Vermont News Updates For Tuesday, July 14
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, Vermont colleges' plans to bring students back to campus, and more for Tuesday, July 14.
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The latest coronavirus data:
Vermont Department of Health now tracking possible outbreak in Manchester
State health officials are tracking a possible COVID-19 outbreak in Bennington County. But Health Commissioner Mark Levine says preliminary test results need to be confirmed before he can give an accurate count of people who are infected.
Levine said a health clinic in Manchester screened people with what's called an "antigen test." But he said that test can yield false negative results.
"There's been reports of over 30 positive antigen tests in that region," Levine said Tuesday. "We are encouraging all of them, as well as all of the others who want to be tested, to come to a pop-up tomorrow in Londonderry at the Flood Brook School."
The Londonderry town offices have been closed after someone who had been exposed to the virus was in the building.
Meanwhile, the Vermont Department of Health announced Tuesday it had identified four new cases of COVID-19 in Vermont. Three of the new cases are in Chittenden County and one is in Lamoille County. Vermont has seen 1,305 confirmed cases of the coronavirus to date.
Those case numbers do not reflect the presumed positive cases in in Manchester.
So far, the state has tested 77,624 people for active cases and is monitoring 1,502 travelers for symptoms. Additionally, 72 people are being monitored as close contacts of confirmed positive cases.
It has been nearly one month since the state last saw a death from the coronavirus. Three people are currently hospitalized with confirmed cases of the disease and 12 people are hospitalized under investigation.
- Abagael Giles and John Dillon
Republican candidates for Lt. Governor divided on support for President Trump
Several of the Republian candidates running for lieutenant governor say they support President Trump's re-election.
Speaking at a VPR-PBS debate (the first of several leading up to the Aug. 11 primary), Dwayne Tucker, a contractor from Barre, said he believes Trump has done a very good job on a number of domestic issues.
Small business owner Dana Coulson of Sharon praised the president for his leadership skills.
And healthcare provider Meg Hansen of Manchester touted the president's economic record.
"I 100% support President Trump and I will tell you why," Hansen said. "The reason is because before COVID, the Trump administration was responsible for record low unemployment rates for women and minority groups, African Americans and Hispanic populations."
Republican Lt. Gov. candidate Scott Milne said he won't be voting for President Trump in the fall election.
Speaking at the same debate, Milne was the only one of the candidates present who said they were disappointed in the president's governance style.
Milne said he can't vote for Trump this year, and instead said he will be casting his vote for a former Vermont governor for president.
"I wish that President Trump had kept his promise frankly, to act more presidential," Milne said Tuesday. "I also look at Vice President Biden and really don't see him as being up for the job. I'll be writing in Jim Douglas' name for president."
- Bob Kinzel
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.
State officials underscore directive to quarantine upon arrival from high-risk areas
The Scott administration is underscoring its directive that people should quarantine if they come to Vermont from places with high rates of COVID-19.
Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said he's concerned that the disease will spread here if travelers do not self-isolate, but instead choose to socialize.
"It's no specific case; it's just some random cases that I have seen, including some specific ones, where I have seen travel to what I would call hot spots, and then returning to Vermont and not quarantining," Smith said. "And that is something that is of concern."
Smith said behavior like this may have contributed to an apparent COVID-19 outbreak in the Manchester area.
- John Dillon
Scott administration rolls out $275 million grant program to support health care providers
The Scott administration has rolled out a grant program to help health care providers deal with the financial challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program will use up to $275 million in federal relief funds. Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said he knows the money will not be enough to cover all the losses, but he said the grants will help providers across the health care sector, regardless of size.
"It's going out to sort of the whole health care industry, to, you know, from long term care facilities, to hospitals, to dentists, to all sorts of providers that are out there that are eligible for this," Smith said. "That's why I said, 'Please apply,' as we move forward."
Smith said the grants will not be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. Instead he said agency staff will make awards based on need.
- John Dillon
Scott administration announces $25 million grant program for dairy industry
Vermont has lost 25 dairy farms since March. Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts said the COVID crisis made a bad situation on the farm worse as demand for dairy products plummeted when schools and restaurants closed.
"That's in four months, we lost 25," Tebbetts said. "And the rolling average before the COVID [pandemic] was 1.4 farms lost per month. So you can see this has been a direct result of what happened when the markets went away for our dairy farms."
Tebbetts on Tuesday announced a $25 million grant program designed to shore up the dairy industry. The grants are funded with federal COVID relief money.
- John Dillon
U.S.-Canada border closure extended through late August
The U.S.- Canada border will remain closed until at least late August, according to numerous media reports.
The agreement, which bans all non-essential travel between the countries, was set to expire on July 21, but will now be extended for a fourth time.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump reportedly discussed the matter Monday.
- Mark Davis
Gov. Scott extends state of emergency amid national uptick in cases
Gov. Phil Scott has extended the state of emergency he first declared in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor said Vermont has done well in controlling the spread of the coronavirus. But he said the state needs to remain vigilant, especially since other states are seeing a huge surge in infections.
"And this second potential wave, or whatever is happening throughout the country right now, we'll learn from this as well, and hopefully not make the same mistakes," Scott said.
Administration officials at the governor's Tuesday news briefing stressed the need for people to self-quarantine if they travel to Vermont from places with high rates of infection.
- John Dillon
Burlington City Council votes to put ranked-choice voting measure on November ballot
The Burlington City Council voted Monday night to put a measure on the Nov. ballot to introduce ranked-choice voting in elections for mayor, city council and school board.
