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Halloween 2020
Halloween parade likely canceled

The head of the Rutland Recreation and Parks Department says she does not see how the city can hold the Halloween parade this year.

On Friday, Recreation Superintendent Kim Peters said a final decision hadn’t been made yet, but it looks overwhelmingly likely the city will cancel the annual parade for the first time in its 61-year history as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The conversation has started,” Peters said. “We are making a final decision probably next week, but if I were to be a betting girl, I would say probably not. ... I’m going to leave the final decision to the Board of Aldermen.”

Board President and Acting Mayor Matt Whitcomb said he was of the same mind.

“Just based on the typical amount of people who show up and the inability to enforce any kind of social distancing norms, I don’t know how we’re going to do it,” he said. “I’m always going to be open to any way we can somehow maintain normalcy, but a parade by nature is hard to do under the restrictions we’d have to follow.”

Whitcomb said he also is worried about a resurgence of infections come autumn.

“We’ve been enjoying this gradual reopening of the state, but that might all be lost once we hit fall,” he said.

The parade is the city’s biggest single event of the year and has garnered an odd national fame because of its place in comic book lore. The original organizer of the parade was friends with a number of comic book writers, resulting in the parade — or references to it — featuring in numerous superhero stories through the years. It was most recently referenced with an Easter egg in the Netflix “Daredevil” series.

Drawing crowds that Police Chief Brian Kilcullen estimated at “upwards of 10,000,” Peters said holding the parade would be essentially impossible under the current state mandate capping outdoor gatherings at 150.

“Even if (the limit) went to 1,000, how can we monitor that?” she said. “If we don’t feel like we can monitor and control the situation, we don’t do it. ... It’s not just for the safety of the community, but people who are typically in the parade. We’ve already had people say they’re not going to participate this year.”

The pandemic has claimed numerous other local landmark events, including the Loyalty Day Parade, Winter in August and the Vermont State Fair.

“It’s really unfortunate, but at the same time, you sacrifice for one year for, hopefully, the ability to get it back for every year going forward,” Whitcomb said.

Meanwhile, Peters said, the rec department is extending summer camps for two weeks to cover the delayed start of the school year. She said the delay of school and fall sports has meant she can hang on to most of her summer staff longer than usual.

“Our focus right now is on the essential needs of the community,” Peters said. “Our pool will stay open and our summer camps will continue. ... We have seen up to 135 kids (at a time), which includes specialty camps. ... When we’re done, we will have done 25 weeks of child care, which is half a year.”


A LaMancha goat seeks the high ground, standing on a rock at the Hogan Farm in Leicester on a brilliant Friday afternoon.

View from the rocks

Vt. inmates in Mississippi test positive for COVID-19

MONTPELIER — Six inmates who were housed at a private prison in Mississippi returned to Vermont and tested positive for coronavirus.

According to the Department of Corrections, the inmates were taken from Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility and arrived at Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland on Tuesday.

The department said in a statement all of the inmates were immediately tested and quarantined. A seventh inmate, who remained at the private prison, has also tested positive. State officials said contract tracing is underway to find out how the inmates picked up the virus that causes COVID-19 and to see who else they may have been in contact with.

At Gov. Phil Scott’s Friday news conference, Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said the inmates were transported on a bus and the bus company has been notified. There were two employees from the company on the bus. Rachel Feldman, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said the inmates were brought back to Vermont for programming and release planning.

Smith said the state has reduced its prison population from around 1,600 inmates pre-pandemic to a low of about 1,300. Even so, the secretary said the extra space is being used for quarantine in case there is an outbreak at a facility, or inmates are brought in who need to be in quarantine. Meaning the state still lacks capacity for its out-of-state inmates.

“Having those quarantined facilities available and staffed is particularly important at this particular time,” he said.

There are 219 Vermont inmates in Mississippi, but the department is looking to reduce that number to 180.

Smith said all of the state’s inmates at the private prison, with the exception of 16 who refused and the one who already tested positive, have been tested in response to the seven positive tests.

