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Vermont News Updates For Monday, September 7

A building with two mural paintings, one of climate activist Greta Thunberg and another abstract, colorful square
Nina Keck
Murals by LMNOPI and Chaffee Art Center students add a splash of color to the former Lincoln Iron Works in Rutland, which today is home to the Vermont Farmers Food Center and Rutland's indoor farmers market.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, a statement from Burlington's former interim police chief and more for Monday, September 7.

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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 today Monday. The cases are in Bennington, Windsor, and Orange counties. Another 1,930 people tested negative for the disease.

To date, the state has tested 145,993 people for the coronavirus and identified 1,651 cases of COVID-19.

One person is hospitalized with COVID-19 in Vermont, and 58 people have died.  Another 1,465 people are reported to have recovered.

- Anna Van Dine and Elodie Reed

Jennifer Morrison will not return as Burlington's interim police chief

Jennifer Morrison will not return as interim Burlington police chief as had been planned when she originally left the position to care for her husband in June.

In a letter to the city's mayor, Miro Weinberger, Morrison said that her choice was partially due to her husband's health situation, but said: "The main reason I will not return is because I believe that too many members of the current city council are more interested in social activism than good governance."

Morrison went on to criticize decisions made by the council, including reducing the police force by attrition to 74 sworn officers.

In a statement, Mayor Weinberger said that acting chief Jon Murad will now continue in the role until a permanent chief is named.

- Sam Gale Rosen

More from VPR: Progressive City Councilor On Protests, Policing In Burlington

Gov. signs policing reform executive order

Gov. Phil Scott has signed an executive order to accelerate a series of reforms of the state's public safety services.

The order released Friday by the governor also begins a process to initiate what Scott calls a comprehensive, ongoing discussion with state residents, especially those from historically marginalized communities, about how law enforcement can best serve the needs of the community.

The initiative includes seven short-term priorities, including uniform statewide policies for the use of force and police body cameras. It also makes three proposals for the 2021 Legislature, including a law to control use-of-force investigations and reviews, a universal reporting system for misconduct allegations, and the creation of models for community oversight.

- Associated Press

Vermont municipalities worried about budget shortfalls in 2021

Vermont cities and towns expect to face difficult budget challenges in the year ahead. Federal money for COVID relief must be spent before the end of this year.

Karen Horn, who’s with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, says that’s a problem for municipalities that will face the financial impacts from the pandemic in 2021.

“It’s pretty much a perfect storm for local governments and I think that we’re going to feel the brunt of it next year,” Horn said. “Local governments across the country are not going to get through this in any kind of decent shape unless there is some unrestricted funding from the federal government that lets you address revenue shortfalls.”

The League sent a survey to its members, and almost 30% of the respondents said they’ve already received requests from property owners who say they won't be able to pay their taxes this year.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Health officials: Mask mandate has led to more compliance

Health officials say Vermont's mask mandate has led to more people wearing masks amid the pandemic, and that those refusing to mask up are doing so at the same rate that they usually ignore other public health measures.

Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan tells Vermont Edition that public health officials always expect some pushback of any public health measure—and masks are no exception.

“You do have a handful of people, all the time really, on some public health issues, who really feel like something is an infraction on their freedom, or philosophically goes against them. In those cases, unless you have pretty strong enforcement, it’s pretty difficult to move those people,” Dolan said. “So I think what we’re seeing here is consistency with the way public health works. And it’s pretty unfortunate, because this is life or death.”

Children under 2 and people with medical or developmental challenges are exempt from the mandate.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Matthew Smith

This third grade class will be taught entirely outside

For the fourth year running, Nicolette Raney of Hartford's Dothan Brook School will be teaching her class of third graders in a clearing in the woods.

As in past years, she's set up a fire pit, a white board, a small canopy and stumps for seats. This year, Raney is adding hammocks so each child will have a personal mask-free space in which to read, write and recharge.

Also this year, the class will meet outside every school day. In the past, it’s been only one day each week.

“So we've had an outdoor learning component for the past three years. And this year, with the COVID restrictions on school, it presented a really fun opportunity to take learning outside all the time,” Raney said.

Raney says the kids will spent about four hours outside each school day. She says in past years cold weather hasn't deterred them: They simply bundle up.

- Betty Smith

Leahy calls for more federal funds to be given to states

Sen. Patrick Leahy is calling on Senate Republican leaders to hold individual votes on the separate provisions of a new economic stimulus package.

The GOP package includes new expanded unemployment benefits, special grants for virtually all taxpayers, and business recovery funds.

It doesn't include new money for states, municipalities, schools or hospitals, and Leahy thinks the legislation should address these additional needs since many states, including Vermont, are facing significant revenue shortfalls that could result in huge budget cuts.

"We're in this all together, and the only way it's going to work is … if the federal government gives the resources,” Leahy said. “No state is going to make money out of this, I mean everybody's losing money. Look what we've lost in Vermont with our tourist industry and all our other companies that have had to close."  

The Senate is expected to consider a new economic stimulus package when Congress returns to Washington after its summer recess.

