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Vermont News Updates For Tuesday, August 18

People stand in an open airway tunnel next to a white tent with a sign reading testing
Shanta Lee Gander
/
For VPR
Landmark College in Putney prepares for returning students on Friday, Aug. 14 with COVID-19 testing stations and welcome tents. Over the weekend, the school expected 70 of an estimated total enrollment of 375 students to arrive.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, an outbreak in a private prison Vermont contracts in Mississippi and more for Tuesday, August 18.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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Three new cases of COVID-19

Three new cases of COVID-19 were reported by the Vermont Department of Health Tuesday. Two of the new cases are in Windham County, and one is in Rutland County.

Another 875 people tested negative for the disease, and 114,097 have been tested to date.

Some 1,347 people are reported to have recovered from COVID-19 in Vermont. Three people are hospitalized, and 58 people have died.

- Karen Anderson and Elodie Reed

About 80% of Vermont inmates test positive in Mississippi prison

The Vermont Department of Corrections says about 80% of the state's inmates held at a private prison in Mississippi have tested positive for COVID-19.

Of the 176 inmates, one is hospitalized and another four are under close observation. The department says the majority of the Vermont inmates held at Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility are not showing any symptoms of the disease.

DOC Commissioner Jim Baker says CoreCivic, the company that runs the prison, has been responsive, and that he’s more confident in the company’s ability to handle the situation than he was two weeks ago.

More from VPR: Nearly 70% Of Vermont Inmates At Mississippi Prison Have COVID-19

“It’s one thing to trust, it’s another thing to verify,” Baker said. “And we're doing the best we can to verify … we are demanding and receiving very clear updates and medical reports on every inmate there."

Baker says 119 of the inmates are in “medical recovery” because they’ve been without symptoms for 10 days.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Scott administration proposes "regional child care hubs" to meet need when school opens

The state of Vermont plans to open 73 regional child care hubs to expand capacity as most school districts plan to use a mixture of online and in-person learning this fall.

The new child care programs will be open to working parents with school-aged children. 

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith says the state will work with community partners to determine where the facilities will be located.

“Working with the locals, working with our community providers, we will try to make sure the distribution is – meets the needs of that particular county,” Smith said.

Smith says the plan is to open the hubs as quickly as possible, but he wouldn’t give a specific date. Smith says the state is proposing using $7 million from the federal coronavirus relief package to fund the hubs. The Legislature will need to approve that spending.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Green Mountain College sells for $4.8M at auction

The former Green Mountain College campus in Poultney was sold at auction Tuesday.

The 155- acre campus sold for about $4.8 million, far below its appraised value of $20 million. The name of the new owner had not been released as of Tuesday afternoon.

The college closed at the end of the 2019 academic year, and the property had been for sale for $24 million. But a New York auction house announced in July that it would be sold to the highest bidder this week.

Bob Williams owns a local hardware store in Poultney and says both his parents and sister went to Green Mountain College.  He's cautiously optimistic that whomever bought the campus will help draw people back to the community.

“It used to have 150 employees and at least 500 students, and when I was first here, it was 750 students,” Williams said. “So we’re just all a little bit on pins and needles trying to find out who bought it and what they plan to do with it."

Green Mountain College is one of four small Vermont schools that have closed in the past few years. The College of St. Joseph in Rutland also closed last year.

Marlboro College was sold to a new owner last month, while the future of the former Southern Vermont College campus in Bennington is still uncertain after a buyer backed out earlier this year.

- Nina Keck and Howard Weiss-Tisman

UVM still plans to bring back students with testing, neighborhood patrols

The president of the University of Vermont says the low prevalence of the coronavirus in the state and UVM's reopening plan will allow thousands of students to safely return to Burlington.

During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Suresh Garimella touted the university’s testing strategy. It requires students to be tested before they come to school, and again when they first arrive. After that, they will be tested weekly.  

But Garimella, when asked what rates of infection among students and staff could cause UVM to close, declined to provide specifics.

“We’re being more responsible than any … and I feel quite well prepared, and that we have the mechanisms in place to make those decisions as the situations arise,” he said.

Garimella’s comments come the day after the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill switched from in-person to remote learning after 130 students tested positive for COVID-19 in just the first week of classes.

UVM’s president did say students, both on- and off-campus, could face severe sanctions for failing to follow public health rules. UVM has agreed to fund additional police patrols in Burlington neighborhoods with high numbers of students to ensure coronavirus mitigation measures are followed.

More from Vermont Edition: What Will Fall Semester Look Like On Vermont College Campuses? It's Complicated.

