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A New Black Lives Matter Mural In Putney, COVID-Related School Closure And More

Volunteer kneels to paint Black Lives Matter on the street, in front of a tractor
Evie Lovett, courtesy
Volunteer Georgia Hornsby of Westminster helps to paint a Black Lives Matter mural on a town street in Putney. The effort was led by the Windham County NAACP. Similar murals have been painted in Burlington, Bennington and Montpelier.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about coronavirus, a new Black Lives Matter mural in Putney and more for Monday, September 28.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. St. Johnsbury School to go remote following positive COVID-19 test

A positive COVID-19 case at the St. Johnsbury School led school officials to go fully remote for Kindergarten-through-eighth grades Monday.

The Caledonian Record reports Superintendent Brian Ricca announced Sunday a member of the school community had tested positive for the coronavirus. Due to medical privacy laws, the school can not release the name of the individual with COVID-19, nor did school officials say if the positive test was a student or staff member.

This makes St. Johnsbury School one of only a few schools in the state to have a school member test positive for the disease.

The Vermont Department of Health is conducting contact tracing and school officials are expected to release more information on Monday on the plan for the remainder of the school year.

Statewide, the health department reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. No one is currently hospitalized with a confirmed case in Vermont. To date, 1,745 people have tested positive for the virus in Vermont, and 1,590 people have recovered from confirmed cases in the state. 58 people have died.

The state reports it has tested 161,925 people. Today, one new cases was identified in Chittenden County, one was identified in Franklin County and one was identified in Washington County.

- Karen Anderson and Abagael Giles

2. State officials have yet to name a restart date for Amtrak service

State officials say they hope to restart Amtrak service in Vermont soon, but have yet to commit to a specific date.

Passenger rail service has been shut down in the state since March 26, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. State transportation leaders say they are reviewing case numbers in the areas where Amtrak passes through to reach Vermont, but have not said what level of virus transmission would be acceptable in those areas to bring Amtrak back.

Rail advocate Carl Fowler would like to see more specifics.

"What I'm not getting from them is a definition of what is safe, and that's kind of my frustration," Fowler said.

Fowler said he hopes the state brings Amtrak back before Thanksgiving, to give college students the option to take the train home for the holiday break.

Speaking to the state's rail council earlier this month, Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn told members the administration is committed to passenger rail.

"I'd like to put to rest any thought, rumor, conjecture that this administration doesn't support passenger rail or that our delay in restarting Amtrak is some way of trying to kill Amtrak," he said.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Henry Epp

3. Health department unlikely to add flu shot to list of mandatory vaccines for K-12 students

It's now very unlikely that the Vermont Health Department will add a flu shot to the list of vaccines that students must have before attending K-12 schools in the state.

Last month, the state of Massachusetts added this vaccine mandate, and Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said his department would take a close look at this plan.

Levine said there was a lot of public opposition to the bill in Vermont, and he's decided at this time not to pursue this proposal.

"I don't think you could mandate it for just school-aged children and young adults and not for the whole population because, again, they're all part of the same greater community," Levine said. "And so it would have to be pretty much across the board, but we've had no such intention at this point in time to mandate the flu vaccine."

Levine is urging all Vermonters to voluntarily get a flu vaccine in the coming weeks.

But many Vermonters are struggling to find availability of flu shots, and Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan told Vermont Edition the state is receiving the vaccines as manufacturers develop them.

"We've ordered 132,000 doses," Dolan said Monday. "We have 57,000 that have been distributed. Pharmacies may not have them yet; not all of the pharmacies have them."

Dolan said pharmacies should have more vaccines soon. She recommends reaching out to your primary care provider to get vaccines for children.

More information on how to get a flu vaccine can be found on the health department's website.

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

- Bob Kinzel and Emily Aiken

4. USDA awards new contract for Farmers to Families Food Boxes to Mass. company

The USDA has awarded the contract for distributing the next round of Farmers To Families Food Boxes in Vermont to a Massachusetts company.

Distribution will now shift from The Abbey Group, a Vermont company, to Costa Fruit & Produce, based in Boston.

The food box program was designed with the dual purpose of helping farmers and feeding people during the pandemic.

And while food will continue to reach people in need, John Sayles of the Vermont Foodbank regrets the decision.

