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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Vermont News Updates For Monday, July 20

Black Lives Matter on Burlington's Main Street in front of Flynn Theater
Abagael Giles
On Sunday afternoon, more than 100 volunteers gathered in downtown Burlington to paint the words Black Lives Matter on Main Street. The Flynn Theater's marquee paid tribute to Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, who died Friday.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, a new Black Lives Matter mural on Burlington's Main Street, rural broadband and more for Monday, July 20.

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The latest coronavirus data:


Vermont Department of Health reports 10 new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, with six new cases in Chittenden County, one in Caledonia County, two in Windsor County and one in Addison County.

There are currently three people hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 19 people hospitalized with symptoms under investigation. To date, the state has identified 1,360 cases in Vermont.

The Department of Health reported no new deaths. So far 56 people have died from the disease.

There have been 83,868 tests conducted in Vermont, and 86 people are currently being monitored as close contacts of confirmed cases.

- Abagael Giles

Levine says 35 positive Manchester antigen tests have been checked by PCR testing

Only a fraction of cases in a possible COVID-19 outbreak in southwest Vermont have been confirmed positive, state health officials say.

Rapid antigen testing at a Manchester clinic this month found 64 positive cases, but state officials only count cases confirmed by a slower, more accurate PCR test.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine told Vermont Edition 35 of the Manchester clinic cases have been checked so far.

"And out of the 35, there are still only two positives. This is what makes this extremely unprecedented, if you will, like every other aspect of this pandemic," Levine said.

Dr. Levine said he's meeting with health officials at the CDC to investigate test result discrepancies.

Pop-up testing in Manchester and Londonderry last week tested 1,400 people with PCR tests and found only three positive cases.

Listen to the full episode of Vermont Edition.

- Matthew Smith

Condos says there is no evidence of a cyber attack on Vermont's election system

Secretary of State Jim Condos said there's no evidence of any foreign government trying to hack into Vermont's election system.

On most days, there are tens of thousands of illegal efforts to log onto the state's main computer system. Most are random searches looking for what Condos called an "open door" to gain entry.

Condos said the state took steps to protect the integrity of the system after allegations of foreign interference were raised in the 2016 presidential election.

"We haven't seen any telltale signs at this point in time, but we are monitoring our systems on a daily basis," Condos said. "We do continue to do weekly Department of Homeland Security cyber hygiene scans, so they look and see if there are any open doors."

Condos said Vermont's voter tabulation system is safe from cyber attacks because individual machines aren't connected to the internet.

- Bob Kinzel

$600 weekly federal unemployment checks will halt next week, depending on Congressional action

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said this is the last week that unemployed Vermonters will receive extra benefit checks from the federal government, unless Congress extends the program.

This winter, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress approved sending an additional $600 in benefits to people who lost their jobs because of the virus.

Harrington said he hopes that benefit will be extended.

"In many cases, the base unemployment insurance amount does not cover someone's full expenses when they are unemployed, so certainly for those people who have been drastically impacted by the pandemic, I think this will continue to serve them well," Harrington said.

The U.S. House has already passed legislation extending the benefits. The U.S. Senate is not considering the measure.

- Bob Kinzel

All active registered voters will be mailed a ballot for the general election

It's now official. All "active" registered voters in Vermont will be sent a ballot from their town clerk for the November general election.

Secretary of State Jim Condos has sent a directive to all clerks informing them of this change.

Voters have the choice of sending the ballot back, dropping it off in-person, or bringing it to the polls on Election Day.

Condos said the plan is part of an effort to protect voters and election officials during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"If the worst thing that can be said in November is that we were over-prepared and erred too far on the side of caution, I will gladly take that criticism," Condos said. "Given what we've seen recently from this virus, and the levels seen in other states, we can take no chances."

Condos said recent studies indicate that there's little fraud involved with statewide vote by mail systems.

- Bob Kinzel

Supply shortage inhibited followup PCR testing at Manchester Medical Center

The director of a southwest Vermont medical clinic that reported a potential outbreak of COVID-19 said supplies for confirmation testing have been scarce.

Since May, Manchester Medical Center has given hundreds of rapid antigen tests for COVID-19, usually followed by the slower PCR tests state health officials use to confirm a positive result.

Dr. Jane Kitteridge, the clinic's co-owner and medical director, told Vermont Edition that 64 antigen tests came back positive this month, but her clinic couldn't do follow-up testing due to a lack of supplies.

"It's been... challenging to obtain PCR swabs, in honesty," Kitteridge said.

State health officials sent 300 PCR kits to the Manchester clinic last week. So far, 35 of the clinic's antigen tests have been checked with PCR testing, and only two have been confirmed as COVID-positive.

Listen to the full episode of Vermont Edition.

- Matthew Smith

Vt.'s Secretary of State says voting by mail does not increase voter fraud

Sec. of State Jim Condos  said he's disappointed that Pres. Trump is attacking the vote by mail system without having any solid evidence to back up his claims.