Seven Days reports that the resolution passed in a 6-5 vote. Even if the measure passes, the Legislature and governor would have to approve any changes to the city charter.
The council also unanimously voted to allow a Black Lives Matter mural to be painted on the city's Main Street. The painting is scheduled to begin on Sunday afternoon.
- Sam Gale Rosen
Scott signs police reform bill banning chokeholds, requiring body cameras
Gov. Phil Scott has signed a police reform bill that will require state police to wear body cameras and ban law enforcement officers from using chokeholds.
VTDigger reports that the legislavpr tion requires Vermont State Police officers to wear body cameras starting Aug. 1.
Also, under the law, police officers who use chokeholds or some other similar restraints that result in injury or death could be found guilty of a new crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison, or a $50,000 fine.
Gov. Phil Scott said in a letter that he wants lawmakers to review the law and make changes to it when they return later this summer.
- Sam Gale Rosen
Quebec Province mandates masks in public indoor spaces
Masks or face coverings will be mandatory in all indoor public spaces across Quebec, beginning Sat. July 18.
According to CBC News, the new rule coincides with the start of the province's two-week construction holiday, when tens of thousands of Quebecois take their summer vacation.
The regulations applies to everyone aged 12 and up, although Premier François Legault said even children as young as two will be encouraged to wear a mask. People with a medical condition that precludes them from wearing one will be exempted.
- Karen Anderson
Burlington businesses are seeing below-average traffic this summer
Businesses in Burlington's downtown commercial district are seeing below average traffic this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But city officials say they're somewhat optimistic because more people have been visiting Church Street in recent weeks, as coronavirus restrictions have eased.
Kara Alnasrawi, executive director of the Church Street Marketplace, said the city has developed programs to help stores, like closing down some roads on the weekend so retailers can set up booths outside.
"I know merchants themselves have pivoted very quickly... and they're either doing take out or curbside pickup, or they're even doing local delivery of retail items," Alnasrawi said. "...But again, with limited capacity allowed at their establishments, it's still a little bit problematic."
Alnasrawi said she's not aware of any shopes that have closed permanently due to the pandemic.
"Right now, we're in a wait and see period, and we'll see which businesses can make it," she said. "I'm hoping that a lot can."
Alnasrawi said her officer is working with businesses to help them find grants and other financial aid.
- Liam Elder-Connors
EPA says Vermont is behind schedule on key lake cleanup requirement
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Vermont is behind schedule to develop a key pollution permit program to protect Lake Champlain.
Vermont's comprehensive clean water law went into effect five years ago. But a new stormwater pollution piece has not yet been implemented.
The EPA said the state needs to have the new permit program developed by early September. The agency said the state's delay "puts the ultimate achievement of the lake's water quality goals in jeopardy."
Peter Walke is commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation. He said he's told the EPA the state doesn't have a funding mechanism in place to help businesses comply with the permit.
"We were not able to offer them sort of, assurances, as to when we would be ready because there is so much uncertainty," Walke said.
But lake advocate James Ehlers said Lake Champlain doesn't have time to wait. He points out that the lake has seen numerous algae blooms this summer.
- John Dillon
Condos says there is no evidence voting by mail increases voter fraud
Secretary of State Jim Condos said he has confidence in the integrity of Vermont's voting system, as more people choose to vote by mail in the August primary.
Condos said a record number of Vermonters have already requested early ballots for the Aug. 11 election and he expects many more will decide to use this system due to COVID-19 concerns.
Some Republican leaders have raised concerns about voter fraud with the vote by mail system but Condos says there is no evidence of problems.
"The Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan organization, did a study and found that voting by mail did not increase or [cause] an increase of voter fraud," Condos said.
All active registered voters will be sent a ballot for the General Election.
- Bob Kinzel
Secretary of State to ship PPP to Vermont town clerks
Secretary of State Jim Condos said his office is taking steps to make certain that local election officials are able to safely operate their polling places for both the Aug. 11 primary and the Nov. 3 General Election.
Even though there's been a surge in early voting, largely due to COVID-19 concerns, Condos said all local polls will also be open on election day.
That's why Condos said his office is shipping personal protective equipment and supplies to all town clerks.
"We are doing everything we can at the state level to ensure that the town clerks and municipalities have the stuff that they need in order to operate the election in a very safe manner," Condos said.
He said the historic surge in early voting this year could boost voter turnout for the Primary.
- Bob Kinzel
University of Vermont aims to test students twice-weekly this fall
The University of Vermont is anticipating the return of about 13,000 students to its Burlington campus by August. The university will offer a mix of in-person and online learning this fall. Students have until July 17 to decide whether they will return for on-campus learning.
The university said it expects to subject students to twice-weekly on-campus testing for COVID-19. That's above and beyond what is being called for by state officials.
UVM Provost Patty Prelock told Vermont Edition that if a student does test positive, the school will have a plan.
"If there is an outbreak, we're working on some metrics that follow science to determine, at what point do we stop all in-person instruction and what do we do from that point forward?" Prelock said.
The school will have space set aside for isolation and quarantine.
Additionally, the university has asked students returning to both on- and off-campus living this fall to sign a pledge that they will adhere to measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Prelock told Vermont Edition that medical and nursing students have volunteered to lead a student campaign encouraging compliance. She said UVM has "given students a lot of expectations" about signing the pledge and taking a required VOSHA safety training.
"I think I'm really counting on our students following our Common Ground, which we've instilled in them from the beginning when they started being a Catamount, which is respect for others, having integrity in the things that they do, being open to things that are going to look different," Prelock said.
Prelock said the university will be "very clear" if students do not follow the rules.
- Abagael Giles
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