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Vermont News Updates For Wednesday, August 19

People dancing spread out under trees on grass
Shanta Lee Gander
/
For VPR
SoBu Dance holds a class on Wednesday, Aug. 5 in Brattleboro.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, legislative debate over a tax and regulation system for marijuana sales and more for Wednesday, August 19.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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Three new cases of COVID-19 in Vermont

Vermont health officials reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. One case is in Chittenden County, another is in Franklin County and the last is in Washington County.

Two people are hospitalized with the disease, and 1,354 people are reported to have recovered. To date, 58 people have died.

- Elodie Reed

Legislature continues tax and regulate bill debate

The Vermont House and Senate are trying to work out their differences on a bill that would tax and regulate recreational marijuana sales to people 21 and older. But the two sides strongly disagree over language that would allow police to stop drivers for not wearing a seatbelt.

House negotiators added the provision, saying it's needed to improve highway safety. But Caledonia Senator Joe Benning, a criminal defense lawyer, says it will disproportionately affect people of color.

“And in the middle of Black Lives Matter conversations, this does exactly the opposite of what we would hope a bill like this would be doing to bring some kind of racial justice into this picture,” Benning said.

The two sides agreed to meet again to work out their differences. The full Legislature returns next week.

- John Dillon

Visa program halt complicates Vermont ski resort hiring

Vermont’s ski resorts face a lot of uncertainty about the upcoming season. Finding enough workers is among the challenges.

Mount Snow general manager Traci Bartels told the Wilmington Select Board this week that the mountain can’t hire the international workers who traditionally fill key roles in their business.

“With the federal visa suspension through the end of 2020, at this time we’re not able to pursue any J1 or H2B visas in time for the start of the season,” Bartels said.

In June, the Trump administration put a hold on the visa program that allows foreign workers into the U.S. The president cited the coronavirus as the reason.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Shortage in qualified child care professionals could complicate Gov.'s proposed "hubs"

Gov. Phil Scott announced a plan this week to create regional child care centers to care for school-age children on days when they're not in the classroom during the upcoming academic year.

But staffing those new centers could be a challenge. Vicky Senni, the co-director of a child care center in Montpelier, says the system is already strained.

More from VPR: Gov. Announces Child Care Initiative For School-Aged Children

"Across the board, there's an issue of hiring qualified educators, whether that's early ed, or after school for school-age children,” Senni said. “We just don't have the staff for it."

Senni says she'd like to see the state offer higher pay and health insurance to child care workers who are staffing centers during the pandemic.

- Henry Epp

Health Department encourages Vermonters to maintain virus prevention practices

Vermont health officials say the number of cases of the coronavirus could increase dramatically this fall if Vermonters become complacent about following the state's anti-virus protocols.

Over the past few months, Vermont has developed one of the safest virus rates in the country.

Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan says that's because so many Vermonters are wearing masks, practicing social distancing and frequently washing their hands.

But Dolan says this is definitely not the time to relax any of these measures.

“Even if you don't know anyone who's got COVID-19 and if you haven't heard of any cases in your community, please keep doing what you need to do,” Dolan said. “This just needs the be the way we live for the next several months, and hopefully we'll be out of the woods next year and we can kind of get back to being more social. Overall we're doing really well, and it's important to keep it up."     

More from VPR: New COVID Emergency Order Allows Vermont Towns To Close Bars, Restrict Public Gatherings

Dolan also said the Health Department is working with Vermont colleges to help protect the health and safety of their students, facility and community members. She says she's aware that some local residents have concerns about bringing out-of-state students back to Vermont.

“[Colleges] are very open to working with the Health Department, and if we were to alert them and say, 'Hey, you know what, because of the numbers in your college, even these cases might be too many in this area of your college or at this time, and you need to do something differently,' we feel very confident that they would be cooperative and work with us,” Dolan said.

Testing protocols at the University of Vermont, Dolan said, have been expedited by the use of a new saliva test.

Listen to the full Vermont Edition conversation.

- Bob Kinzel

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