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Vermont News Updates For Thursday, June 4

A woman in a mask at a reception desk.
Nina Keck
Sarah Coote at Cornerstone Dentistry in Rutland on Thursday, June 4. Dentist's offices have recently been allowed to reopen.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus, protests against systematic racism and more for Thursday, June 4.

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The latest coronavirus data:


Winooski outbreak up to 34 COVID-19 cases

The Vermont Health Department says there are now 34 cases of COVID-19 associated with an outbreak in Winooski.

The Health Department reported 36 total new COVID-19 infections Thursday — another 609 tests came back negative.

The Winooski outbreak is not at a facility and is believe to be caused by community spread, according to a spokesperson for the health department.

The state has been testing people in the city all week and plans to continue next week.

The uptick in COVID-19 cases Thursday is an outlier compared to the last several weeks, as reported infections have dwindled.

To date, there have been 1,026 reported cases of COVID-19 in the state, and 881 people have recovered. Currently no one is hospitalized with the disease.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Advocates hopeful criminal justice reform gains traction in Legislature

Criminal justice reform advocates say the recent killing of George Floyd —and nationwide protests focused on police violence — highlight the need for change in Vermont.

Mark Hughes is the executive director of Justice For All, a grassroots organization working toward improving Vermont’s criminal justice system.

Hughes tells Vermont Edition he’s pushed for reforming legislation for years, and hopes bills under consideration will now see traction.

“We’re looking at how do we implement policies where data collection on use of force, the appropriate use of force, de-escalation and cross-cultural awareness,” Hughes said. “This and other reforms across the entire so-called criminal justice system are important, as they are across all other systems of state government."

Hughes says due to the coronavirus, Justice For All and other reform groups are holding webinars and online meetings to organize.

Listen to the full hour of Vermont Edition here.

- Matthew Smith

Montpelier enacts mask requirement

The city of Montpelier is the latest municipality in Vermont to require customers to wear masks inside businesses.

The city council issued an emergency order on Wednesday that went into effect Thursday.

Gov. Phil Scott issued an order last month that required employees at retail establishments across Vermont to wear face coverings. However, he stopped short of requiring the same of customers and clients statewide.

Since then other communities including Burlington, Brattleboro and Bennington have passed such orders.

The Montpelier order remains in effect until rescinded or changed by the city council.

 - Amy Kolb Noyes

Four arrested during George Floyd protest in St. Johnsbury

Four people were arrested during a protest against the killing of George Floyd in St. Johnsbury on Wednesday.

The St. Johnsbury Police Department estimated between 150 and 200 people attended the protest downtown. VTDigger reports that the protest became physically and verbally confrontational between police and demonstrators, according to video footage.

The four protesters who were arrested are facing disorderly conduct charges.

Town Manager Chad Whitehead announced in a statement that St. Johnsbury will bring in an independent investigator to review the encounter between police and protesters.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Gov. considering some out-of-state tourism to resume

Gov. Phil Scott says he’ll try to reinvigorate the summer tourism season by easing some of the out-of-state travel restrictions he imposed in March.

Scott says restaurants and lodging businesses have been cleared to resume limited operations, but they’ll need customers to generate revenue.

“So we’ve been working on a plan that will allow some out-of-state visitors to come to Vermont without a quarantine,” he said.

Scott says multiple state agencies are looking at allowing visitors from certain regions of certain states to come to Vermont without having to self-quarantine.

He says decisions about who’s exempt from the quarantine order will be based on the prevalence of COVID-19 in different areas of the Northeast.

Read the full story here.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Bomb threat closes Main Street in Newport

Main Street in Newport City has been closed this afternoon due to an apparent bomb threat.

The Caledonian Record is reportingfire and police vehicles have blocked the road. A firefighter reportedly called the situation a bomb threat at the Northeast Kingdom Community Action building.

According to bystanders, nearby buildings had been evacuated.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

VTrans clears boulder from The Notch

Route 108 through Smugglers' Notch was closed on Thursday.

Vermont Agency of Transportation crews cleared a large boulder from the road between Cambridge and Stowe, after a weekend rockslide. The road reopened around 5 p.m.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Connecting racial equity and economic prosperity

Racial equity is not just a moral goal, but an economic one — so says the official leading state efforts toward equality.

Nationwide demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have sparked protests in many cities in Vermont, with many calling for equity in the country's courts, prisons, schools and economy.

Xusana Davis, Vermont’s Executive Director for Racial Equity says there's a collective benefit to equity, and a collective harm to inequity.

“In 2015, if the state of Vermont had wage equity between racial groups, that is to say, if people got paid the same or similar wages for the same work, our state GDP would have been $0.42 billion, with a B, dollars higher.”

Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday created a racial equity task force, which is charged with making recommendations for addressing racial disparities in Vermont.

Listen to the full hour of Vermont Edition here.

- Matthew Smith

Vermont State Police: Body cams not likely in this year's budget

Vermont State Police say they’re unlikely to get body cameras this year due to budgetary restraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

State police have said for five years they wanted body cameras, but say the cost has been prohibitive. VSP says funds for the cameras were initially part of the agency’s budget proposal this year, but the financial crunch caused by the pandemic is delaying things.

ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Jay Diaz says it’s disappointing that given the national calls for police accountability, state police still aren’t prioritizing body cameras.

“The state police has a budget of about $70 million dollars, so to say that they don’t have the resources to do this just simply doesn’t pass the smell test,” Diaz said.

Protests against police brutality have swept the country over the last week after a police officer was charged with murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis. The incident has reinvigorated calls for law enforcement accountability measures, including the use of body cameras.

Read the full story here.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Health commissioner says state wants to accommodate nursing home visits

Residents of nursing homes in Vermont haven’t been allowed visits from family members for almost three months now.

But Commissioner of Health Mark Levine says his department is working on a plan that would let facilities welcome visitors again.

“The families want it. We all want it. The facilities want it," he said. "We all want it to be done the right way and very carefully and armed with the right data so that we don’t make mistakes.”

Levine says warmer weather may provide an opportunity for outdoor visits that limit the risk of COVID-19 infections, and that finding a way to resume nursing home visits is one of his department’s top priorities.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Correction 11:10 a.m. 6/5/2020: This post has been updated to reflect that there are 34 total reported cases associated with the Winooski outbreak of COVID-19, not 41.

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