Condos has just signed a directive instructing all town clerks to send ballots out to all active registered voters for the November general election.

Condos said the president is "misinformed" when he calls into question the credibility of this system.

"I think that he's saying this without any evidence," Condos said. "I would also say that the president and vice president have been using vote by mail at least since they've been in office, so if it's good enough for them, it should be good enough for everybody."

Condos said local polling places will still be open for anyone who wants to drop off their ballot in-person on Election Day.

- Bob Kinzel

More from Vermont Edition: Secretary of State Condos Answers Questions On Voting In Primary, General Elections

Protesters turn out against Quebec's new mandatory mask rule

Quebec's new mandatory mask rule went into effect over the weekend with widespread support and some resistence.

Premier François Legault announced the provincewide rule last week, requiring face coverings in indoor public spaces, such as stores, restaurants and office buildings.

CBC News reports some opponents of the mask mandate held demonstrations over the weekend.

The new mask requirements come as Quebec is witnessing a rise in the number of cases of COVID-19. The provice reported 166 new cases on Sunday, the highest daily total in a month.

- Karen Anderson

More from Vermont Edition: Behind The Mask: What You Need To Know About Mask-Wearing, Making And Buying

Investigation into police shooting in Rutland approaches completion

Vermont State Police say they've completed interviews with five Rutland City Police Officers present when an officer shot and injured a man.

Once they finish, Vermont State Police investigators will turn the case over to the Attorney General's office and Windham County State's Attorney office for review.

Normally, the state's attorney in the county where the shooting took place would review the case, but the Rutland County State's Attorney's office recused itself.

Preliminary findings indicate Rutland police were conducting a narcotics investigation involving a vehicle with two men inside. One officer with the Rutland Police, Tyler Billings, reportedly fired his gun during the encounter, injuring the driver. The car then drove off and a half-mile pursuit ensued, until the vehicle crashed into a tree.

Billings has been on administrative leave since the shooting.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Department of Fish and Wildlife seeks input on big game management plan

The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking public input on a 10-year big game management plan.

The department is planning a virtual meeting Aug. 5 to answer questions and record public comment on the draft 2020-2030 plan.

The plan will guide deer, bear, moose and wild turkey management over the next decade. It identifies issues the species face, such as habitat loss and disease. It also establishes sustainable population and management goals, and it prescribes the strategies needed to achieve those goals.

- The Associated Press

St. Johnsbury Select Board authorizes $500,000 for downtown redevelopment

The Saint Johnsbury Select Board has authorized the transfer of $550,000 of funding from the state to the re-development of the former Depot Square Apartments.

The money will go toward the cost of acquirin the landmark property in the heart of downtown St. Johnsbury.

Construction is underway on the $15 million project to rehabilitate the 1898 building into 40 apartments and 10,000-square-feet of retail space, and is scheduled to be finished in August of 2021.

- The Associated Press

COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to fall in New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus continued to drop to one of the lowest levels since the pandemic began.

Cuomo said there were at least 720 people hospitalized in the state, the lowest number since March 18, and down slightly from Saturday. The number of deaths in the state rose slightly to 12. Daily statewide statistics show New York with more than 500 newly confirmed cases, representing about 1% of all tests performed.

New York, once a pandemic hotspot, has so far avoided a surge in new cases like those plaguing other states in the South and West.

- The Associated Press

Over 100 volunteers pain 'Black Lives Matter' on Burlington's Main Street

More than 100 volunteers painted the words "Black Lives Matter" in large orange letters on Burlington's Main Street on Sunday.

Seven Days reports that the Burlington City Council voted unanimously in favor of the street painting in a July 13 meeting. The resolution calls for maintaining the mural through October of 2023.

Volunteers used rollers to paint the message in front of courthouses and alongside city hall. Mayor Miro Weinberger helped paint, and said the city would take a "hardline" approach to any vandalism.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Utility, internet providers team up to potentially bid for federal broadband aid

Vermont electric utilities have teamed up with community-based internet providers and national partners to potentially win federal money to build out broadband internet.

The teams have formed in response to a $16 billion program launched by the Federal Communications Commission to fund broadband in rural areas around the country.

In Vermont, two teams are interested in the FCC program. The teams involve Green Mountain Power as well as the state's electric co-ops. Public Service Commissioner June Tierney said she's encouraged that utilities are getting involved with local partners, called communications union districts.

"Because those are the folks who are speaking up and really saying this is an intolerable situation that needs to be addressed; we are willing and able to address it," Tierney said.

The players in the project have to observe strict anti-collusion rules imposed by the FCC.

Michael Birnbaum is with Kingdom Fiber, which is involved in several local internet projects. His team involves the state's two electric co-ops. But he said the players have to follow strict federal secrecy rules.

"We're not allowed to say what state we might bid in under the prohibited communications rules the FCC has put out," Birnbaum said. "So I can just say those in our consortium have common goals and common purposes and we'll work together and seek consensus and probably something good will come of it."

Some 70,000 addresses in Vermont lack access to broadband. The FCC auction starts in October.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

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