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News Roundup: Vermonters Remember George Floyd, His Legacy On 1-Year Anniversary Of His Murder

A person in a green shirt kneeling with others sitting behind them on a granite bench
Elodie Reed
/
VPR
Chittenden County Sen. Kesha Ram kneels in Burlington's City Hall Park with several dozen others for nine minutes and 29 seconds, the length of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, remembering George Floyd and more for Tuesday, May 25.

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1. Vermonters mark 1-year anniversary of George Floyd's murder

At Burlington’s City Hall Park Tuesday, several dozen people sat and knelt in silence for 9 minutes and 29 seconds; the amount of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck.

Among the crowd marking the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder was Colchester resident Maureen McElaney.

McElaney, who is white, says they spent that time reflecting on Floyd’s last moments.

“It was hard not to think about what George Floyd was hearing as he was dying,” McElaney said. “Did he hear construction noises? Did he hear the wind in the trees?”

Other Vermont events remembering George Floyd and his legacy have been scheduled in Bristol, Morrisville and Putney.

- Elodie Reed

Gov. Scott declares May 25 'George Floyd Remembrance Day'

Gov. Phil Scott declared Tuesday George Floyd Remembrance Day – in recognition of the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s murder.

Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, was killed by a white police officer, who kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was found guilty of murder last month.

Video of Floyd’s death sparked calls for racial justice and police reform around the country.

In Vermont, lawmakers passed an updated use-of-force policy for law enforcement that includes a ban on chokeholds in most situations.

Scott says changes to police training marks progress.

"It’s not going to be overnight,” Scott said Tuesday. “It’s going to take some time, but I feel good about the approach we’re taking, the direction we’re moving in."

Reform measures, including an updated body camera policy and the use of civilian oversight boards, have yet to be finalized.

- Liam Elder-Connors

More from VPR: (Un)fractured: Covering Race and Racial Injustice In Our Communities

2. Nearly 77% of eligible Vermonters have at least one COVID-19 shot

Vermont reported 9 new COVID-19 infections Tuesday – one of the lowest daily counts in the past six months.

Michael Pieciak, Commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, says the state’s seven-day average of new cases dropped by 39% last week.

“Further, we are generally seeing cases uniformly decrease across Vermont with almost every county seeing their cases fall,” Pieciak said. “And cases are also declining across all age groups.”

State health officials say Vermont’s high vaccination rate is helping keep new cases low.

Scott said last week that he’d rollback COVID-19 guidance once 80% of eligible Vermonters received at least one dose of a vaccine. The state reported Tuesday it was at 76.9%.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smiths says there are lots of opportunities for people to get a shot without making an appointment.

“We also are planning to bring vaccinations to mobile home parks across the state and a barn storming event on Route 22A, including events at Higher Ground in South Burlington and the Jazz Fest in Burlington,” Smith said.

Vaccination rates are still lagging among younger residents. Only half of people between the ages of 18 and 29 have received at least one dose.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Vermont continues to see some of the best vaccination rates in the country

The Scott administration says Vermont continues to have some of the best COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country.

Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, says roughly 89% of all Vermonters 65 and older have been fully vaccinated.

He says this has had a big impact on reducing COVID fatalities.

"First and most, fortunately Vermont has gone over a week without someone dying of COVID-19 in our state – the first time this has happened in over 28 weeks,” Pieciak said. “And we are one of the only states in the country that did not have a COVID-19 fatality this past week.”

Pieciak says the state is nearing its goal 80% of all eligible Vermonters having received at least one dose of the vaccine.

When that happens, he says most COVID restrictions will be lifted.

- Bob Kinzel

State officials resolve mismatch between CDC vaccination data and Vermont Department of Health numbers

Vermont officials say a review of vaccination data shows a mismatch between numbers collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health officials.

The state reached out to check the CDC’s numbers after Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday he’d lift all pandemic restrictions once 80% of eligible Vermonters got at least one vaccine dose.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says they found some people were being counted twice by the CDC.

“This review, in collaboration with the CDC, did find duplicate reporting in one batch of Veteran Affairs numbers reported late last week, and in a limited number of independent pharmacies reported from April 6 to May 22,” Smith said.

The examination found the CDC overcounted by about 11,000. Smith says the correction means more 17,000 Vermonters still need to get a vaccine to hit the 80% benchmark. 

- Liam Elder-Connors

Walk-in vaccine clinics held around state this week

Various walk-in clinics are being held around Vermont this week to increase the number of Vermonters inoculated against COVID-19.

A number of schools and community-based clinics have special openings this week for 12- to 15-year-olds.

Through Thursday, the former Southern Vermont College gymnasium in Bennington is offering more than 100 shots each day in clinics running from noon to 3 p.m.

And all week, clinics are taking place at the Essex fairgrounds, the Berlin Mall, and the North Country Hospital in Newport.

Over the weekend, nearly 30 EMS sites vaccinated more than 725 Vermonters.

To date, just under 79% of Vermonters 12 and older have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

Dartmouth loosening COVID restrictions, increasing access to mental health support

Dartmouth College is increasing mental health support and loosening some COVID-19 restrictions in dorms.

