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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

State Says Vermont Students Should Wear Masks When School Resumes

Posted By on Tue, Aug 3, 2021 at 4:06 PM

Education Sec. Dan French - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Education Sec. Dan French
Vermont students should wear masks when school starts in a few weeks, Education Secretary Dan French said Tuesday. But with no state of emergency in effect, the "guidance" from the state amounts to recommendations, and rules will be up to local school districts, he said.

Districts should ask students to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, French said at Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly news conference. Later, at schools where 80 percent of students over age 12 and staff have received at least one dose of vaccine, the guidance calls for districts to allow vaccinated students and staff to remove the masks. Students under 12 aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated.

French noted there won’t be any social distancing in the state’s guidance, which is expected to be issued this week.

“Masking is a good strategy at the beginning of the year as students and staff settle into patterns of full in-person instruction,” he said.

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Downtown Burlington's L.L. Bean to Move to Williston

Posted By on Tue, Aug 3, 2021 at 10:48 AM

The L.L. Bean store next to what's commonly called "the pit" - MATTHEW ROY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Matthew Roy ©️ Seven Days
  • The L.L. Bean store next to what's commonly called "the pit"
When Cathy Davis, president of the Lake Champlain Chamber, heard the L.L. Bean store is moving out of downtown Burlington to Williston, she wondered if the many delays in the neighboring CityPlace mixed-use development were a reason. L.L. Bean has been open in downtown Burlington since 2014. The retailer is right next to the stalled CityPlace site, commonly known in Burlington as "the pit."

“It’s disappointing to see them leave,” Davis said.  She said the retailer had probably expected to have an interior entrance linking it to CityPlace. “Obviously that entire project is taking longer than I think most people expected it to.”

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Monday, August 2, 2021

Burlington Police Commission Recommends Raising Roster Cap

Posted By on Mon, Aug 2, 2021 at 10:06 PM

Acting police Chief Jon Murad (right) listens as former Burlington city councilor Paul Decelles speaks in favor of raising the department's staffing cap - COLIN FLANDERS ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Colin Flanders ©️ Seven Days
  • Acting police Chief Jon Murad (right) listens as former Burlington city councilor Paul Decelles speaks in favor of raising the department's staffing cap
Burlington police commissioners voted unanimously on Monday to recommend that the city temporarily increase its police roster by eight officers, citing an unexpectedly high attrition rate in the year since the city council capped the department's staffing at 74.

The ultimate decision will lie with the city council, which is next scheduled to meet on August 9. It's unclear if the body will take up the issue then.

The vote marks the second time in several months that commissioners have called on the council to raise the staffing cap. And it comes as local business leaders have renewed their calls for an increased downtown police presence in light of recent violent incidents.

"We're losing a downtown for everyone because it does not feel safe and secure for people who want to come here," Kelly Devine, executive director of the Burlington Business Association, said prior to Monday's vote.

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Staff Shortage Forces Camp Hochelaga to Cancel Day Camp Program

Posted By on Mon, Aug 2, 2021 at 4:28 PM

  • File: Matthew Thorsen ©️ Seven Days
On Friday, staffers from Camp Hochelaga in South Hero called 58 families whose children were signed up for its day camp with bad news. The program, which was slated to run weekdays until August 13, would be canceled for the rest of the summer, starting on Monday.

In a message posted on its Facebook page, the camp blamed staffing shortages for the decision to cancel. Many staff members had told the camp before the season started that they would have to leave their positions early for college. The camp believed it would be able to "backfill" those positions before staffers departed, but hiring proved too difficult.

"This decision was not taken lightly as we know how much our families rely upon us for childcare during the summer months," the announcement read. "We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused for you and your camper. All families that are affected by this decision will be fully refunded their tuition."

Cutting camp short "was not a decision we really wanted to make," said Patty Houston, board president of the nonprofit YWCA Vermont, which runs the camp.

Founded in 1919, Camp Hochelaga is for girls and nonbinary youth and is intended to be a safe and happy environment where campers can learn and experience the outdoors, Houston said. The sleepover — or residential — camp will run the next two weeks as planned, Houston said.

A series of staffing issues affected the day camp, according to YWCA executive director Deb Jorschick. The day camp director developed an illness — unrelated to COVID-19 — and was given doctor's orders to sit out the last two weeks of camp, she said. Of the remaining five day camp staffers, some had told the camp ahead of time that they needed to leave the program early and some made last-minute decisions to leave, according to Jorschick.

"As a collective group, they had to go," she said. "We just had no alternative" but to end the day camp.

Houston said that it was difficult to break the news to campers' families. "We had some families who were really understanding and some who were frustrated and angry," she said. "I know they were not easy conversations for any of us."

This isn't the first hurdle Camp Hochelaga has faced this summer. In early July, the camp announced that residential camp director Alana Matteson was leaving; she was replaced by assistant camp director Shannon Pritzkau on an interim basis. Jorschick declined to comment further about Matteson's departure, citing personnel issues, but said that Pritzkau has done a great job in the director role.

Houston and Jorschick both said that this season has brought unique challenges, on top of the labor shortage.

While "all in all, the kids are happy," Jorschick said, she's also seen an uptick in behavioral issues and sleep disruptions this summer, which she attributed to the pandemic.

"What's become apparent to us is, there's a lot of kids that have been traumatized over this past year," Houston said.

Camp leadership will take lessons learned form this summer and use them "to make sure camp is able to evolve and grow," she added.

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Chittenden County Crosses CDC Masking Threshold, But New Mandates Unlikely

Posted By on Mon, Aug 2, 2021 at 2:56 PM

Church Street in Burlington last summer - FILE: JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • Church Street in Burlington last summer
Updated at 5:47 p.m.

