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Vermont News Updates For Wednesday, September 2

Protesters raised their fists in solidarity outside city hall
Matthew Smith
Protesters raise their fists in solidarity outside Burlington City Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 2 during the eighth day of an ongoing demonstration demanding policing reform, including the firing of three Burlington police officers.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, a new report about people's interactions with state agencies prior to a fatal overdose and more for Wednesday, September 2.

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The latest coronavirus data:


Three more people test positive for COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported three new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday. Two of the cases are in Bennington County and one is in Rutland County. Another 647 people tested negative for the coronavirus.

One person is currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Vermont, and 58 people have died. To date, the state has identified 1,637 cases of the disease, and 139,096 people have been tested.

- Anna Van Dine and Elodie Reed

Report: Majority of Vt. fatal overdose victims had contact with state agency

A new report from the Vermont Health Department found that almost all the victims of fatal drug overdoses in 2017 had contact with at least one state agency prior to their death.

The "Social Autopsy" released Monday found that 98% of the 109 people who died of drug overdoses in 2017 had interacted with at least one state agency. Two-thirds interacted with three or more. The review found many had varied physical and mental health conditions. They also were prescribed more controlled substances than the general Vermont population.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the report will be a valuable resource in helping people with substance use disorders.

- Associated Press

Burlington police arrest man for violating condition while carrying firearm near protests

A Winooski man armed with an AR-15 rifle and a pistol was arrested Monday night near Battery Park in Burlington. City police arrested Jordan Atwood after an investigation revealed he was carrying the firearms illegally.

Police were first notified of Atwood’s armed presence on Saturday, when he began following ongoing demonstrations based at the park. Demonstrators, led by the racial justice group The Black Perspective, are calling for three Burlington Police Department officers involved in use-of-force incidents to be fired.

Earlier on Monday evening, protesters also reportedly encountered an individual armed with a BB gun.

On Tuesday evening, more than 500 people joined a nightly march from Battery Park to city hall in solidarity with demonstrators.

Read the full story here.

- Abagael Giles

Burlington police chief says he can't fire three officers

Burlington's acting police chief says he can't fire three officers who've been involved in use-of-force cases in the last two years.

A group of protesters is more than a week into a continuous demonstration outside police headquarters, saying they won't leave until the officers are dismissed.

Chief John Murad says each case has been reviewed by prosecutors and determined not to be criminal. They've also gone through external investigations and through the department's discipline process.

"Each of those instances had results, those results were rendered, and that is a process, and a process is one that really can't be revisited,” Murad said.

Murad says the city is working on other demands of protesters, including better public access to body camera footage, and limiting the number of officers on the police force.

Read/hear the full story.

- Henry Epp

Burlington mayor says he wants more coordination with protestors on street closures

As a protest asking for the termination of three Burlington police officers stretches into its second week, Mayor Miro Weinberger says the city is keeping an eye on an encampment at Battery Park.

“There is a medical tent. There is care being taken to ensure that public health is being followed, and everything from COVID public health efforts to keeping the park sanitary,” Weinberger said. “If that were to change, that would be a real concern.

Weinberger said he’s held two meeting with the protesters, and expects to meet with them again soon.

He said he wants more coordination with the group to keep the streets safe when the protests move through the city.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Vermont utility regulators hear about safety of Addison County pipeline completed in 2017

State utility regulators are holding hearings this week on whether the Addison natural gas pipeline was built according to the safety standards required in its permit.

Vermont Gas Systems completed the 41-mile pipeline in 2017. But activists continue to argue that construction flaws plague the project and make it unsafe. An investigator hired by the state confirmed that the line was not buried to the proper depth in certain areas, as its permit required.

But the investigator, William Byrd, testified Wednesday that he believes the construction is generally safe.

“There are some things that I think are potentially serious. And I'll deal with those serious issues,” Byrd said. “The things that I don't think are serious issues, well I'm going to point out that it was non-compliance, but I'm also not going to try to make a mountain out of mole hill.”

The Public Utility Commission could impose fines on the company for failing to follow the permit requirements.

Vermont Gas Systems CEO Don Rendall told regulators that when he joined the company in 2015, he needed to "re-set" many aspects of company operations, including the pipeline project. He said contractors had many problems trying to bury the line in a swamp in New Haven.

“I remember that there were issues around, that the construction was a big mess out there,” Rendall said. “That was what I concluded, that construction was a mess and was challenge out there when they were out there actually doing it.”

Rendell said any changes to the project did not affect the safety of the pipeline.

- John Dillon

Vermont Retail & Grocers Association clarifies mask rules

The Vermont Retail and Grocer's Association has clarified that retail employees are required to wear cloth face masks whenever they are in the presence of customers and other employees.