Vermont dealt with its own outbreak of the virus at Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans in early April. Since then, the state has started regularly testing all of the inmates in Vermont and staff.

That didn’t happen for the state’s inmates in Mississippi. Smith said that state had been doing what Vermont was doing at the start of the pandemic and only testing those who had symptoms. That occurred here because there weren’t enough tests at the time for those who didn’t have symptoms.

Vermont boasts one of the lowest infection rates in the country. But Mississippi announced Friday it had seen its highest single-day death toll at 52 new deaths from the virus. The state reported 1,168 new cases. Vermont has 57 deaths from the virus and announced eight new cases Friday.

Smith said Vermont inmates in Mississippi will now be tested regularly like their counterparts in this state.

Though Vermont is responsible for the care of those in its custody, Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Department of Health, said this situation shouldn’t be seen as a failure. Levine said this shows the state’s procedures are working because the inmates were tested and quarantined so they didn’t have an opportunity to spread the virus here.


Rent's due, again: Monthly anxieties deepen as aid falls off

Another month passes. The coronavirus pandemic marches on. And Americans struggling amid the economic fallout once again have to worry as their next rent checks come due today.

Many left jobless by the crisis are already behind on payments. And the arrival of August brings new anxieties. A supplemental $600 in weekly federal unemployment benefits that helped many pay their bills is set to expire as July ends with Congress bogged down in disagreement about a new round of aid.

Also set to end, unless lawmakers intervene, is a federal moratorium on evictions that has shielded millions of renters — though some Americans remain protected by similar state and local actions.

The Associated Press reconnected with renters first interviewed ahead of their April payments. Four months later, some have returned to work. One saw her church step in to cover her rent. Some found landlords willing to negotiate, while others are still looking for relief.

Jas Wheeler once hoped to ride out the pandemic and return to work at a Vermont bakery. Not anymore.

Wheeler, 30, is immuno-compromised and fears going back to the bakery would increase risk of infection. The former social worker started working at a small grocery store that pays less but allows more room for social distancing.

Wheeler took the gig in anticipation of losing the $600 weekly unemployment aid. That money ensured Wheeler and their wife, Lucy, could afford their $850 monthly mortgage payment.

The couple closed on their house in Vergennes the same day Wheeler was laid off in March. Wheeler’s wife kept her jobs, but money remains tight. They’ve sold a car and are growing some food.

“The unemployment without the enhanced benefit is not enough to live on at all,” Wheeler said. “We’re broke.”

Sakai Harrison moved to New York to try to make it as a personal trainer and designer — but his gym shuttered early in the pandemic, and after weeks of struggling to pay the rent and put food in his fridge, he knew what he had to do.

He moved back to Georgia for greater stability.

In May, he left his Brooklyn apartment and its $1,595 monthly rent for Atlanta. When the first of the month rolls around, his new place costs about $400 less — and it’s larger.

“This is the biggest silver lining I’ve ever seen,” he said.

He’s training with a few one-on-one clients, and he’s launched a boot camp with a dozen more.

This week, he met four of them at a park, where they did lunging squats, pull-ups, and a military-like crawl. Harrison then led them into a gym for dumbbell exercises. They didn’t wear masks for virus protection — Harrison says they take precautions, but pointed out that the state doesn’t mandate face coverings.

Harrison modeled the proper form and pace, corrected the men when needed, and gently teased when they tired or slowed down. Some shot barbs back, and Harrison smiled.

He’s charging clients slightly less than he got at Blink Fitness in New York, but that amount’s helping him develop an apparel brand. He’s taking orders for a line of shoes, T-shirts and hats.

Barring another shutdown, Harrison said, “I’ll be fine.”

Financial challenges keep piling up for Roushaunda Williams months after she lost her job of nearly 20 years tending bar at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago.