"It's really disappointing, because first of all, we had a great relationship with the Abbey Group. And there won't be any Vermont food in the boxes," Sayles said. "So Vermont farmers and dairy producers are kind of being left in the lurch here."

Sayles adds that the food bank hopes to offset some of the resulting loss to Vermont producers by increasing its own efforts to buy local.

- Betty Smith

More from VPR: As 'Food Box' Program Is Renewed, Questions Remain If It's Best Way To Feed Hungry

5. Farmers should apply for federal COVID-19 relief before Oct. 1

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets wants farmers and food businesses to apply for COVID relief money before an Oct. 1 deadline.

The agency has $25 million available in federal funds to help dairy farmers and processors deal with the economic impact of the pandemic.

Abbey Willard directs the agency's development division. She said some operations have been slow to apply, or just too busy to complete their applications.

"I think there have been many businesses that have either been just barely getting by, in certain categories," Willard said. "There have been others that have been totally swamped by the shifts and pivots that they made as a business and have just barely had a breath."

Willard said the amount to be awarded varies according to the farm's total production, but the goal is to get all 630 dairy farms some money. Another $8.5 million is available for other agriculture and working lands businesses.

- John Dillon

6. Vermont has made progress in responding to the 2020 census

Gov. Phil Scott said the state has made huge progress in responding to the 2020 census.

Last month, Vermont had one of the worst participation rates of any state in the country.

Gov. Scott was concerned because the census is often used to allocate federal funds.

Scott urged Vermonters to sign up for the census and he says many people have responded.

"I'm pleased to report, while we previously lagged behind the rest of the country, we're now fifth in the rankings and on track to match our 2010 response. But we can do even better," he said.

The deadline for completing the census forms was going to be the end of this month, but a federal judge extended the date until the end of October.

However, that ruling is expected to be challenged by the Census Bureau.

Respond to the 2020 Census here.

- Bob Kinzel

7. The Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium is planning an expansion

The Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury is planning its first expansion in 125 years.

The plans call for a three-story, 6,000-square-foot addition of glass and wood framing. The addition would house space for modern, hands-on exhibits focused on meteorology and astronomy, and an elevator to provide access to the museum's balcony.

Museum Executive Director Adam Kane said the museum has received $600,000 in funding for part of the project. Officials are awaiting word on a $2 million grant application. Kane said the museum originally developed plans for a much larger addition more than a decade ago, but over the years many of the museum's needs were addressed in other ways.

- The Associated Press

8. New Hampshire weighs reopening retail at 100% capacity

The New Hampshire governor's economic reopening task force has approved updated guidance allowing full capacity at retail stores, which have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Retailers have been limited to half capacity, and while some sectors like garden centers have done well, some clothing stores have seen sales drop by 80%.

Nancy Kyle, head of the state's retail association, says allowing stores to return to 100% capacity will be critical to the holiday shopping season. The task force sent its recommendations to the governor and public health officials for approval.

- The Associated Press

9. Quebec, Montreal heighten restrictions as COVID-19 cases climb

Quebec health officials say Montreal and Quebec City will enter the highest alert level in response to COVID-19, likely bringing new restrictions for bars and restaurants.

According to CBC News, Premier Francois Legault is expected to hold a news conference Monday at 5:30 p.m. to outline the restrictions.  Officials say they hope to keep schools open.

Last week, provincial health officials urged the public to stop socializing for the next month in order to slow the spread of the virus.

Quebec reported 750 new cases of COVID-19 Monday.

- Karen Anderson

10. Deputy health commissioner says Vt. schools will shift towards more in-person learning

Vermont's deputy health commissioner says she thinks schools will begin to move toward more in person learning. Tracy Dolan told Vermont Edition Monday that continued low cases of COVID-19 will help schools move students into classrooms.

Over the weekend, schools moved to Step 3, which allows gymnasiums and cafeterias to be used as intended. Athletic competitions between schools can also be held.

Dolan said Monday the department has not seen cases spread in schools with in-person learning.

"Even as of today, so far we've seen no transmission from student-to-student in a school, which really says to me that the teachers, administrators and students are doing a great job with the guidelines they've been given,” Dolan said.

Dolan said she hopes Step 3 will make those who are going to school in-person more comfortable in the buildings.

- Emily Aiken

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

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