A recent surge of COVID-19 infections has placed Chittenden County under new federal recommendations that encourage vaccinated people to resume wearing masks in public indoor spaces.

But with rates of hospitalization and deaths still low in Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott has no plans to reinstate the statewide masking order that remained in place throughout last fall, winter and spring, according to spokesperson Jason Maulucci. Four people were hospitalized with the virus as of Tuesday, while two deaths were reported in July.

"If you are fully vaccinated, we believe you are substantially protected, and people shouldn't feel the need to wear [a mask] if they don't want to," Maulucci told Seven Days. "You should feel confident in the efficacy of the vaccines and safe to do things that you did prior to the pandemic."

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Friday, July 30, 2021

Pilot Survives Helicopter Crash on Colchester Causeway

Posted By on Fri, Jul 30, 2021 at 7:26 PM

  • Courtesy of Colchester Police
  • The downed helicopter
Updated on August 2, 2021.

A pilot from electric aviation startup Beta Technologies crashed a helicopter on the Colchester Causeway on Friday afternoon, shutting down the popular recreational path as emergency crews responded to the fiery scene.

The pilot, later identified as 31-year-old Nathaniel Fortin, escaped with minor injuries and was taken to the hospital, the company said in a statement. No one else was hurt.

The helicopter was gas-powered and not one of Beta's experimental electric aircraft, a spokesperson said. An investigation into the cause of the crash is under way.

"The pilot, a certified flight instructor and sole occupant of the aircraft, executed emergency procedures and successfully and safely landed the aircraft," the spokesperson said in a written statement.

Photos of the crash posted on social media showed flames erupting from the crumpled helicopter. Police said the two-passenger aircraft "was a total loss."
Nic Longo, acting director of the Burlington International Airport, said it was not immediately clear when the aircraft took off. He said information about the aircraft's flight path will "eventually come from the pilot."

Colchester police said the crash had closed the causeway "until further notice." The popular path was reopened on Saturday.

Beta, the subject of a Seven Days cover story in May, is headquartered in a hangar near BTV's main terminal. The company is in the midst of a meteoric rise in the world of aviation and has tripled in size over the last year. It recently announced plans to build a massive new assembly facility for its electric aircraft.

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Vermont Gun Importer Sued After Its Rifle Was Used in Mass Shooting

Posted By on Fri, Jul 30, 2021 at 2:34 PM

A Century International Arms booth at a National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis - AP PHOTO / JEREMY HOGAN
  • AP Photo / Jeremy Hogan
  • A Century International Arms booth at a National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis
Victims of a 2019 mass shooting are suing the Vermont arms dealer that made the rifle a gunman used to murder attendees of a California garlic festival.

A dozen survivors last week added Century International Arms as a defendant in their pending civil lawsuit against the nonprofit that ran the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, the City of Gilroy, Calif., and a private security contractor.

They say the gunmaker's business practices have funneled “uniquely lethal” semiautomatic rifles to criminals and “helped cause the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival” that left three people dead and 17 wounded.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Despite Spike in COVID, Vermont Officials Say Return to Restrictions Is Unlikely

Posted By on Tue, Jul 27, 2021 at 4:03 PM

  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Despite an increase in COVID-19 infection rates nationally and in Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott and some of his key cabinet members remained upbeat during a weekly press briefing on Tuesday, saying they don’t anticipate a return of state restrictions.

After dropping for months, the rate of COVID-19 deaths started rising nationally and in Vermont in mid-July as the more infectious Delta variant took hold.

And on Tuesday, several national media outlets reported that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control would start recommending that vaccinated people wear masks indoors in some areas of the U.S.

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Friday, July 23, 2021

Tax Bills Set Off a Second Round of Sticker Shock for Burlington Homeowners

Posted By on Fri, Jul 23, 2021 at 6:11 PM

  • Matt Mignanelli
The tax man cometh.

Burlington residents received their fiscal year 2022 tax bills this week, nearly three months after a citywide reassessment recalculated their home values. The results have sent some Queen City taxpayers into sticker shock.

"I took a very deep breath. It was like, Oh, my God," Meryl Goldfarb, 62, said of receiving her tax bill. "I literally lost sleep that night, because I was like, I don't know how I'm gonna get through this."

Before the reassessment, the city valued Goldfarb's three-bedroom condo in the city's South End at $218,600; today, that value has jumped to $353,900, a 62 percent increase. Her tax bill increased 16 percent, or about $1,000.

Goldfarb isn't alone. Many of her neighbors have complained about their new valuations; others have taken to Front Porch Forum and social media to air their grievances.

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Burlington-Area Hotel Rooms Are in Short Supply, and Prices Are Up

Posted By on Fri, Jul 23, 2021 at 10:51 AM

Lisa and Roland Gaujac at the Old Lantern - CALEB KENNA
  • Caleb Kenna
  • Lisa and Roland Gaujac at the Old Lantern
Vermont’s hopping with visitors this summer, and nowhere is that more evident than the Burlington area, where hotel rooms are scarce and room rates have risen steeply.

“I’m suddenly inundated with people because there’s no lodging,” said Lisa Gaujac, who owns the Old Lantern Inn and Barn in Charlotte with her husband, Roland Gaujac. “There’s so much lodging normally in the Burlington area that I don’t usually have people calling and saying, ‘Do you have a room available?’”

Hospitality business owners have been living with uncertainty since COVID-19 restrictions closed them down in March 2020. While they were allowed to reopen at limited capacity a few months later, it was difficult for them to book guests for this summer without knowing what the pandemic restrictions would be.

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