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Vermont News Updates For Thursday, August 20

Community food sharing shed
Abagael Giles
Since early May, volunteers in Underhill Center have operated a community food sharing shed across from the town offices. Local gardeners drop off surplus fresh produce, bulbs and flowers for their neighbors to pick up.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus and more for Thursday, August 20.

Want VPR's daily news in podcast form? Get up to speed in under 20 minutes with The Frequencyevery weekday morning. How about an email newsletter? Add our daily email briefing to your morning routine.

The latest coronavirus data:


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

The Vermont Department of Health reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases reported to-date in the state to 1,537.

There are currently two people hospitalized with confirmed cases of the disease, and eight people are hospitalized with symptoms under investigation.

So far, 1,356 peopl have recovered from the new coronavirus, and 58 people have died from the disease. No new deaths were reported Thursday.

The state reports it has tested 115,459 people for active cases, and 42 people are currently being monitored as close contacts of confirmed cases.

Of the new cases reported today, two were identified in Chittenden County, one was identified in Caledonia County and one was identified in Orange County.

- Abagael Giles

Dartmouth College delays decision about bringing undergraduates back to campus

Dartmouth College is delaying its decision about whether to bring undergraduates back to campus while it waits to see how student returns go at other institutions.

Several colleges around the country have brought students back to campus, only to abruptly switch to remote learning after discovering clusters of COVID-19.

Dartmouth Provost Joe Helbe said the school will delay announcing student arrival dates and room assignments until next week.

“I know this is disappointing to those students who were looking forward to their arrival information coming in the next day or two and looking to make travel plans.  But it's essential that we observe the experience of others and be, as I said, data-driven, thorough and thoughtful enough in our final decision makings,” Helbe said.

Helbe said Dartmouth’s current plan would bring about 2,300 undergraduate students back to campus.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Vice President Joe Biden to make acceptance speech at Democratic National Convention, tonight

The Democratic National Convention wraps up tonight with the acceptance speech of the party's presidential nominee, Joe Biden.

Middlebury College political science professor Matt Dickinson says it's important for the vice president to make a case for himself tonight and not just appeal to anti-Trump sentiment.

“One of the issues that he has to confront is polling suggests much of his support is driven by opposition to Donald Trump and the question is whether that polling support will translate in turnout. You want to give your potential voters a reason to vote for you as opposed to simply voting against someone else," Dickinson said. 

President Trump will give his acceptance speech at the National Republican convention next week.

Listen to the full episode.

- Bob Kinzel


New data from Vermont State Police show racial disparities in searches, ticketing

Racial disparities continue to show up in who is searched and ticketed during traffic stops conducted by Vermont State Police, according to newly released data from the agency.

Nearly 43% of Black individuals stopped by Vermont State Police got a ticket – compared to about 37% of white drivers.

Black people were also more likely to be searched, but less likely than white people to have contraband.

VSP Captain Garry Scott is Director of Fair and Impartial Policing. He said one step the agency is taking is to improve training so troopers understand how these searches can erode trust.

“How did that interaction with a state trooper go? … They searched you and they didn’t find anything and you felt like you were criminalized, so that’s a big part we need to relay to our members and make sure our communities understand that we’re hearing that, we’re putting that  into training,” Scott said.

This is the fifth year VSP have publicly released their traffic stop data. All law enforcement agencies are required to collect the information, but it hasn’t been consistently done across departments.    

- Liam Elder-Connors

Killington Mountain Resort will not host 2020 Women's World Cup events

Killington Ski resort announced Thursday that due to the COVID-19 pandemic they will not be hosting the Women’s World Cup ski races in November as they have the last three years.

The event has brought more than 30,000 people to the resort.

A decision to restrict Alpine World Cup skiing to Europe was made by the International Ski Federation, National Ski Association and local organizing committees in Canada and the US.

In a press release, Killington ski resort president Mike Solimano called the decision disappointing but said the resort fully supports the decision.

"Of course, it's been such a great event and people love it so much. It's obviously disappointing. On the flipside, you know, our team has been working hard, plannin for how we can reopen for skiing this winter and want to make sure we can do it in the safe way that lets us open and stay open all year," Solimano said. "So for us, I think, you know, we agree with the decision."

Solimano said the resort would continue to focus on the upcoming ski season and hosting the women’s World Cup races in 2021.

The FIS decision also impacts races in Lake Louise, Canada and Beaver Creek, Co.

- Nina Keck

Childcare providers need more staff, more resources to facilitate proposed 'hubs'

Child care centers in Vermont could use more state and federal support as they head into the fall.

That's according to Vicky Senni, who runs Turtle Island Children's Center in Montpelier.

She says more funding would help her center hire more staff, and allow them to maintain a good ratio of staff to children.

“We need resources also to have those qualified teachers, but also to operate with lower numbers. Because as we're starting to move indoors as the weather changes and gets colder, we really want to keep our group sizes small," Senni said.

This week, Gov. Phil Scott announced a plan to open what he calls "regional child care hubs" around the state, as most school districts plan to provide some or all of their education remotely during the upcoming academic year.  

Read the full story.

- Henry Epp

Coalition calls for reparations to be included in cannabis legislation

A coalition of farm and racial justice groups has come out against legislation that sets up a tax and regulate system for marijuana.

The bill is now before a House and Senate conference committee. But the coalition says lawmakers should start again and address issues affecting local agriculture and racial equity.

Maddie Kempner is policy director for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. She noted that far more Black, indigenous or people of color are incarcerated for marijuana offenses than whites.

