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Vermont News Updates For Wednesday, September 16

Two people in a bookstore wearing masks
Shanta Lee Gander
Antidote Books co-owner Ruth Antoinette Rodriguez makes a beverage for a customer while they maintain a safe distance in the Putney shop.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, the Chittenden County State's Attorney's decision to eliminate cash bail and more for Wednesday, September 16.

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The latest coronavirus data:


One new case of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health identified one new case of COVID-19 Wednesday, which was in Chittenden County. Another 460 people tested negative.

Three people are currently hospitalized with the disease, and 1,530 people are reported to have recovered.

- Karen Anderson and Elodie Reed

Chittenden County State's Attorney gets rid of cash bail

The top prosecutor in Vermont’s largest county will no longer ask courts to use cash bail to hold people awaiting trial.

Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George announced the new policy on Wednesday.

Courts use bail – fees a person must pay in order to be released from custody – to compel them to show up for hearings. But George says that system allows wealthy to be released, while poor individuals remain locked up. 

In a statement, George said bail doesn’t make communities safer and “only serve to hold poor people in jail on an amount of bail we know they cannot afford.”

George said her office would work with the defense attorneys to get rid of bail from pending cases. She did add that her office may still seek to hold people pre-trial if they believe there is a serious threat to public safety.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Burlington mayor says the city could, but hopefully won't need to, remove protestors from Battery Park

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger is not ruling out moving to clear protesters from Battery Park. That's where demonstrators have been camping out for the past three weeks, calling for the removal of three city police officers who've used force against residents in the past two years.

Weinberger though says he hopes the city does not have to take steps to remove protesters.

"We certainly could reach a point where we do have to take further steps to enforce our laws,” he said. “My hope though is that we can reach some kind of substantive resolution instead, where the protesters feel they have been heard and that there has been meaningful progress."

Weinberger has said he has concerns about the safety of protesters and other residents, but he says when he was given a tour of the encampment by protesters, he found it to be orderly and organized.

- Henry Epp

Gov. Phil Scott vetoes climate change bill

Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed the state's newest climate change legislation that would require the state to meet targeted reduced carbon emissions.

Passed by the House and Senate, the Global Warming Solutions Act called for the creation of a climate council to come up with a plan to reduce pollution. 

The governor said he agrees with the intent of the bill, but vetoed it Tuesday over concerns that it may "lead to inefficient spending and costly court battles". 

According to Seven Days, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson vowed "prompt action" to override the veto.

Read VPR's story here.

- Karen Anderson

Dangerous chemical levels found in Burlington High School

Students at Burlington High School still don't have a return-to-school date after air quality tests revealed potentially dangerous chemical levels in parts of the building.

The poor air quality was found while preparing for the high school’s future redevelopment.

According to WCAX, PCB levels that far exceed EPA standards were found in building F, which mainly houses the Burlington Technical Center.

Officials say in order to remove and legally dispose of contaminated materials, large portions of the structure need to be removed.

Burlington School Superintendent Tom Flanagan says there’s no telling when students can return to class in person.

- Karen Anderson

State officials say schools have flexibility in following COVID-19 guidelines

State officials say schools need to follow a flexible approach when dealing with COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

Since schools reopened a week ago, two cases have been reported at the Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, and one case was found in the Hartford School District.

Education Secretary Dan French says both schools have followed Department of Health protocols. But he notes that Crossett Brook officials decided to close, while the Hartford School remains open.

“The point I would make about our guidance for reopening school is that firstly, it is comprehensive and proscriptive,” French said. “But how the guidance is implemented at the local level requires a consideration of the operational conditions of each school district, and this conditions vary significantly across the state.”

French says Crossett Brook decided to close for the rest of the week because officials had problems finding enough staff for in-person classes.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

Quebec Premier: Province risks second coronavirus wave

Quebec Premier Francois Legault says the province faces the risk of a second wave of coronavirus infections. That's as the province recorded over 200 cases in a day for the sixth day in a row Tuesday.

Legault encourages residents to avoid gatherings as much as possible, according to the CBC.

While Montreal was hit hard by the virus in the spring, more recent outbreaks are occurring in other parts of the province, including Quebec City.

- Henry Epp

More from VPR: Reporter Debrief: COVID-19 Cases Tick Up In Quebec, Premier Threatens A Lockdown

U.S. backing away from aluminum tariffs after Canada threatens retaliation

The United States is apparently backing away from imposing a 10% tariff on Canadian aluminum, hours after Canada threatened retaliatory measures.

The CBC reports that the move came after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would unveil measures to counter "unjust" American aluminum tariffs Tuesday afternoon.

The Canadian government had previously threatened $3.6 billion in countermeasures after President Donald Trump in August announced tariffs that affected about half of Canada's aluminum exports to the U.S.

The governors of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine sent a letter to Trump last week, calling for an end to the tariffs due to their economic impact in northern New England.

- Mark Davis

Pediatric infectious disease expert recommends people of all ages, risk-levels take COVID precautions

While COVID-19 seems to have greater effects on people with certain illnesses and risk factors, much is still much unknown about who contracts the virus. 

Dr. Benjamin Lee, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Vermont Children's Hospital, told Vermont Edition that being younger, healthier and having fewer risk factors does not exclude people from contracting COVID-19.

“That shouldn't provide reassurance to folks that it's just okay if they go out and not socially distance, not follow the recommended strategies to potentially prevent infection,” Lee said.

That includes kids attending school, where they are required to wear cloth face coverings. Lee recommended that masks be used for one day before being washed for the next use.

Lee says that the more data and experience collected, the more likely we will understand the long-term and short-term effects of COVID-19.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Emily Aiken

Scott administration working on strategies to help tourism-related businesses

The Scott administration is working on strategies to help tourist-related businesses survive what's projected to be a very disappointing fall season.

Commerce and Community Development Secretary Lindsay Kurrle says some lodging properties are experiencing a 90% drop in reservations because of the state's COVID-19 pandemic quarantine rules.

Hotels and restaurants are also currently operating at only 50% capacity.

“We're certainly concerned that we're unable to invite as many people to our state right now without folks going through quarantine,” she said. “The result is that it will impact our lodging sector, food services, retailers, folks who do rely on people from outside Vermont to come in and spend money."    

In addition to likely announcing expanded business capacity limits soon, the administration is looking at a plan to divert federal CARES money to tourist businesses. It's also urging Congress to include new business grants in a second stimulus package.

- Bob Kinzel

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