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Vermont News Updates For Thursday, August 6

Peace sign mown onto a hillside
Abagael Giles
In Westford, a peace sign sits on a sloping stretch of pasture near the village.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, an outbreak of COVID-19 among Vermont inmates housed out-of-state and more for Thursday, August 6.

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The latest coronavirus data:


Vermont Department of Health reports one new death from COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported Thursday that one more person has died from COVID-19. Since March, 58 people have died in the state.

The health department reported nine new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases identified to-date in Vermont to 1,445. Of the new cases, five were identified in Rutland County, with one new case each in Bennington, Windsor, Washington and Lamoille counties.

One person is currently hospitalized with a confirmed case of the disease, and five people remain hospitalized with symptoms under investigation.

So far, the state has tested 100,052 people for active cases of the new coronavirus, and 30 people are being monitored as close contacts of confirmed cases.

- Abagael Giles

Bernard Peters seeks the Republican nomination for governor

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bernard  Peters says Vermont can't afford any new taxes as a way to balance the budget in the next fiscal year.

Peters, who is a former employee of the Department of Transportation said he'd prefer to see cuts to government spending.

“I don't think the state of Vermont can take anymore taxes. I think everyone's taxed right to death,” Peters said. “I worked for the state for 35 years and I can tell you, I seen so much waste it was not even funny. I think a little more scrutinizin' on some things, I know there's a lot of places that could be done differently and save money."

Peters is one of four Republicans challenging incumbent Governor Phil Scott in next week's primary election. He's run for governor once before, as an independent, in 2014.

Read the full story.

- Henry Epp

Vermont Public Radio has sought interviews with all candidates running for governor in the August 11 primary. You can find them all in our voter guide, here.

Corrections Commissioner points to 'breakdown of trust' between DOC, CoreCivic

Interim Corrections Commissioner Jim aker said there has been a "breakdown of trust" between DOC and CoreCivic, the for-profit company that runs the private prison in Mississippi where 147 Vermont inmates have now tested positive for COVID-19.

Baker calls the relationship with CoreCivic a business relationship, and expressed concern about the future of the contract.

"As the commissioner of corrections, who is ultimately responsible for those inmates down in Mississippi, there has been a breakdown of trust, and those conversations are ongoing," Baker said.

Baker said he and his staff are now focused on ensuring that inmates are getting the medical care they need.

Read the full story.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Corrections Commissioner says Vermont cannot bring all inmates back from Mississippi

As the Vermont Department of Corrections investigates a large COVID outbreak among Vermont inmates held at a private prison in Mississippi, the DOC interim commissioner ays it's very unlikely that all the inmates could be brought back to Vermont.

Interim Commissioner James Baker said that DOC staff members are traveling to Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, where 147 Vermont inmates have now tested positive for COVID-19. Bringing them all back, he said, is likely not an option.

“Nothing's off the table, but I have to say that there wouldn't be any way that we could bring all the inmates back,” Baker said. “There could be ways that we could bring a number of inmates back, but we need to figure out exactly what's going on down there.”

DOC staff members onsite will report back to Baker, he said, who will then determine the next steps to be taken.

Read the full story.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Burlington's mayor says university, city are not in agreement about plans for students' return

For months, the University of Vermont has insisted it will welcome thousands of students back in the fall, and had adequate plans to protect the Burlington community from the coronavirus. But Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger says there's still no coordinated plan between the city and UVM.

The university has imposed quarantine requirements for students coming from out-of-state and everyone, regardless of where they come from, will be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive on campus.

Weinberger said he still has concerns around testing, reporting of cases and behavior of students off-campus.

“We don’t have that coordinated plan that I can fully support as of today and time in running short on this; we’re just over two weeks out,” Weinberger said.

Weinberger said the city will continue to work with UVM in hopes of reaching an agreement soon.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Education Secretary defends school reopening strategy

Education Secretary Dan French is defending the Scott Administration's decision to give individual school districts the authority to develop their reopening plans this fall.

French appeared before the Vermont Senate Wednesday and took questions from senators who expressed many concerns about the wide variety of re-opening options around the state and the impact on parents, teachers and students.

