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Vermont News Updates For Wednesday, September 9

SunCommon employees install solar panels on the roof of a white farmhouse.
Sarah Priestap
SunCommon workers Chad Batemen, left, and Maddie Young install solar panels on a home in South Strafford on Sept. 4

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, additional stimulus checks for August and more for Wednesday, September 9.

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The latest coronavirus data:


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

The Vermont Department of Health reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases identified to date in the state to 1,656.

Of the new cases, one was identified in Franklin and Bennington counties, each.

In Vermont, one person is currently hospitalized with the disease, and four people are hospitalized with symptoms under investigation.

So far, 1,468 people have recovered from confirmed cases of the illness, and there have been 58 deaths. No new deaths were reported Wednesday.

The state reports it has tested 147,170 people, and 65 people are being monitored as close contacts of confirmed cases.

- Abagael Giles

More from VPR: State Officials Hope Schools Can Expand In-Person Learning If COVID Cases Remain Low

VPR, Vermont PBS announce merger

Vermont's biggest nonprofit media organizations are merging.

Officials at Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS say the goal is to provide stronger public service programming through a combined radio, TV, digital news and entertainment network.

The boards of the two nonprofits voted Wednesday to ratify the deal.

Marguerite Dibble, the chair of the Vermont PBS board, says the merger has been studied for more than year.

“It all sort of came together after looking through it very thoroughly to check all the boxes and feel that we could create a future and do something that is truly nationally innovative and create a public media company that is able to serve a community in a way that is truly unique and truly outstanding,” Dibble said.

The merger requires approval from the Federal Communications Commission. The anticipated launch date is July 2021.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

500 pounds of hemp stolen from Moretown business

Five-hundred pounds of hemp were stolen from a business in Moretown earlier this week.

According to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, the entire crop of hemp at Fancy Plants was chopped down and carted away in the early house of Monday morning.

Stephanie Smith manages the hemp program at the agency. She said there have previously been hemp thefts at this time of year, since the plants are coming into flower.

"In prior years, thefts have been like, a couple of thefts here and there, pulled up from the roots, and/or, you know, the top flowers being taken or clipped from plants," Smith said. "But this one does seem unusual."

The 50 hemp plants were cut at the base and taken in their entirety. The Agency of Agriculture said the theft appears to have been premeditated and involved multiple people.

Vermont State Police are investigating.

- Anna Van Dine

Zuckerman considering getting his first flu vaccine this fall

Health officials are recommending Vermonters get their flu shots in the next few months.

Democratic and Progressive nominee for governor and current Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman told Vermont Edition that he's considering getting his first flu vaccination.

“For me to get the flu shot and help relieve the pressure on our medical system for what may be a challenging fall, is a small step for me to do to help make the system healthier for everybody,” he said.

Zuckerman says he would not make the flu vaccine mandatory for Vermonters if he wins the gubernatorial election this fall.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Emily Aiken

Tariff on aluminum expected to raise prices on goods across New England

The governors of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine say a 10% tariff on aluminum imports from Canada is raising prices for manufacturers and consumers in northern New England.

Last month, President Donald Trump reinstated a 10% tariff on aluminum imports from Canada.

And elected officials say the surcharge will inflate the costs of everything from washing machines to a can of beer.

Gov. Phil Scott and his counterparts in New Hampshire and Maine sent a letter to Trump on Tuesday, asking him to referse the tariff.

Trump said Canada has undercut domestic aluminum producers by flooding the U.S. with cheap product.

But Scott said the tariffs will deal a blow to local manufacturing industries that are already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Teachers' union expresses concern about schools' capacities to meet safety standards

As students return to school this week, the president of Vermont's teacher's union says he has concerns about the ability of some schools to meet safety standards.

Vermont NEA President Don Tinney said that some districts may not have the resources to meet precautionary standards necessary to ensure safety for students and staff.

"Remember, we have a great disparity in the wealth of districts and the capacity of districts varies across the state," Tinney said. "So it's super important that we check in with all districts and make sure those resources are there. Because some local districts simply don't have the capacity."

Tinney said that teachers are excited to get back into classrooms with students, but experiencing high levels of stress around COVID-19.

Read or listen to the whole story.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Vermont House approves stimulus checks for undocumented workers

The Vermont House has approved a bill htat will send $1,200 stimulus checks to Vermont residents who were denied similar federal payments because of their immigration status.

The bill is designed to help more than 1,000 undocumented workers in Vermont's dairy industry.

Many of these dairy jobs have been deemed to be essential positions by federal officials during the pandemic.

Wells River Representative Chip Conquest urged his colleagues to support the bill.

"If we believe that the work is so essential to the state's wellbeing that we have asked them, from the beginning of the pandemic, not to quarantine but to leave their homes and go to their place of work, it would be unjust to deny them the same financial support that all other Vermonters got to help them through these difficult circumstances," Conquest said.

The $5 million measure is expected to be reviewed by the Senate next week.

- Bob Kinzel

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

Health officials say severity of flu season will depend on public behavior

While some signs from the southern hemisphere suggest that coronavirus precautions will slow the spread of the flu, health officials say that may not be the case for the United States.

Christine Finley, the immunizations program manager at the Department of Health, told Vermont Edition that the issue is whether Americans comply with precautionary health policies.

"The one piece that's a concern is that in many of those countries, people are much more likely to adhere to the social distancing and wearing masks than we have possibly been in the United States," Finley said.

Finley said flu shots are available in Vermont, whether you have insurance or not, and locations to get a vaccine are available on the Vermont Department of Health website.

Head herefor more information about where to get a flu vaccine.

- Emily Aiken

Vermont Department of Health says it will independently evaluate any COVID-19 vaccine

States have been told by the Centers for Disease Control to prepare for the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine in the next few months.

Vermont Deputy Health Department Commissioner Tracy Dolan told Vermont Edition that when the time comes, Vermont will not distribute any kind of treatment from the CDC without health department approval.

"We will certainly not promote a process or product or any procedure that we don't have comfort with," Dolan said. "So, as much as the CDC may recommend it, we will certainly have our own people look at it."

Dolan said the state must utilize its discretion to ensure the safest option for Vermonters.

Listen to the full conversation, as heard on Vermont Edition.

- Emily Aiken

Some unemployed Vermonters to receive additional stimulus checks

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said that Vermonters who were out of work during August because of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic will soon receive some extra federal unemployment benefits.

Congress initially voted for a plan that provided individuals with an additional $600 a week, but the program expired at the end of July.

The Trump Administration has moved to send an additional $300 a week for the first three weeks of August.

Commissioner Harrington said he hopes to distribute these funds as soon as possible.

"My hope is that we could start issuing checks as early as next week, if not before," Harrington said.

Congress is also working on a second pandemic economic stimulus package that could include money for most Americans and many businesses.

- Bob Kinzel

Gov. Scott says he's confident in Vermont's mail-in voting system

Gov. Phil Scott said he has confidence that Vermont's mail-in voting system will result in an honest tabulation of ballots.

All "active" registered voters in Vermont will be set a General Election ballot in two weeks.

They can mail it back to their town clerk or drop it off in-person on or before election day.

A number of Republican leaders argue that this system could lead to voter fraud, but Scott doesn't agree.

"I think the mail-in type of approach is new," Scott said. "I think it could have been done in a different way. The reality is that's the way it's going to be done in Vermont, and I believe it will be done successfully."

Vermont is one of nine states that will send out ballots to all voters for the November election.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: Vermont's Universal Mail-In Voting Has Campaigns Rethinking Outreach

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