“Before we allow wealthy, out of state, majority white business owners to profit from this crop, we really need first and foremost to focus on the harms that have been done and continue to be perpetuated on primarily BIPOC folks,” Kempner said.

The coalition says the legislation should include reparations for those harmed by the war on drugs and automatic expungement of criminal records for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

Bus service resumes between Upper Valley and Boston

Dartmouth Coach has resumed bus service between the Upper Valley and Boston.

The service between Hanover and Logan Airport was suspended in late March due to the coronavirus pandemic. It resumed this week, with six daily runs, instead of the usual ten.

Dartmouth Coach Vice President Ben Blunt said at this point, ridership is minimal.

"We did carry a person on every trip, which was a good first step on our first day back on the road and had some trips that bordered into double digits," he said. "So we were encouraged by ridership on day one, but it's still very early."

Since running a bus for just two or three people doesn't come close to covering costs, Blunt said recent funding through the state of New Hampshire will be critical until ridership more fully rebounds.

- Betty Smith

Third wave of Norwich University students arrive in Northfield

The third wave of Norwich University students is arriving in Northfield Wednesday.

Over the past two weekends, 800 students arrived and four tested positive for COVID-19. Northfield resident Michelle Goodman thinks Norwich will be able to manage the virus.

"I mean, it's a lot smaller than, say, UVM," Goodman said. "And I think it's more compressed. It's not spread out over a large area, so I think they can really contain things in their own little mini community."

Approximately 1,800 students will live on-campus at Norwich this year. Classes start Aug. 31.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Anna Van Dine

Burlington to place tighter restrictions on bars, gatherings

Vermont's largest city is planning to place tighter restrictions on group gatherings and bar hours before thousands of college students return this month.

There's been growing concern among Burlington city leaders and community members that the influx of University of Vermont students could bring a spike in coronavirus cases.

Mayor Miro Weinberger said he'll ask the city council on Thursday to approve a resolution that would limit outdoor gatherings on residential properties to 25, and cap indoor groups at 10.

The order would also restrict bars and restaurants from serving alcohol after 10 p.m.

"If virus transmission levels in Burlington remain very low ... we will happily reevaluate the necessity of these regulations and consider lifting them or altering them as we get into the latter part of September, early-October," Weinberger said.

Weinberger said Burlington police will also conduct additional patrols in areas where students live to make sure public health rules are followed.

UVM has agreed to fund those patrols, and Weinberger said police will be focused on educating students about health guidelines. But he said officers will also be able to write civil tickets if necessary.

Some city leaders and UVM students have questioned whether police should be enforcing public health rules, especially given national and local calls to overhaul law enforcement operations.

Weinberger said the city and UVM decided police were the best option.

"We have officers who are well-trained and experienced at performing comparable duties. They have conducted these types of circuits for more than eight years... and the alternatives were... We couldn't find an alternative that was better," Weinberger said.

He said he expects UVM will pay $10,000-$15,000 per month for the patrols.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Roughly 6,000 ballots deemed defective in Vermont's primary

Roughly 6,000 ballots were deemed defective by town clerks in last week's primary election. That's nearly 4% of all votes cast.

Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters said voters were sent three ballots - one each for the Democratic, Republican and Progressive party primaries.

Winters said some voters failed to return the two blank party ballots they didn't use. That oversight disqualified their vote.

"And the good news is that it will not be an issue for the General Election and we're going to engage in more voter education for the General Election and make sure folks are filling that out properly," Winters said.

He said General Election ballots will be sent to all active registered voters around Sept. 19.

Because of the unusually high number of defective primary ballots, the Secretary of State's office is planning a voter education campaign this fall.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: How Many Vermonters Have Already Voted? A Lot.

Green Mountain College sold Tuesday for $4.8 million

Poultney residents are reacting to news that Green Mountain College was sold at auction Tuesday for $4.8 million, far lower than its $20 million appraised value.

The former college campus was bought by Raj Bhakta, the founder of WhistlePig Whiskey in Shoreham.

Bhakta is also a former contestant on The Apprentice reality television show, when it was hosted by now-President Donald Trump. He also ran unsuccessfully for a congressional seat in Pennsylvania in 2006 as a Republican.

WCAX-TV reports Bhakta would not discuss what he planned to do with the Green Mountain campus but said "We're going to do great things in Poultney and Vermont and in America."

Bob Williams owns the local hardware store in Poultney and said both his parents and sister went to Green Mountain College. He's cautiously optimistic that whomever bought the 155-acre campus will help draw people back to the community.

"It used to have 150 employees and at least 500 students, and when I was first here, it was 750 students," Williams said. "So we're just all a bit on pins and needles trying to find out who bought it and what they plan to do with it."

Green Mountain College is one of four small Vermont schools that closed in the past few years. The others were Southern Vermont College in Bennington, the College of St. Joseph in Rutland and Marlboro College.

- Nina Keck

More from VPR: Final Buzzer At Green Mountain College's Eagle Dome

Scott Administration proposes $133 million in additional state aid for businesses

The Scott Administration wants to boost a grant program aimed at helping businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The administration has asked for a $133 million increase in the program. Administration Secretary Suzanne Young said the idea is to direct money to companies that fell through the cracks in the first round of grants.

"There is a hope that the Legislature can expand the existing business grant program to cover some of those businesses left behind. For instance, some have suffered less than the 50% loss that's required to be eligible. We want to drop that down to 30%," Young said.

The money would also help some non-profit organizations and assist companies that may have been in business for less than a year.

The Legislature will review the proposal when it takes up the state budget later this month.

- John Dillon

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