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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, August 3

Protestors hold sign that reads, We The People Say No To Fascism on Statehouse steps
John Dillon
/
VPR
Protestors stand on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier during a small demonstration held Saturday in protest of the federal government's militarized response to civil unrest across in cities across the country.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, a new outbreak among Vermont inmates in a Mississippi prison and more for Monday, August 3.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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Vermont Department of Health reports one new case of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported one new case of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total number of cases identified to date in the state to 1,427.

Currently, one person is hospitalized in Vermont with a confirmed case of the new coronavirus, and 13 people are hospitalized with symptoms under investigation as possible cases.

So far, 1,240 people are known to have recovered, and there have been 57 deaths. The state reports it has now tested 97,238 people for the illness, and is currently monitoring 29 people as close contacts of confirmed cases. There are now 1,172 travelers being voluntarily monitored for symptoms, while quarantining after arriving or returning to Vermont from places in the United States with high case counts.

- Abagael Giles

Corrections Commissioner announces 'mass outbreak' at Mississippi prison

More than half of the COVID-19 test results for Vermont inmates held in Mississippi are in. So far, 85 came back positive – that's 74%.

During a call with reporters on Monday, Vermont Corrections commissioner Jim Baker called the situation at the CoreCivic-run prison a “mass outbreak.”

"Hindsight being 2020, there's a few things I wish coulda been done,” Baker said.

Despite instituting routine universal testing at Vermont's in-state prisons, Baker said he had not asked CoreCivic to provide similar testing for the Mississippi inmates, until he learned the outbreak was likely. After making the request, Baker said it took his team two days to work out the logistics.

The state incarcerates 219 inmates in Mississippi. The remaining 90 test results will be announced in the coming days.

- Emily Corwin

 

Democratic candidates receive endorsement from Sen. Sanders

A few candidates running in Vermont Democratic primary next week have scored what is probably their party's most coveted endorsement.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders today announced he is supporting incumbent state senator Chris Pearson and newcomer Erhard Mahnke, who are both seeking one of six senate seats in the hotly-contested Chittenden County district.

Sanders also endorsed social worker Tanya Vyhovsky, who is running for a House seat from Chittenden County, and he threw his support behind Attorney General T.J. Donovan and Auditor Doug Hoffer.

- Mark Davis

More from VPR: Vermont's 2020 Primary Is Like No Other. Here's What You Need To Know

New guidance about social distancing in schools expected this week

The Agency of Education released health guidance in mid-June for schools to reopen in the fall, requiring seating and bedding to be spaced out by six feet.

Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan told Vermont Edition Monday that new guidance will be coming this week regarding social distancing between younger students and teachers.

“Without the surge that we thought would happen, we will likely push that to three-to-six feet. It's also consistent with the W.H.O. [World Health Organization] and some other international public health bodies,” Dolan said.

Dolan says this guidance is based on information about transmission in younger children, the need for kids to physically be in school this fall and Vermont's low incident rate.

Listen to the full episode.

- Emily Aiken

State regulators fine Vermont Gas $57,000

State regulators have fined Vermont Gas Systems for its failure to follow its blasting plan when it built the Addison natural gas pipeline.

The events that led up to the $57,000 dollar fine occurred in 2016. Contractors working for the gas company were blasting in Monkton and didn't give a property owner sufficient warning about the explosions.

Company spokesman Beth Parent said Vermont Gas will not challenge the fine.

“We've accepted responsibility and we're glad to close this chapter of the project,” Parent said. “This project was a major undertaking and we're continuing to assess areas for future improvement. That's really an important part of the post construction process.”

The Public Utility Commission says Vermont Gas cannot make ratepayers cover the costs of the fine or litigation expenses.

- John Dillon

 

Tropical Storm Isaias to hit Vermont, northern New York Tuesday

Tropical Storm Isaias is projected to bring heavy rains and strong winds to Vermont Tuesday afternoon and continuing into Wednesday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Seth Kutikoff said a flash flood watch is in effect Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday morning for much of Vermont, as well as Essex County in northern New York.

