019 to 12 felony charges, including seven counts of wire fraud and three counts of false statements. Quiros and three others were indicted over a failed plan to build a biotechnology plant in Newport.

- Associated Press

More from Brave Little State: What's The Plan For The 'Pit' In The Middle Of Newport?

Education secretary doesn't support statewide commission on reopening schools

Education Secretary Dan French says he will not support a proposal to create a new statewide commission on reopening schools.

VTDigger reports that the Vermont-NEA, the union that represents most of the state’s school employees, has been pushing for a commission with involvement from parents, teachers, school nurses, and other educators. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe has also pushed for the commission.

Education Secretary Dan French said on Friday that the proposed commission would not be "responsive enough or nimble enough" to help individual districts navigate reopening, and that the current state planning group is sufficient.

In response, Vermont-NEA president Don Tinney said: "We’re very disappointed that we’re not going to have our members making decisions at the state level about how to best reopen schools safely."

- Sam Gale Rosen

Vermonters have opportunities to help form clean water action plan

Vermonters are invited to participate in three online presentations this month on an action plan to improve waterways and reduce phosphorus pollution for part of the Lake Champlain watershed from Ferrisburgh to Swanton.

The Department of Environmental Conservation is hosting the meetings on a collaborative plan for the area that includes the Lake Champlain Islands, Malletts and St. Albans bays and Burlington and Shelburne.

The plan covers current water quality issues; strategies to protect and improve local waterways; tactics to prevent and reduce phosphorus pollution from entering the lake; and funding and technical assistance for projects that help restore local waterways like tree planting along shorelines. The presentations take place July 15, July 20 and July 29.

- Associated Press

Agriculture agency warns of disease affecting rabbits

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture is warning about a disease that affects both wild and domestic rabbits and is spreading through the western United States.

State Veterinarian Kristin Haas says the state is greatly concerned for Vermont rabbit owners, including several agricultural operations. The state is encouraging owners of domesticated rabbits to maintain strict biosecurity standards and to avoid importing rabbits from the states where the disease has been identified.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife is monitoring the deaths of wild rabbits. The virus is not related to the coronavirus and it does not infect humans or other domestic animals.

- Associated Press

Vermont musician Gordon Stone dies

Acclaimed Vermont musician Gordon Stone has died at the age of 70.

Stone died on Friday - his death was announced by his wife on his personal Facebook page.

Seven Days reports that Stone was an world-renowned banjo and pedal steel guitar player, known among many other projects for his collaborations with the jam band Phish.

Stone had checked himself into himself into a rehab center in California earlier this year. His wife, Jennifer Harwood Stone declined to comment on the cause of his death but said that results from a medical examiner would be available soon.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Boston reopens gyms, movie theaters, museums

Boston was scheduled to enter the third phase of its coronavirus economic restart on Monday, a week after most of the rest of Massachusetts.

Under the plan, movie theaters, museums and historical sites, as well as gyms are among the businesses allowed to reopen with appropriate public health measures in place. Boston's plan differs slightly from the state plan. For example, libraries will remain closed for browsing.

- Associated Press

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