 - Bob Kinzel

Cape Air sees massive decrease in Vermont area ridership

COVID-related travel restrictions have devastated airlines including Cape Air, which provides federally-subsidized passenger service in and out of Rutland and Lebanon, New Hampshire.

In April, Cape Air’s ridership between Rutland and Boston plummeted 95%. Numbers got a bit better as the months wore on, but not much, and ridership in August was still down 73% compared to last year.

Cape Air’s Andrew Bonney says the airline’s overall losses are similar to larger carriers, but differ by region.

“One of the biggest impacts has been the individual states’ requirements or territories’ requirements for either stay-at-home orders or various rules, and managing those impositions,” Bonney said. “That's been tough for customers. And we do see significant changes in demand based on what the individual states or even communities are imposing.”

For instance, Bonney says Cape Air flights in Montana were only down about 30%, and some of their Caribbean routes were actually up this year.

Cape Air has been introducing new nine-passenger planes, and Bonney says that will continue. Despite the drop off in ridership, he added the airline has no plans to change its current schedule in Rutland and Lebanon.

- Nina Keck

Recovery advocate says social isolation making it more difficult to manage addiction

Social isolation is making it even harder for people to fight addiction.

Tracie Hauck is executive director of The Turning Point Center in Rutland, a nonprofit that provides a safe place for people in recovery to socialize and find services. Hauck says the pandemic has forced them to suspend a lot of their programs.

“We've lost a couple people that we know due to overdoses. And, people are relapsing, you know, because they get worn out with this whole not having contact, not having 12 Step meetings that they can go to,” she said. “People early in recovery really need structure. You know, a regular schedule of who they're checking in with, you know, whether it's their probation officer or whatever, sometimes to help keep them straight. And when all that stops, they're on their own. It's just a whole catch-22."

Drug treatment programs have had to limit the number of people they can accept because of the pandemic.

Hauck is currently seeking grant funding to expand Turning Point’s services beyond Rutland City to make help easier to access county-wide.

- Nina Keck

More from VPR: Report Examines Overdose Deaths, How To Stop Them

Gov. Scott encourages Vermonters to fill out 2020 Census

Gov. Phil Scott is urging Vermonters to fill out their census forms.

As of last month, Vermont had one of the lowest census response rates in the country.

“Getting a complete count is critical to making sure we best serve Vermonters,” Scott said. “It impacts the amount of federal funds we receive, and also many more important services.”

Vermonters who haven’t filled out a census form yet can do so by visiting

- Peter Hirschfeld

Vermont State Police investigating man's death following night spent at St. Johnsbury prison

Vermont State Police are investigating the death of a New Hampshire man who died earlier this week after spending a night at the St. Johnsbury Northeast Correctional Complex for detox treatment.

Investigators say state and local police had several interactions with 32-year-old Joshua Dovholuk after a car crash on Sunday and before his death on Monday. Police say none of those interactions involved use of force.

State police report a preliminary investigation found Dovholuk suffered from a significant pre-existing condition and had not been following his treatment plan. The state medical examiner is still waiting for final toxicology reports.

- Karen Anderson

Steamboat wreckage discovered in Lake Champlain

The paddlewheels of one of the earliest known steamboat wrecks in the U.S. have been recovered in Lake Champlain.

The Division for Historic Preservation and Lake Champlain Maritime Museum say the paddlewheels are likely from the Steamboat Phoenix, which caught fire and sank exactly 201 years ago on Sept. 4, 1819 in Lake Champlain.

The wreckage was discovered by diver Gary Lefebvre of Colchester. He identified the unusual wreckage off Colchester Shoal using a remotely-operated vehicle.

- Karen Anderson

Demand in gardening (and now canning) supplies up during pandemic

With time on their hands and no place to go, many people turned to gardening last spring, leading to shortages of seeds and other gardening supplies.

Now canning and freezing supplies can be hard to find.

Mat Fraser is one of the co-owners of Dan and Whit's general store in Norwich, and this year, they had to switch canning jar distributors. Fraser says they haven't been able to get some canning items at all.

“Like the jar lifters to take the jars out of the hot water bath, we can't get those,” Fraser said. “So people have to improvise.”

Fraser can't say whether there may be other COVID-driven shortages ahead. But they're stocking up on extra supplies of non-perishable food items like canned goods and peanut butter and jelly, just in case.

- Betty Smith

More from All Things Gardening: Sharing The Harvest: Creative Ways To Be Generous With Your Garden's Bounty

Landline outage left Montgomery residents unable to call 911

An outage at Consolidated Communications left residents of Montgomery unable to call 911 two weekends ago.

VTDigger reports that residents of the Franklin County town were unable to call anyone outside their local phone code after a falling tree caused the service disruption. The issue was repaired by Sunday evening.

But some residents were frustrated, noting that because many in the town don't have cell service, and the landlines weren't working, they were unable to report the outage.

A spokesperson for Consolidated Communications said they take access to 911 very seriously.

- Sam Gale Rosen

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