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Vermont News Updates For Monday, August 31

A person on a basketball court
Abagael Giles
Jane Knodell of Burlington practices Tai Chi on the basketball court at Pomeroy Park last week. Normally a student with the Long River Tai Chi Circle, Knodell has practiced at the park most mornings this summer with classmates from North End Studios.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, a multi-day protest demanding the firing of three Burlington police officers and more for Monday, August 31.

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The latest coronavirus data:


Eight people test positive for COVID-19 in Chittenden County

The Vermont Health Department reported eight new cases of COVID-19 Monday, and all of them were in Chittenden County. Another 2,447 people had tests that came back negative.

To date, 135,721 people in Vermont have been tested for the disease, and 1,624 of those have tested positive. One person is currently hospitalized, and 1,425 are reported to have recovered. Fifty-eight people have died after contracting the coronavirus in Vermont.

- Elodie Reed

Health Department investigating new outbreak in Rutland County

The health department says it's investigation a COVID-19 outbreak in Rutland County, stemming from a private party in Killington on Aug. 19.

So far, the department reports 14 cases associated with a party at Summit Lodge. Some of the cases are in people who did not attend the party, but had contact with someone who did.

The health department said it's trying to reach all of the more than 40 people who attended the gathering to do contact tracing, and encourages them to limit their exposure to others.

The department also plans to offer a testing clinic in Rutland City on Wednesday.

- Henry Epp

Small towns brace for financial impact of COVID-19

Vermont's small towns are bracing for a delayed financial impact from COVID-19.

A survey of more than 100 municipalities by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns found 28% are being asked by residents for property tax relief.

Commercial taxpayers say they also need help.

Karen Horn, the leagues, public policy director, told Vermont Edition she thinks revenues will be low when many towns collect taxes in November.

"Towns are being asked to do a whole lot more than is sort of usually in their wheelhouse, and they're being asked to do it with less going forward," Horn said. "I think we're going to see a very different and not great picture come the spring, you know, as we come out of this winter."

The $13 million in coronavirus relief for Vermont towns can help pay with fighting the virus, but can't be used to replace lost revenue.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Matthew Smith

Vermont could face a shortage of substitute teachers

As the new school year begins, Vermont could soon face a shortage of substitute teachers.

Typically, older and retired teachers comprise a good portion of the substitute teacher work force.

But health and safety concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are depleting the number of available subs.

Don Tinney is the president of the Vermont NEA, the state's teachers union.

"The supply of substitute teachers is very small and that may create some serious problems when our educators have to stay out because they're sick, and that's what we have to do during this pandemic," Tinney said. "Who is going to fill that position when they are out?"

Tinney said substitute teachers will also need to be trained on their schools' remote learning procedures.

- Bob Kinzel

Amid pandemic reopening, Vermont schools face shortage of nurses

Vermont's public schools open next week and a number of them face a common problem: a shortage of nurses.

Don Tinney is the president of the Vermont NEA, the state's teachers union.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating an existing shortage of school nurses in some regions.

"The school nurse is critical in this process," Tinney said. "Particularly if and when a student is identified with symptoms, how to isolate that student, how to get that student home is a critical role. So that is an area of concern."

Tinney said some schools might have to consider sharing a nurse with a nearby school system.

- Bob Kinzel

Vermont's teachers union surveys schools for safety

Vermont's teachers union is conducting a survey of all schools in Vermont to see if any obstacles remain to safely reopening the schools to students next week.

Vermont NEA president Don Tinney said the full results of the survey won't be known for several days, but he can already tell that a number of schools are having problems meeting fresh air goals.

"As you know, we have many older school buildings in the state and there's real concern about their HVAC systems, and whether they're going to provide the fresh air into the classroom that all of the experts are recommending," Tinney said.

Tinney said repairing and renovating some of the older ventilation systems could be a financial struggle for a number of schools.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Governor calls for inclusion of undocumented workers in COVID-19 stimulus payments

Immigrant farmworkers on Vermont's dairy farms were excluded from a federal stimulus program earlier this year.

Gov. Scott wants to make up for that omission by sending $1,200 checks to every non-U.S. citizen living in Vermont.

The governor wants to use $2 million in state funds to pay for the stimulus program.

Xusana Davis is the director of racial equity for the Scott administration.

“The deliberate and really surgical exclusion of certain people because of things like immigration holdups is a highly questionable act from a moral and an ethical perspective,” Davis said.

But Davis said the governor's proposal also makes good business sense for the state.

"The state of Vermont relies heavily on industries that are bolstered by the labor of exactly the groups who were excluded by the federal stimulus payment," she said. "So us stepping in where the federal government fell short allows us to bring forward all Vermonters, to move out of this crisis together."

Scott's plan would deliver $1,200 stimulus checks to the estimated 3,000 undocumented workers living in Vermont.

The proposal would also give migrant workers an additional $500 for each child living in their household.

More from VPR: ‘They Should Include Us’: Vermont’s Immigrant Farmworkers Push For Coronavirus Aid

- Peter Hirschfeld

State to expand high-speed internet access for remote learning

Many schools that reopen next week will do so with remote learning only. So a looming question for families is whether they have access to affordable, high-speed internet.

Public Service Commissioner June Tierney said the state is making some progress, but much more work has to be done to bridge the digital divide.

Tierney told the Senate Finance Committee that about 6,000 of the 70,000 addresses that lack access to broadband will soon have high-speed internet available.

“And that's just the first round. So we're likely to hit 10% of the problem. And considering this was not on our radar screen this time last year, I think that's something we can celebrate,” Tierney said.

The state is using COVID relief funds for the various grant programs. They include helping consumers pay for cable or fiber line extensions and grants to internet providers to reach underserved areas.

- John Dillon

Burlington protesters continue demanding firing of three cops

On Sunday evening, more than 150 people protested in downtown Burlington, calling again for three Burlington police officers involved in use-of-force incidents to be fired.

“If we don’t get it, shut it down!” the crowd chanted.

Leaders from local group The Black Perspective said they have spoken with Burlington’s mayor about their demands and will march each night at 6:30 p.m. from Battery Park to City Hall until the officers are fired.

The demonstrators chanted the officers’ names for a full block as they returned to the police department. They remained late into the night.

The demonstration was part of an ongoing protest that began last week. Between nightly marches, protesters have kept a vigil outside of the police department, camping at nearby Battery Park.

- Abagael Giles

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