Potential reopening dates for the hotel have been pushed back, Williams said, and hospitality jobs remain scarce. She anticipates being unable to pay her $1,900 rent by September — especially if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the weekly $600 in additional unemployment aid as part of a new relief package.

Williams, 52, said she asked the management company that owns her apartment for a rent reduction or other help. So far, she’s been told her rent will just accrue if she can’t pay.

The Illinois governor recently extended a moratorium on evictions into August. Still, Williams worries about debt piling up while she’s unemployed.

“I’ve exhausted my savings,” she said. “So I don’t have a safety net at all now.”

Though the pandemic took away Itza Sanchez’s two incomes, it has strengthened her faith. The mother of two says the generosity of her Richmond, Virginia, church has saved them from hunger and eviction.

Sanchez fell behind on rent when she stopped selling homemade tamales and collecting scrap metal over fears of contracting the virus. By mid-July, she owed about $950 in unpaid rent. That’s when Sanchez got a notice to vacate the mobile home where her family lives.

She was spared when her church sent $800 directly to the landlord.

Now she’s trying to scrape together $460 for August’s rent. She gets food donations from church. The school system delivers lunches for her children, 11 and 7.

An immigrant from Honduras, Sanchez isn’t eligible for unemployment benefits.

“In this crisis we have moments of anguish, and one feels desperate, Sanchez said.

“But I have been blessed so far.”

For Andrea Larson, life took an unexpectedly good turn.

She lost her sommelier job in mid-March, when restaurants closed in Nashville, Tennessee. She was just getting by on unemployment, but worried about choosing between losing benefits or going back to an unsafe restaurant job.

Then a former boss offered her a spot at a new restaurant — the White Limozeen, named in tribute to a Dolly Parton song and decorated in over-the-top kitsch.

While Larson still fears the virus, she appreciates that her employer “spent a lot of money to make sure people are extremely safe.”

At her duplex, a plumbing disaster forced her to live in a construction zone for a couple of months. But she counts that as luck: She didn’t have to pay rent.

Jade Brooks and her family have counted on an eviction moratorium in Massachusetts to get them through the pandemic. Still, 22-year-old Brooks worries: How long will it last?

Brooks’ mother hasn’t found find full-time work since losing her insurance-company job. And Brooks doesn’t get paid enough as a hospital switchboard operator to cover rent — recently raised to $2,075 monthly — for their two-bedroom Boston apartment.

Her family had an August eviction hearing scheduled in court after they refused to pay the $265 increase. Then the governor extended the eviction ban until mid-October, giving temporary relief.

“It kind of gave me extra hope to figure things out, instead of jumping into the fire,” said Brooks, who lives with her mother and an 8-year-old cousin.

Brooks hopes the extra time gives her mom a chance to find work, and perhaps they’ll negotiate a new lease rather than go to court.

After two months of missing payments as part of a “rent strike,” Neal Miller and his housemates heard from their landlord.

To their surprise, he agreed to reduce the monthly $1,500 rent for their home on Chicago’s West Side. Miller’s share is now $150, down from $400.

Miller, 38, said his landlord gave the impression that he’d prefer some income from the house over nothing at all.

Miller’s last stable job was as an adjunct professor at Loyola University. During the pandemic, he’s patched together odd jobs — dissertation editing, bookkeeping for a psychiatrist’s office.

He said lower rent cuts the pressure: “We are definitely in a unique situation by the response we got.”

Tnia Morgan’s family has grown by one since the pandemic upended their lives. The birth of a grandson, her youngest daughter’s first child, June 25 was a rare blessing during a spring and summer otherwise filled with stress.

“I love his smell. I love his smile. I love everything about him,” said Morgan, who shares a townhouse in Baltimore County, Maryland, with her newborn grandson, her daughter and a nephew.

She needed something to celebrate. Her income plummeted after she lost her hotel banquet-hall job in March. Bills pile up monthly.

Four rent checks have come due since then. Morgan’s landlord lets her pay what she can. She estimates that’s been nearly half what she’s owed since April.

