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News Roundup: Gov. Calls For White House Meeting After U.S. Extends Border Closure With Canada

Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the U.S. extending border closures until Aug. 21, a major opioid settlement and more for Thursday, July 22.

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As Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended and coronavirus restrictions lifted statewide, we will no longer be reporting daily case numbers at the top of this newsletter. Click here for the latest on new cases, and findthe latest vaccination data online any time.

1. U.S. extends border closure with Canada until Aug. 21

The United States government is extending the closure of the borders with Canada and Mexico until at least next month.

The new order from the Department of Homeland Security will keep Canadians from crossing into the U.S. for non-essential travel until August 21, but it won't stop Americans from going to Canada.

That move comes just two days after Canada announced that vaccinated Americans will be allowed to travel in and out of Canada beginning Aug. 9.

Some members of Congress representing border areas have reacted angrily to the move by the Biden administration, calling it an unnecessary measure that will hurt families and the economy in their communities.

Gov. Phil Scott has called for the White House to meet with northern border governors to help sort it out.

- Henry Epp

2. Vermont to receive $60 million in opioid settlement

Vermont is set to receive about $60 million in a major opioid settlement.

Four drug companies — Cardinal, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Johnson & Johnson — have reached a nationwide settlement agreement that would distribute $26 billion to states and municipalities.

The companies have all played significant roles in the opioid epidemic.

In a press release, Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan says some of the money should be directed to addressing the opioid crisis in the state.

The year 2020 was a record one for overdose deaths, according to the CDC. A total of 157 Vermonters died of opioid overdoses last year.

States now have 30 days to review the agreement.

- Anna Van Dine

3. Recent rainfall improves prolonged drought in parts of state

Recent rainfall has somewhat improved prolonged drought in some parts of Vermont, and rainy conditions have led to high water in some rivers and streams in the southern and central parts of the state.

As of Thursday, portions of 10 northern and central Vermont counties are experiencing moderate drought. That’s down from 11 last week, according to the latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Last week, State Climatologist Dr. Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux said June brought some of the lowest groundwater and stream flows on record.

And while Windham, Rutland, Bennington and Windsor counties are no longer experiencing drought, NOAA reported Monday that northeastern Vermont would need to see almost 9 inches of rain in the next month to end abnormally dry conditions.

In the Champlain Valley, just over 7 inches would do the trick.

Statewide, an estimated 314,000 people live in areas experiencing drought. The Vermont Drought Task Force held its second meeting Thursday.

- Abagael Giles

Waitsfield declares state of emergency following heavy rain

Waitsfield has declared a state of emergency after heavy rains from recent storms washed out a road and damaged several culverts.

WCAX reports rains wiped out Butternut Hill Road, stranding about 20 people, but road crews shipped dirt and sand across town early Wednesday to create a temporary road.

That allowed locals to leave their homes, but officials say it could take weeks before the road is rebuilt and the culverts are repaired.

The town's emergency declaration will open up access to state funds to help pay for the repairs.

- Matthew Smith

4. State reports largest number of new COVID cases in two months

Vermont health officials reported 34 new COVID-19 infections Thursday.

It's the state's largest number of new cases in more than two months. Chittenden County had 15 of the new infections.

Hospitalizations were down to one person in intensive care.

To date, 83.3% of eligible Vermonters have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

5. Some Burlington beaches reopen after closure for blue-green algae blooms

Some Burlington beaches closed because of potentially toxic algae blooms have reopened.

About a dozen beaches around the state, including several in Burlington, were closed Wednesday because of cyanobacteria blooms.

The latest from Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront states Blanchard Beach, North Beach and Texaco Beach are now clear and open. But Oakledge Cove and Leddy Beach remain closed.

Cyanobacteria are a natural part of freshwater ecosystems, but blooms on the water’s surface and along shorelines can produce toxins harmful to humans and animals.

- Matthew Smith

6. New computer tool can analyze tweets for real-time social trends

A new computer tool that can analyze billions of tweets may be able to shed light on key trends in society in real time, and, researchers say, possibly predict things like political unrest.

The University of Vermont’s Peter Dodds worked with a group of eight scientists to create the instrument called the "storywrangler." The instrument measures the use of key words and phrases in Twitter posts and organizes them into story patterns.

"Stories matter,” Dodds said. “They’re enormously important, an enormous part of how we think, communicate, and make mistakes about the world."

The tool analyzed about 10% of all tweets made since 2008.

Recent findings about the project were published last week in the journal Science Advances.

- Reed Nye

7. Addison County farm now has largest anaerobic digester in Northeast

Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury is now home to the largest anaerobic digester in the Northeast.

Several dozen people, including Gov. Phil Scott, gathered at the dairy farm Wednesday to celebrate.

The digester has the capacity to turn more than 180 tons of food waste, and 100 tons of cow manure, into biogas in a single day.

It's extracted from existing, organic materials and not from the ground.

Vanguard Renewables CEO John Hanselman, a partner on the project, says the process also provides bedding and fertilizer for the farm.

“And that organic fertilizer goes right back into the fields, returning those unused nutrients that would otherwise end up as leachate back into the soil to enhance the carbon health of that soil."

Middlebury College plans to purchase a little more than half of the gas created by the facility to replace its current use of traditional natural gas.

Read more here.

- Elodie Reed

8. UVMMC cyberattack traced to employee opening one email

The cyberattack that paralyzed the University of Vermont Medical Center last year was ultimately set off when a worker opened a personal email on a corporate laptop, infecting the computer with software that later led to the network-wide attack.

The medical center's IT department discovered the attack last October, and learned the network's data had been encrypted.

The center's head of information technologytells VTDiggerthe attack was ultimately traced back to a single employee who took a work laptop on vacation, and opened a personal email from their local homeowners association.

The otherwise legitimate email came from a company that had been hacked, allowing cyber criminals to install software on the laptop that launched the attack when the worker next connected to the UVM Medical Center's network.

Medical center officials contacted the FBI. The hack ultimately cost the hospital between $40 and $50 million. They say no patient data was breached.

- Marlon Hyde

9. Nature sanctuary searching for escaped hawk (again)

Workers at the VINS nature sanctuary in Quechee are searching for a desert hawk that escaped over a week ago.

The bird, named Paige, was born in captivity and was among a small number of birds trained by staff at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science for public demonstrations

The Valley Newsreports the female Harris’s hawk escaped on July 13 during a training session.

The staff were following a signal from a tracking device on the bird, but it went dead a day after she flew away.

It's the same bird that escaped last summer for almost two days.

The nature nonprofit is also a sanctuary for injured birds in Vermont and served more than 1,000 birds last year.

Harris’s hawks are native to the southwest and are unusually social predators, often living and hunting in small groups. The birds are not adapted to live in cold temperatures.

- Associated Press

Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.

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