On Tuesday’s Vermont Edition, a listener called in to ask whether retail employees had to wear masks if they were behind a plastic “sneeze guard.”

According to Vermont’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the answer is yes, except when an employee is working alone behind the plastic shield and isn’t interacting with customers outside that space.

The state requires, with some exceptions, that masks be worn by anyone visiting a store or business.

- Elodie Reed

Chester marketing itself as COVID refuge

The town of Chester will spend $10,000 on a marketing campaign directed towards people who might want to move to Vermont during the pandemic.

Chester Town Manager Julie Hance says the town is highlighting its high-speed internet service.

“Now I think is definitely the time to capitalize on that, because people are looking,” Hance said. “People are now doing remote for business, and I don’t think that’s going away.  I think those are some permanent changes we’re going to see from COVID.”

Vermont is seeing an increase in home sales andinterest from people who want to move away from crowded cities to the south.

Read/hear the full story.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Leahy calls on President Trump to calm, not enflame, racial tensions

Sen. Patrick Leahy says President Donald Trump deserves much of the blame for rising racial tensions across this country.

Trump has criticized protesters in Portland, Chicago and Kenosha and has vowed to "restore law and order."

Leahy says the president's actions are enflaming these tensions when he says Trump should be trying to calm things down.

“When he repeats things from discredited right wing websites, yes, he does bear responsibility,” Leahy said. “He is the president. You can't do that as president."  

Leahy says it's time for the president to "stop blaming people" and take some responsibility to help reduce racial tensions.

- Bob Kinzel

Vermont health officials: Expect more COVID-19 cases from schools opening, Killington party

Vermont will see more cases of COVID-19 as students return to school this fall, state health officials say.

The state’s contact tracing, rapid containment efforts and cooperation among residents have allowed Vermont to achieve the lowest rate of new cases in the country.

Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan tells Vermont Edition those tools will be needed when new cases are found as schools reopen.

“We haven’t had many outbreaks, sizable ones, but we should absolutely expect that there will be some isolated cases, occasionally clusters,” she said.

Dolan encourages families with school-aged children to be especially vigilant in the coming days in order to start the year as healthy as possible.

More from VPR: Vermont Gets 12 Child Care 'Hubs' Set Up, 20 More In Progress

The deputy commissioner also noted that while Vermont’s contact tracing has a high success rate – reaching 92% of contacts within 24 hours – this has been the case with a recent outbreak in Killington.

As of Tuesday, 14 confirmed cases have been linked to an Aug. private party of about 40 people at the Summit Lodge hotel. Health officials said they expect to see more cases due to delays in the contact tracing process.

“Some of that is about people not calling back, or not being easily contacted,” Dolan said. “Took a little while for us to get some of the information needed. Because of that, we probably have a little bit of a lag time.”

Current public health rules limit indoor gatherings to 75 people and 150 people outdoors.

Listen to the full interview here.

- Matthew Smith

Leahy expresses cautious optimism about COVID-19 funding bill

Sen. Patrick Leahy says he's cautiously optimistic that Congress will soon pass a second COVID-19 stimulus package.

Leahy is the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and he says he believes there will be bipartisan support for legislation that extends special unemployment benefits, provides direct grants to virtually all taxpayers and helps states deal with enormous revenue shortfalls.

"I'm hoping that senators are hearing in both parties the same things I've heard from Vermonters, that they want us to find a solution to this, let people get back to their lives let us get back to normalcy as soon as we can,” Leahy said.

Vermont has received $1.3 billion in pandemic stimulus money so far, and the money has to be spent by Dec. 31. Gov. Phil Scott has argued that states need more leeway in how to use the money.

Leahy says he agrees.

“I've heard the same complaint from other states,” he said. “I think we should have a lot more flexibility. Republicans and Democrats I've talked to are for that. I think we can do it. We ought to have the flexibility how best to use it."      

The Senate will return to Washington next week to begin work on the package.

- Bob Kinzel

Canadian man charged after attempting to smuggle pot over U.S.-Canada border

Federal prosecutors say a Canadian man is facing charges stemming from an attempt to smuggle 226 pounds of marijuana into the United States from Canada.

Court documents filed Tuesday say Border Patrol agents were watching a spot along the Vermont border with Quebec at about 7:45 p.m. Monday when they first heard and then saw three men carrying large backpacks.

The three men dropped the packs and ran back toward Canada. After agents identified themselves as Border Patrol, one agent fired a taser that incapacitated a suspect later identified as Scott Allen Cameron, a Canadian citizen. It could not immediately be determined if Cameron has an attorney.

- Associated Press

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