“We’re talking about widespread area of 1-3 inches [of rain] with locally higher amounts,” Kutikoff said. “Thankfully, we’ve been quite dry recently so that will reduce the risk of river flooding, however we do anticipate some areas of flooding. That’s why we have the flood watch in effect.”

Strong winds are also expected in eastern Vermont and along the spine of the Green Mountains.

- Nina Keck

Corrections Commissioner cites challenges in working with prison contractor on testing

The Department of Corrections announced Sunday that 85 Vermont inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Mississippi, which is contracted with the company CoreCivic.

Interim Commissioner Jim Baker told Vermont Edition Monday that there have been several problems working with CoreCivic on testing inmates in Mississippi.

“Because they are a private entity, they did not have a relationship with the Mississippi Department of Health. Our department of health here under the leadership of Dr. Levine provided a contact there so we could get that conversation going,” Baker said. “They had limited access to collection kits, so we had to work on that with them.”

Baker said CoreCivic has been using a private lab in Texas to test the Vermont samples, but all of the positive tests came back from the Mississippi state lab, which the Vermont Department of Corrections has been working with.

CoreCivic did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Listen to the full interview.

- Emily Aiken

Federal judge approves Jay Peak's request for more than $3 million in PPP dollars

A federal judge has approved a request for Jay Peak and Burke ski resorts to get more than $3 million dollars from the paycheck protection program.

Both resorts have been managed by a court-appointed receiver since 2016 when the former owners were accused of defrauding investors.

Jay Peak and Burke are both open, but operations are limited due to the pandemic.

Michael Goldberg, the receiver, said in recent court filings that it’s impossible to know when full operations can resume – in part because it’s unclear when the Canadian border will reopen.

Canadian tourists typically make up a lot of the business at both mountains.  

Goldberg wrote the “almost certain decline” in visits threatens their cash flow and ability to continue to operate — so he applied for a loan through the federal paycheck protection program.

If the Canadian border reopens in time for ski season, Goldberg said most of the PPP loan would be used to increase staffing at the resorts.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman says he supports cutting police budgets

Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman says he supports cutting police budgets and moving funds to other social services.

Zuckerman is one of four Democrats seeking the party's nomination for governor in the August 11 primary.

Zuckerman says funding cuts to police should vary by district.

“We do need to shift some funding more towards the effective policies that actually reduce criminal activity in the first place, rather than being a reactive society, which again, is going to be one of the differences between me and our governor," Zuckerman said.

Zuckerman said he would also look closely at the budget of the state's Department of Public Safety to determine where cuts could be made or where funding could be shifted to other areas, such as mental health services.

Zuckerman also said he would not divest from his organic farm in Hinesbury if elected governor.

Zuckerman owns and operates Full Moon Farm.

Gov. Phil Scott sold his share of a construction business when he became governor, but Zuckerman said the two situations are different.

"There's a difference when you're governor and you're overseeing multi-million-dollar state contracts to construction companies, versus a farm that is independent of any government contracts or government arrangements," Zuckerman said.

He said he has received some federal grants for his farm over the years, but has avoided applying for many state assistance programs.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Henry Epp

VPR is seeking interviews with all of the candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor and Congress. You can find our full coverage of the 2020 Vermont primary, including debates, here.

Corrections Commissioner offers update on Mississippi prison outbreak on Vermont Edition

The Department of Corrections says the outbreak of COVID-19 at a Mississippi prison that houses Vermont inmates could get worse.

Sunday, the Department of Corrections announced that 85 Vermont inmates serving their sentences at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Mississippi have tested positive, which is about 40% of the Vermonters incarcerated at that facility.  

Interim DOC Commissioner Jim Baker told Vermont Edition on Aug. 3 that there are still tests that have not come back.

“As the commissioner, I’m very concerned about the situation in Mississippi,” Baker said. “I’m very concerned that those numbers are going to rise, and our focus right now is on the absolute best medical care that we can get to the individuals there.”

Baker said the 32 inmates who tested negative have been separated from the other inmates, while those who tested positive have been put into medical isolation.

- Emily Aiken

Republican candidate for lieutenant governor calls for increased police funding

Meg Hansen, a candidate for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, said that instead of defunding or reforming law enforcement, police departments should be given more money for recruitment and training.

