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Vermont News Updates For Friday, June 12

Sign that reads "Free Meals For Kids"
Amy Kolb Noyes
This sign sat at the end of the driveway at Hyde Park Elementary School.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus, calls to cut funding from the Burlington Police Department, and more for Friday, June 12.

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The latest coronavirus data:


Vermont Department of Health reports 10 new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health on Friday reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 in Vermont, bringing the total number of cases identified to date to 1,119. Two people are currently hospitalized with confirmed cases of the illness, while 14 people are hospitalized under investigation.

To date, 907 people are known to have recovered from the coronavirus. The state has tested 48,634 people for active cases.

Five new cases were identified in Chittenden County Friday, along with one in Franklin County, two in Rutland County, and one in Washington County.

According to state officials, there are an estimated 135,000 active cases within a five hour drive of Vermont's borders.

As of the evening of June 11, the department had identified 81 cases of COVID-19 associated with an outbreak of the virus in Winooski. Just one in five of those individuals was symptomatic at the time their case was identified, according to Health Commissioner Mark Levine.

The health department reported Friday it had conducted between 3,000 and 3,500 tests in Winooski and Burlington alone.

One person who contracted COVID-19 as part of the Winooski outbreak is now hospitalized, with symptoms.

Levine said Friday that he is not aware of any confirmed cases associated with protests and demonstrations that have occurred across the state over the last few weeks.

- Abagael Giles

Gov. Scott supports efforts to change the names of U.S. military bases named for Confederate generals

Gov. Phil Scott said he supports efforts to change the names of at least ten U.S. military bases that have been named after Confederate generals.

The group includes bases named after Robert E. Lee, A.P. Hill, Henry Benning and Braxton Bragg.

Scott said it might have made sense initially to name these bases after these Confederate military leaders, but the governor thinks it's time for a new approach.

"I understand after the Civil War it was a time to heal and there was a period where trying to let the South adjust to not have the bloodshed that we had before, but there's a time for us to make the next step, and the next move, and to put that behind us and to be better," Scott said.

Scott said he also strongly supports the NASCAR ban on displaying Confederate flags at all of its racing events.

- John Dillon

State economic officials urge Legislature to offer businesses aid

State economic officials have joined Gov. Phil Scott to urge lawmakers to quickly help businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein said the Legislature needs to quickly approve a $310 million plan to help businesses survive.

"The anguish is palpable, evident in every phone call and email," Goldstein said. "People in business for generations, over 40 years, through recessions, through thick and thin, just could not foresee how they were going to make it through this crisis."

The governor sent his economic recovery package to the Legislature three weeks ago. Legislative leaders sayd they plan to wrap up work on the plan by the end of the month, but they want to hold some of the money for use later in the year.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

Montpelier to paint 'Black Lives Matter' on State Street

The message "Black Lives Matter" will soon be painted in yellow letters on Montpelier's State Street, in front of the Statehouse.

WCAXreports the Montpelier City Council unanimously approved the mural on Friday. The road will be closed for much of the day Saturday, while volunteers paint the mural.

Similar street murals have been created in cities across the country during the past week. The first was in Washington, D.C.

More from VPR: WATCH: Craftsbury Community Rallies For Black Lives

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Levine says Winooski outbreak does not represent a 'resurgence' in Vermont

The state's top health official said an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Winooski and Burlington is concerning but probably does not represent a resurgence of the disease in Vermont.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said while the Chittenden County outbreak has pushed up the state's case numbers, the statewide trend remains fairly positive.

"We were for a couple of weeks so low in our test positivity and new cases, that this outbreak looks very dramatic in the context of that data," Levine said. "But it still is a true one outbreak, in one particular part of the state, with a lot of factors behind it that to me just indicates the virus is still amongst us. It's been suppressed, but it's always here."

Levine said no one has died in the latest outbreak in Winooski and Burlington, but one person has been hospitalized.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

Vermont no longer has one of the slowest virus growth rates in the country

A COVID-19 outbreak in Chittenden County has pushed up Vermont's totals and means the state has lost its status as having one of the slowest virus growth rates in the country.

Michael Pieciak, commissioner of Financial Regulation, oversees the state's modeling forecasts. He said on Friday that the state still has a relatively low number of cases compared with neighboring states.

"Over the last week, we saw 84 new confirmed cases in Vermont, with at least 38 of those cases traced back to the Winooski and Burlington outbreak," Pieciak said. "We need more time to analyze the outbreak and how many cases are connected to it. But again, for some important context, our northern New England neighbors New Hampshire and Maine continue to see case growth that is far higher than Vermont."