French said the state wanted to provide flexibility rather than mandate a universal reopening policy.

“This is an unfortunate situation that our districts have to navigate, these are very challenging times to be a school district leader and a superintendent,” French said. “But part of the idea of sort of putting this out in the hands of the locals on some of these decisions was to precisely give parents the opportunity to weigh in, something we couldn't really do well from a state perspective. So I think it's critical that districts involve parents in these decisions.”

The state has given districts the option to fully re-open, open with a blend of remote learning and in-person classes, or operate with remote learning only.

- John Dillon

Boots Wardinski seeks Progressive nomination for governor

Progressive candidate for Governor Boots Wardinski says he'd address the COVID-19 pandemic by implementing a single-payer health care system in the state.

“We'd have to have socialized medicine, free health care for everyone, that would be funded through, not fee-for-service, or insurance companies' premiums and policies, but through a single payer, through the state,” Wardinski said.

Wardinski, who's run in nearly every election cycle since 1990, but never won, is running against another perennial candidate, Cris Ericson. But the Progressive Party has endorsed Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, who's running as a Democrat. The Progressives are encouraging their voters to write in Zuckerman's name on the party's primary ballot.

Read the full story.

- Henry Epp

City of Burlington expects update on the status of CityPlace soon

The city of Burlington expects to provide an update to the public about the status of the stalled downtown mall project and potential litigation against the developers.

At the end of July, Burlington officials learned Brookfield Properties, the developers of City Place, was looking to pull out of the project. The city sent a letter accusing Brookfield of failing to follow through on promises to move the project forward – and threatened to sue.

Mayor Miro Weinberger said since the city sent the default letter quote “nothing has fundamentally changed.”

“We have no new proposal at this point from Brookfield … there are a variety of communications that are going on and I’ll have a full update on them on Monday but there has been no material change in the situation,” Weinberger said.

The redevelopment of the mall has been plagued by delays since demolition began in 2017, leaving a hole in the heart of Burlington's downtown for more than two years.

- Liam Elder-Connors

147 Vermont inmates test positive for COVID-19 in Mississippi

The outbreak of COVID-19 at a Mississippi prison that houses Vermont inmates has dramatically escalated.

147 inmates at Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility have now tested positive, according to the Department of Corrections. That's nearly 70% of the 219 Vermonters inside the privately run prison.

In a press conference Wednesday, Commissioner Jim Baker told reporters that he, as commissioner, is responsible for Vermont's out-of-state inmates.

“I should’ve been more inquisitive, and I should’ve been more aware of processes in Mississippi,” Baker said.

Baker said facilities and operations staff as well as the department's new part-time medical director will travel to Mississippi Thursday to review the prison's practices, and inmate health.

"I consider this a full-fledged, serious emergency," Baker said. "We're managing that way."

Advocates have said the outbreak is evidence Vermont's out-of-state inmates should be brought home. When asked, Baker told reporters, "Everything is being considered."

Read the full story

- Emily Corwin

Poll shows Vermonters have mixed perceptions of law enforcement, race

A new VPR-Vermont PBS poll found Vermonters have mixed feelings when it comes to law enforcement and race.

While 61% of respondents had either a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in their local law enforcement, about half of respondents also said police in Vermont occasionally or regularly discriminate against people of color.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling says law enforcement agencies in Vermont need to do more work to build trust with marginalized communities.

“I believe there is a cross-section of those bad experiences. Some of them are perceptions, but some of them are absolutely real, and we’ve got to fix those things in order to have legitimacy and to achieve community safety,” Schirling said.

Mark Hughes is executive director of Justice For All, an advocacy group that aims to dismantle systemic racism. He said he’s not surprised by the poll results.

Hughes, who’s on the Burlington Police Commission, also said he would have preferred the poll include a racial breakdown of respondents.

“It is incredibly important what Black and brown people think about these issues and if we’re not measuring it, then we’ll never be able to manage that,” Hughes said. “Nor will we be able to move from an anecdotal discussion to something where we’re dealing with an empirical data to really make policy changes.”

The Legislature is holding three public hearings this month on police reform efforts. The first meeting is this Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

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