Hansen calls measures like banning chokeholds or requiring body cameras "short-term solutions."

"We should treat the underlying problem. The underlying problem is not having enough funding to have upgraded training resources and boost recruitment," Hansen said. "When you have good people, highly qualified people, who are well-trained, then it eliminates opportunities for abuse."

Hansen is one of five candidates seeking the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Sam Gale Rosen

VPR is seeking interviews with all of the candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor and Congress. You can find our full coverage of the 2020 Vermont primary, including debates, here.

Hiking, climbing reopens at peregrine falcon nesting sites

Vermont cliffs that were closed to hikers and rock climbers during peregrine falcon nesting season are back open.

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department says the nesting season has ended and all young falcons have learned to fly and should not be disturbed by people on the cliffs. Migratory bird biologist Doug Morin says the "nesting data suggest Vermont falcons had a very successful year." He says that's due to good weather and the cooperation of hikers and rock climbers who keep a respectful distance from the nesting falcons during this critical period.

More than 50 volunteers monitor the nest sites around the state from March to the end of July. 

- The Associated Press

School choir and band practices to be restricted due to COVID-19

When the school year begins in Vermont, choir and band are among the activities that will be restricted due to the coronavirus.

But William Prue, President of the Vermont Music Educators Association, is optimistic the state and educators will consider new recommendations from the Universities of Maryland and Colorado that would permit choir and band programs to continue.

“I hope so, because as of right now, the guidelines from the state tell us no singing, no wind instruments,” Prue said. “The studies seem to show that you should be able to have these things, just in a restricted fashion.”

Among the recommendations is fitting wind instruments with nylon masks at the open end to reduce the spread of aerosols.

Others include social distancing, limiting practice time and meeting outside – weather permitting.

- Betty Smith

State offers $3,000 for high-speed internet to qualifying Vermont households

The state is offering up to $3,000 dollars to qualifying Vermont households to help get high-speed internet to their homes.

The Department of Public Services has $2 million dollars available for the program, which will provide funds to help extend telecommunication lines.

The money comes from the federal coronavirus relief package. Gov. Phil Scott said that while this new program will help, it’s not going to be enough provide Internet to all Vermonters who need it.

“I still believe this needs to be a national issue. Congress should take action and should confront this the way we did with electrification,” Scott said.

To get funding, households must demonstrate their need for high-speed Internet is related to the pandemic, such as needing to work from home or have access to remote learning.

- Liam Elder Connors

Activists call on Legislature, attorney general to limit powers of federal police
Barre activist Ed Stank on Statehouse lawn
Credit John Dillon / VPR
/
VPR
Ed Stank from Barre wants the Legislature to limit use of federal police and take steps to prevent the president from calling the Vermont National Guard into federal service.

A political activist from Barre is calling on the Legislature and Attorney General TJ Donovan to take steps to limit the power of federal police in Vermont.

Ed Stanak spoke at a rally Saturday, organized against the growing violent response to protests around the country. Stanak and others pointed to the Trump administration's use of federal forces to suppress protests in Portland, Ore.

Stanak said the Legislature has the power to prevent that from happening here.

"There are steps that states can take to limit federal jurisdiction criminally," he said. "So the Legislature's coming back on Aug. 25. They're going to have all kinds of reasons why they can should not do something. They can suspend rules if they want to. They should convene public hearings and take testimony on this."

Stanak said he's not heard back yet from legislative leaders or Attorney General Donovan.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

At least 85 Vermont inmates incarcerated at Mississippi prison test positive for COVID-19

The Department of Corrections is dealing with a huge outbreak of COVID-19 at a Mississippi prison that houses Vermont's overflow inmates.

Last week, the state identified six cases of COVID-19 among inmates returning to Vermont from Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Mississippi. On July 30, the Department of Corrections ordered that all 219 Vermont inmates housed at Tallahatchie be tested for the virus. So far, 85 of those tests have come back positive.

The department said there are still tests pending, and the numbers may change.

Read the full story.

- Anna Van Dine

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