The state on Friday continued to relax travel restrictions for people coming here from counties with low case numbers.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

Gov. Scott urges Legislature to pass his COVID-19 relief package

Gov. Phil Scott is urging the Legislature to pass a sweeping COVID-19 relief package he proposed three weeks ago.

Legislative leaders plan to be in session through June and then come back in August. Lawmakers have whittled down the governor's plan to use $400 million in federal funds to help shore up businesses, non-profits and farms hurt by the pandemic.

Scott said today he'd like the whole amount funded, and he wants it done now to help companies and their laid-off workers.

"If we don't, and if those businesses fail, we're going to have possibly thousands and thousands unemployed over the long term," Scott said. "So I'm saying... we have the CARES money that was forwarded to us by Congress for just this purpose. And I'm just asking us to act. Let's just move forward."

Lawmakers have passed a $90 million package. But they want to keep about a third of the federal money in reserve for use later this year.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

Burlington Mayor expected to propose cuts to police budget

The mayor of Vermont's largest city is expected to present plans to reduce the police department's budget.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said this week he was considering "further cuts," but declined to provide more details. Weinberger's announcement came after two city boards heard hours of testimony from community members who demanded an overhaul of the police department.

City Councilor Zoraya Hightower is on the Public Safety Committee. She said she supports developing a policy that would reduce the size of the city's police force.

"And then replacing it not just with social workers, but really a variety of people who would be seen as ... less traditional than uniformed officers," Hightower said.

City Councilor Ali Dieng said city leaders should consider reducing the police force - but he said the larger task is redefining what policing looks like.

"Should we have professionals that have training specific to handling mental health issues? Should we also have officers that have deep training around domestic violence? Should we have others that treat homelessness?" Dieng asked.

The Burlington Police Officer's Union has pushed back on proposals to reduce the department's funding, saying it would make the city less safe. 

- Liam Elder-Connors

Castleton University to resume in-person classes early

Castleton University has announced it plans to resume face-to-face instruction this fall. But school officials said the start and end dates of the fall semester have been changed.

University president Jonathan Spiro said to ensure students receive the required 15 weeks of instruction, they will begin the fall semester a week early, on August 18. The school will not hold an October break, and will end face-to-face instruction Nov. 24.

Students will take final exams online after Thanksgiving and not return to campus until the start of the spring semester in January.

- Nina Keck

Legislators aim to pass a budget bill to cover first quarter of FY 2021 in June

Legislative leaders hope to wrap up work on a budget bill that would cover the first quarter of fiscal year 2021, as well as separate legislation to address COVID-19 relief priorities.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe told his colleagues Thursday that he and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson have agreed on bills that should pass by June 26.

"What's not on the list are other bills that may very well get passed by one chamber between now and the end of June but aren't yet ready to be completed and sent to the governor," Ashe said.

Ashe and other lawmakers disagree with Gov. Phil Scott on how to spend $1.25 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds. The governor wants the money used now on a variety of programs to help businesses, renters and others hurt financially by the pandemic.

Ashe said lawmakers should keep some of the federal money in reserve to help shore up the state budget later this year.

- John Dillon

Some Vermont museums move to reopen for summer

Vermont's museums are starting to reopen, but the process is as varied as the museums themselves.

Some, like Shelburne Museum, will remain closed for the summer.

Others, like the American Precision Museum in Windsor, are already open. And some, like the Billings Farm and Museum in Woodstock, will open soon.

Andrea Rosen, curator of the University of Vermont's Fleming Museum, is founder and organizer of the Vermont Curator's group.

"Particularly among leaders of very small cultural organizations, there's a lot of uncertainty about the best way forward," Rosen said.

The Fleming Museum plans to reopen in the fall, at the beginning of the UVM school year.

For a timeline outlining Vermont's response to COVID-19, head here.

- Betty Smith

Calls to Vermont's child protection line dropped during state of emergency

Over the past three months, calls to Vemront's child protection line have gone down by about half, compared with the same period last year.

Middlebury caseworker Katie Colligan has been doing most of her work remotely. She's concerned about the kids she's not seeing right now.

"It makes us just worry what we are missing, what's happening, and we can't help," she said. "And that's kind of scary to think about, sometimes."

The Department for Children and Families said it is concerned that during the pandemic, children haven't been in contact with mandated reporters, like teachers and daycare providers, who usually report possible abuse.

Heather Freeman, director of Student Services for Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union, said the district has been working to support students and families, but it isn't the same from a distance.

"The biggest challenge is just not having contact with children and families as we would when kids are in school," Freeman said.

Read the full story.

- Anna Van Dine

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