In a message to students, parents and employees Friday, officials said the pandemic has exacerbated mental health problems and more must be done to support the community.

Students are now allowed to host two guests in their dorm rooms. The college also is adding an on-call nurse, new counselors and a student wellness coordinator.

The changes were announced two days after the death of a freshman at her home in New York. Two other freshmen and a junior also have died this academic year.

The college is holding a vigil Tuesday in memory of those four students.

- Associated Press

3. Ticks are back

A late-summer drought virtually eliminated ticks in parts of New England, but they're back with a vengeance this spring.

Dog ticks, which do not carry Lyme disease, have been especially active since early spring in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Maine alone reports 176 tick-related emergency department visits for just one week in early May.

In Maine, the number of Lyme disease cases was nearly halved last year, dipping from a record high of more than 2,100 in 2019 to just over 1,100 in 2020.

This year, Maine reports nearly 100 cases of Lyme disease since Jan. 1. New Hampshire has just 10 cases so far.

Anyone who spends time outside is urged to take preventive measures, such as using repellent and wearing light-colored clothing that covers arms and legs.

- Associated Press

4. Sen. Patrick Leahy "signaling" he will run again

Senator Patrick Leahy is "signaling" to his colleagues that he intends to run for re-election in 2022.

That's the word from Politico.

Leahy, who is 81 years old, was first elected to the Senate in 1974 and has been re-elected seven times. He currently serves as the chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

His office says no final decision has been made, though he has been fundraising.

Middlebury College political science professor Matt Dickinson says there are two key factors that Leahy will consider: Can I win? And am I in a position of power for my state?

"And I think the answer in this case is yes, so I think based on those two criteria, we can expect Patrick Leahy to formally announce sometime soon."

If Leahy runs and serves a full term, he will be the longest-serving senator in U.S. history.

- Bob Kinzel

5. Burlington to use priority system in responding to calls

Police in Vermont’s largest city will now respond to calls using a priority system if officers can’t keep up with the volume of calls.

The plan comes as the Burlington Police Department has seen its ranks shrink over the last year. Nine officers have left the department since last June when the city council voted to cut the size of police force by 30%.

Acting Police Chief Jon Murad says the 3-tiered system will prioritize the most serious incidents. Responses to lower-level calls, like noise complaints and vandalism, will be delayed.

“We knew that as staffing decreased and as incident volume picked up, there would be times where we simply would not have the resources to respond, and we want to be certain that we are always responding to incidents that involve our neighbors’ physical safety,” Murad said.

Murad says the eventual hiring on non-sworn “community service officers” could help the department handle lower-level incidents.

Murad wants to be made permanent chief

Burlington acting chief of police says he’s interested in staying on the job, permanently. The mayor announced recently that he was resuming the search for a new chief.

The process was delayed for a year due to the pandemic.

Jon Murad, the acting chief, says he doesn’t think there’s another candidate who will “care more about this police department.”

“I have been doing this job for a year, I’ve been doing it through one of the more significant crises that the city has faced in the police department with regard to the staffing issue, with regard to making certain we police fairly and safely for large-scale protests,” Murad said.

Burlington hasn’t had a top police official since late 2019. Former chief Brandon del Pozo resigned after Seven Days revealed he used an anonymous Twitter account to heckle a critic.

- Liam Elder-Connors

6. Board of Education chair to step down

The chair of the state Board of Education is stepping down.

VTDigger reports John Carroll, a former Republican state senator appointed in 2017, will end his tenure with the board in June.

That's as a bill heading to Governor Phil Scott's desk calls on the Board of Education to have more diversity in its 11 members going forward.

Short of a veto by the governor, the new bill would require Scott consider any new appointees' geographic, gender, and racial and ethnic diversity.

Scott will be able to appoint a replacement for Carroll, with Senate approval, to serve out the rest of Carroll's term through 2023.

- Matthew Smith

7. Law enforcement agencies to focus on enforcing seat belt laws next two weeks

Ahead of the Memorial Day holiday, and as more motorists hit the road as COVID-19 restrictions ease, Vermont law enforcement agencies say they're kicking off a two-week effort focused on enforcing seat belt laws.

State, county, and local law enforcement officers in Vermont and New York are taking part in the nation-wide "Click It Or Ticket" campaign starting Monday May 24.

Vermont agencies say they'll use roving patrols and checkpoints on roads with high unbelted crash rates, as well as policing aggressive driving, speeding, and distracted driving.

A release from the Chittenden County Sheriff's Office says the effort will also increase seat belt enforcement near state borders, sending what officials call "a zero-tolerance message to the public that driving or riding unbuckled will result in a ticket.”

- Matthew Smith

8. Killington forest fire is out

A Killington forest fire that burned as much as 40 acres since mid-May has finally been extinguished.

The Rutland Herald reports Killington Fire Chief Gary Roth says some smoldering spots remain but the area is mostly burnt out, with nowhere for the fire to spread.

The paper reports the fire was caused by an unpermitted burn by the landowner. Killington won't issue burn permits until rainfall hits the area.

- Matthew Smith

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