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Vermont News Updates For Wednesday, June 3

A memorial site with flowers, candles, a black lives matter image and a sign reading justice for george floyd.
Sarah Priestap
VPR File
Mourners of George Floyd and the black men and women killed by police in the month of May leave flowers and candles at a memorial in the parking lot of Babe's Bar during a vigil in Bethel on June 2. The peaceful event required attendees to wear masks.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus, protests against systematic racism and more for Wednesday, June 3.

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The latest coronavirus numbers:


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

The Vermont Department of Health reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, out of 576 tests conducted. The new cases are in Windsor and Caledonia counties.

There is currently no one hospitalized with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in Vermont, and the state's death toll stands at 55.

So far, 990 cases of the disease have been identified in the state and 879 people are known to have recovered. As of Wednesday, 37,195 people had been tested.

- Amy Kolb Noyes and Abagael Giles

Commissioner of the Department for Children and Families steps down

The leader of the Department for Children and Families is stepping down.

Commissioner Ken Schatz is leaving this month after six years on the job. Gov. Phil Scott is replacing him with Deputy Commissioner Sean Brown.

Schatz took over DCF during a controversial time, following the deaths of two toddlers under the department's supervision.

Brown has been a deputy for six years, and has been responsible for administering Vermont's 3Squares and ReachUp programs.

- Mark Davis

Vermont's child centers fear for safety after governor clears them to reopen

Child care centers were cleared to resume operations this week.

But child care providers across Vermont said they're being forced into service too soon - while the coronavirus remains a danger.

Johnny Flood is a preschool teacher in Montpelier. Flood said caring for infants and toddlers doesn't lend itseld to following public health guidelines.

"Our work is to wipe noses, is to change diapers, is to dry tears and give hugs all day, because that's what children need," Flood said. "We don't have plexiglass dividers and one-way aisles."

A new coalition of early childhood education professionals has asked Gov. Phil Scott to keep child care centers closed until public schools are allowed to reopen.

The Scott administration said the low prevalence of COVID-19 in Vermont means that child care programs can safely reopen.

Read the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Gov. Scott criticizes Pres. Trump's decision to disperse protestors in D.C.

Gov. Phil Scott is criticizing Pres. Donald Trump's decision to disperse protestors in Washington, D.C. to make way for a media appearance in front of a church.

Scott said he was in, quote, "disbelief," as he watched video footage of the incident.

"I knew as soon as he said he was going to some place important that it was going to be some sort of spectacle," Scott said. "And you could see a peaceful protest that quickly turned into something much uglier."

Scott, a Republican, said he thinks Trump's actions and rhetoric have incited violence at protests across the country. And he said he wishes Trump would use his office to try to unite the country during a time of upheaval.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Public health officials have identified between 10 and 20 cases in Winooski

Public health officials said today they are closely monitoring an outbreak of COVID-19 in Winooski.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said 200 tests conducted in Winooski this week have revealed between 10 and 20 new confirmed cases of the disease.

"We will expect to find more cases but with contact tracing, coordination with the community, careful isolation and quarantine, this outbreak can and will be managed," Levine said.

Levine said his department increased testing in Winooski after discovering a cluser of five cases last week. He said a contact tracing team is working to get in touch with anyone who may have been exposed to the virus.

Read the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Vermont Medical Society declares systemic racism a public health threat

The Vermont Medical Society has declared systemic racism to be a public health threat in the state.

And the Scott Administration's top medical official says he endorses the decision.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Vermont ranks high on overall health indicators.

"But when you look specifically at a group, whether that be a group determined by gender preference, or race, or income or some other factor, you began to see that not everyone enjoyed that same high level of positive outcome," Levine said.

Levine said his department is working on a long-range plan to improve health equity in the state.

He said he plans to push for policy reforms that will improve medical outcomes for marginalized populations.

More from VPR: Vermont's Deputy Health Commissioner On COVID-19 Data Collection, Demographic Trends

- Peter Hirschfeld

Gov. Scott expects to announce new guidance about indoor dining Friday

Gov. Phil Scott said he plans to announce the resumption of indoor restaurant seating later this week.

Scott said the new guidance will include strict limitations on the number of patrons restaurants can serve.

"When we get to indoor dining, it will be a very controlled opening at first, with physical distance being a priority," Scott said.

Scott said many restaurants are on the verge of becoming permanent casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. He said a $400 million aid package he submitted to the Legislature last week would help many restaurants offset revenue losses that are expected to continue into the summer.