Mayor Miro Weinberger says Burlington Police will be focused on educating students about health guidelines. But he says officers will also be able to write civil tickets if necessary.

Some city leaders and UVM students have questioned whether police should be enforcing public health rules – especially given national and local calls to overhaul law enforcement operations.

Weinberger says the city and UVM decided police were the best option.

“We have officers who are well-trained and experienced at performing comparable duties, they have conducted these types of circuits for more than eight years … and the alternatives were, we couldn’t find an alternative that was better,” he said.

Weinberger says he expects UVM will pay $10,000-$15,000 a month for the patrols.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Majority of primary election voters cast ballots by mail

For the first time ever, the majority of Vermonters who voted in last week's primary election voted by mail.

The formal primary tally was released by the Secretary of State's office Tuesday, and it shows that almost 75% of all votes were cast using the early vote by mail system.

Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters says many voters responded to postcards sent out by his office alerting people to the vote-by-mail option. Winters expects the same thing to happen in the November election.

“I would expect – so if Vermonters are this engaged right now on an August primary –  we would expect to see some very large turnout again in November."     

Roughly six thousand primary election ballots were deemed defective by town clerks. That's nearly 4% of all votes cast.

Winters says voters were sent three ballots, one each for the Democratic, Republican and Progressive party primaries, and some people failed to return the two blank party ballots they didn't use. That oversight disqualified their vote.

“We're going to engage in more voter education for the general election and make sure folks are filling that out properly,” Winters said.

He added general election ballots will be sent out to all active registered voters around Sept. 19.

- Bob Kinzel

Returning students test positive for COVID-19 at three Vermont colleges

Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine says several cases of COVID-19 among returning college students indicate the state’s plan to prevent outbreaks on campuses is working.

Out-of-state students have started to return to Vermont in recent weeks, with many colleges set to resume in-person classes soon.

Levine says four students have tested positive for the virus at Norwich University, one at Vermont Technical College and six at the University of Vermont.

“These positive tests mean the system is working, we actually want to find these cases as the campus begins to regroup so we know who needs to stay inside and away from other people so we can prevent the virus from spreading any further,” Levine said.

Levine’s comments come a day after The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced it was switching from in-person classes to full remote learning. The university made the change after 130 students tested positive for the virus during the first week of classes.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Scott administration: FY '21 budget benefits from surplus, FY '22 looks difficult

Gov. Phil Scott's proposed budget does not include cuts to essential services and is balanced with surplus funds from last year.

Administration Secretary Suzanne Young says the spending plan is far from normal. She added that the state benefitted from record revenues last year, but that next year's budget process, for fiscal year 2022, looks even more difficult.

More from VPR: State Revenue Projections Are 'Off The Charts' Says Vermont Legislature's Economist

“We need to understand that this is the FY '21 budget with an awful lot of coronavirus relief and one-time money helping us through this,” Young said. “And we may not have that in FY '22. We're going to start building that budget very soon now. And that is going to be our challenge.”

Young says the two big variables affecting the budget are the coronavirus and U.S. Congress, which could direct more aid to the states. The Vermont Legislature convenes at the end of the month to work on the budget.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

Bennington to replace 1,500 lead pipes carrying drinking water

Bennington will replace more than 1,500 lead pipes that carry drinking water into homes, thanks to an $11 million funding opportunity.

VTDigger reports federal legislators devised the Water Infrastructure Fund Transfer Act, which allows states to transfer money from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund – used primarily to improve the health of streams and lakes – to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

Construction to extract the lead pipes will begin in the fall and the work is expected to take several years.

- Karen Anderson

Plane flies from Vermont, lands off shore in Maine

State police say a small plane flying from Vermont to Maine crashed off shore before reaching its destination.

The Federal Aviation Administration says the Cessna 150 with two people aboard ended up in the ocean early Monday evening off the coast of Surry, Maine.

The plane was traveling from Morrisville-Stowe State Airport in Vermont to the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Maine.

Officials said neither pilot nor passenger suffered injuries. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the crash.

- Associated Press

Labor Day plans? Keep quarantine requirements in mind for kids returning to school

State quarantine requirements may delay return to in-person school for students around the country.

As states require visitors from areas with high rates of coronavirus infections to quarantine upon arrival, children taking end-of-summer vacations to hot spots are facing the possibility of being forced to skip the start of in-person learning at their schools.

More than a dozen states have such travel advisories, including many in the Northeast. As schools prepare to open next month, officials are urging parents to be mindful of that guidance while planning any Labor Day getaways.

- Associated Press

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