Read the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Agency of Natural Resources seeks input on plan for Worcester Range Management Area

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources wants to hear from people who use public lands in and around the Worcester Range in Central Vermont. The so-called "public scoping" process is one of the first steps in developing a new long-range management plan.

The Worcester Range Management Area will encompass several popular recreation spots, including Elmore State Park, Mount Hunger, and Stowe's Moss Glen Falls.

The range is also one of the largest uninterrupted forest blocks in the state.

The Worcester Range public scoping survey is available online through Aug. 3.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

All 530 staff and inmates at Newport prison test negative for COVID-19

All 530 staff and inmates at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport tested negative for COVID-19 earlier this week.

The Newport prison is the fiftth of six in-state facilities to undergo mass testing.

In March, a Newport prison staffer tested positive for COVID-19. Corrections officials stated at the time that person did not have access to the inmate population.

Outside of the major outbreak which began at a Franklin County facility in late March and infected 48 inmates and 18 staff, no additional inmates have tested positive.

According to the Department of Corrections, mass testing will soon be done at the prison in Springfield next week.

- Emily Corwin

Some Vermont movie theaters to reopen at 25% capacity

Some Vermont movie theaters are planning to open on Friday, including Bennington Cinemas and the Star Theatre of St. Johnsbury.

The theaters are owned by the same company, and both have posted on their websites that they will open at 25% capacity with safe distancing and other precautions.

There won't be any first-run movies shown until July. However, admission will be just $5 for all shows for the month of June.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

After 70 years, a Middlebury bookstore adapts amid the pandemic

Middlebury's 70-year-old Vermont Book Shop sits at the intersection of two main downtown streets, where a massive construction project has resumed.

Book shop owner Becky Dayton was prepared for construction, but not the global pandemic that would shut down both shop and construction for nearly two months.

Phone, email and online customer service have kept the shop going, and Dayton has even been making home deliveries.

"I'll get in my car at the end of the day and drive something to the customer's front door and hand it to them myself," she said. "We're selling something which is not a price and not a product; it's community connection."

The state is allowing bookshops to reopen, but Dayton is staying closed to perform renovations.

- Betty Smith

Outbreak at Birchwood Terrace is officially 'resolved'

The Burlington nursing home that was the site of the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in the state is now free of COVID-19.

VTDigger reports that the death toll at Birchwood Terrace Rehab and Healthcare totaled 21. That, combined with the death toll at a second facility, Burlington Health and Rehabilitation Center, accounts for more than half of the total deaths in the state as a whole.

The last confirmed positive case of COVID-19 for a Birchwood resident was on April 22, according to the facility's executive director.

A spokesperson for the Vermont Department of Health confirmed Tuesday that the Birchwood outbreak status is now listed as "resolved."

- Sam Gale Rosen

More from VPR: 'My Mother Was My Best Friend': Remembering A Life Lost To COVID-19

Vermont's Senate Republican leader critiques Pres. Trump's leadership

Senate Republican leader Joe Benning said he wishes Pres. Trump would display better leadership skills as the country deals with mountain racial protests.

A number of rallies have been held to protest the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.

Trump has threatened to mobilize the U.S. military if local officials don't control these protests.

Benning, who is a former chairman of the Vermont Human Rights Commission, said the president's comments are making matters worse.

"I am concerned that some of the remarks that the president has been making exacerbate the problem," Benning said. "And if at any point in time we need leadership at both the state and national level to calm down the level of rhetoric, now is that time."

Benning said only state officials should be authorized to mobilize federal forces.

- Bob Kinzel

Advocates press lawmakers to allocate federal COVID-19 funds to school meals

Vermont Schools have been finding ways to deliver meals to their students during the pandemic, including using buses as delivery vehicles.

But Anore Horton of Hunger Free Vermont said there's still a lot up in the air about this summer.

Horton said schools might need up to $12 million to continue serving families.

"This summer, in terms of getting food to Vermont kids, could either be a stunning success or a terrible failure," Horton said. "It really could go either way."

Advocates are pressing Vermont lawmakers to use federal COVID money to support the summer meal service.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

More from VPR: 'My Family Needs These Meals': How One Northeast Kingdom Family Is Making It Through

Vermont's Episcopal Bishop denounces use of force against protesters

Vermont's Episcopal Bishop is denouncing Monday's use of force against peaceful protetsers in Washington, D.C. to allow the president to pose outside an Episcopal church.

Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown said recent police violence comes at a time when the country is already suffering from isolation and the loss of lives and livelihoods from the coronavirus.

"To continue to have things like police brutality interrupt already a chaotic and an emergency situation... We've been talking about the injustices, but I guess it's still OK to kill black men in the street," MacVean-Brown said.

The Bishop said she's calling on members of the church to "renounce the evil of that."

"We're not just upset because somebody posed in front of one of our buildings and used our sacred texts. Yes, that is deplorable, but just to not take any time to acknowledge those who have died is beyond upsetting and disrespectful," MacVean-Brown said.

In a letter to the Vermont Diocese, the Bishop asked parishioners to pray for the country to be healed from what she called the viruses of racism and COVID-19.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Man faces assault charge for hitting VTrans employee with pickle

The Vermont State Police say a Massachusetts man has been cited to appear in court on a charge of simple assault, after throwing a large pickle out a car window and hitting a Vermont Agency of Transportation employee.

According to the state police, Christoph Herrmannsdoerfer, 34, of Williamstown, Mass., was a passenger in a vehicle traveling south on Route 7 when he threw the pickle, which struck a man working a detail at the state border crossing in Pownal.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Teenagers lead hundreds in marching through Brattleboro to protest police brutality

Hundreds of people marched through Brattleboro on Tuesday to call for an end to police brutality and racial oppression.

The rally was organized by teenagers of color from around the region.

Makaila Dorcely from Springfield spoke before the march.

"We deserve more. And what I mean by more is not that we deserve more than everybody else," Dorcely said. "What I mean is that we deserve to have the advantages that are purposefully taken and refused from us our whole lives; the advantages that make it safe to be alive."

The teenagers led the crowd up Main Street in a peaceful protest of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Sen. Leahy condemns Pres. Trump's plan to mobilize the military

Sen. Patrick Leahy said he's appalled by Pres. Trump's plan to mobilize the military to control protests around the country. He said the plan presents a dangerous threat to the future of democracy.

Many protests have been held to protest the death of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed after a police officer kneeled on his neck last week.

Trump has threatened to send in the U.S. military if governors don't control the protests.

Leahy said the president's comments are, quote, "dangerous."

"The danger is we forget we are a country of laws," Leahy said. "We have a military to protect us from foreign forces. We don't have a military to take over as they do in totalitarian and despotic countries as an internal police department."

Trump says local officials need to get tougher with protesters and he threatened to bring in the U.S. military if protests aren't brought under control.

"His attitude is as though we don't have a Constitution, we don't have laws, we don't have checks and balances, we only have Donald Trump," Leahy said. "Well that might work on a reality show, but it should not work in the United States of America."

Leahy is asking his Senate Republican colleagues to also condemn the president's proposal.

- Bob Kinzel

Vermont Senate approves plan to vote by mail in November election

The Vermont Senate has approved a bill that implements a vote-by-mail system for the November election by a vote of 21 to 7.

Backers of the bill say it's needed to protect voters and local election officials from being exposed to COVID-19.

Under this plan, all registered voters would be sent a ballot by their town clerk and could return it by mail or in person on election day.

Senate Government Operations chairperson Jeanette White said the plan is needed because of COVID-19.

"I do think it's a good idea because we need to make sure that people are not disenfranchised because of fear of going to the elections," White said.

Senate Republican leader Joe Benning said the bill isn't needed because Vermont already has the most lenient early voting law in the country.

It's a law that allows voters to request a ballot by mail within 45 days of an election.

"The system that we now have in place with that little element of security says, OK, you can get a ballot, you can mail it in - end of story," Benning said. "The system works. Ourtown clerks have been trained in it. There's no need for additional training."

The measure will now be reviewed in the House, where it enjoys strong support.

Listen to the more conversation, as heard on Vermont Edition.

- Bob Kinzel

Rep. Welch calls for Americans to address racial disparities

Following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, protests and riots have circulated throughout the country, including a peaceful protest in Burlington on Saturday.

Congressman Peter Welch said the country needs to address racial disparities and discrimination head-on, and it will take more than just policies to do so.

"There's something very deep here that I think all of us have to finally acknowledge is our responsibility to examine and finally face," Welch said Monday on Vermont Edition.

Welch said the House is working on legislation to require the Justice Department to investigate deaths in police custody, and he wants all of the police officers involved in George Floyd's death to be prosecuted.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Emily Aiken

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