Food stamps help feed her family. She says she’s tried in vain to sign up for unemployment benefits. Her only income comes from working for a food delivery service.

“It’s not much,” she said, “but it’s better than not having anything.”

Ruqayyah Bailey has lost much of her independence and wants to get her life back on track.

Bailey, 31, has autism. Until March, she lived in her own apartment, worked part time as a cashier at a St. Louis cafe, and attended college.

The coronavirus tossed all that structure out the window. Bailey could no longer get the one-on-one tutoring that helped her thrive in college. The cafe closed. With no money coming in, she moved back in with her mother.

The cafe reopened in June, but Bailey now works just four hours a week. She’s signed up for seven hours of college classes but isn’t sure she’ll get tutoring. She uses savings to pay bills and worries about losing her weekly $600 in extra aid. “I am completely stressed,” Bailey said. “I don’t know how to pay my bills. I’m not sure how I’m going to able to get back into my apartment.”

Jason W. Still spent nearly three months without work before he went back to cooking at a high-end restaurant in Spokane, Washington.

Still, 30, returned to the kitchen at Clover when it reopened in early June. Before then, his wife’s job in Washington’s legal marijuana industry and Still’s unemployment checks helped assure they never missed a rent payment.

Still is back to working 40 hours a week. But he wonders whether that’ll last, as COVID-19 infections surge in the U.S.

“It’s terrifying to me to be in a service industry that can just shut down again at any time,” he said. Tinisha Dixon scraped money together to cover her $1,115 monthly rent for April and May. Since then, she’s been unable to pay.

Dixon, 26, shares a downtown Atlanta apartment with her partner and their five children. Before that, Dixon was homeless. Now she worries daily about her family ending up on the street.

Dixon’s partner works as a security guard, but reduced hours have shrunk his earnings to about $800 a month. Dixon said she worked briefly at a coronavirus testing site outside the city, but relying on her partner for rides interfered with his job.

Before the pandemic, Dixon says, her landlord had begun taking legal steps to evict them.

“I’m pretty overwhelmed trying to get everything situated, not knowing how long I can hold out here,” she said.

Eli Oderberg of Denver remains out of work. He lost his job at a Colorado energy company in a wave of mid-April layoffs sparked by the pandemic’s economic fallout. Oderberg, 36, once worked on apps to track spills and leaks. Now he receives unemployment benefits as he sends out resumes and interviews for new jobs. He said he’s been a runner-up for several positions but hasn’t been hired.

Oderberg and his wife, Katie, have been making their mortgage payments. She’s on unemployment after losing her retail job. She’s also pregnant, and the couple fears running out of money after the baby arrives. They also have a 5-year-old daughter.

“I’m trying to get a good balance so I can enjoy my family,” he said. “And I keep reminding myself there are a lot of people in a much worse situation.”

Rutland Regional asking for masking

Rutland Regional Medical Center officials already were planning to urge residents to “Get Behind the Mask” when Gov. Phil Scott gave the campaign a push.

Staff members at Rutland Regional were about to unveil a campaign to promote the continued use of face masks and facial coverings, as well as other steps people can take to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus disease. While there had been some indications that the governor may issue a “mask mandate,” it was just a coincidence that Scott’s order takes effect this weekend as the Rutland hospital is taking “Get Behind the Mask” to the public.

There’s a reason medical professionals are encouraging people to continue wearing face masks, said Dr. Rick Hildebrant, chief medical information officer for Rutland Regional. He said Thursday that “masking has significantly reduced the transmission of the illness.

“In states or areas where it’s mandated, the risk of transmission does go down,” he said.

Vermont already has seen lower transmission rates, COVID cases and deaths than many other states.

An article published in The New York Times on Tuesday said 21 states have had recent COVID outbreaks so severe they were in the “red zone” and 28 states were in the “yellow zone” while only Vermont is in the “green zone.”

Hildebrant said Vermont’s success shouldn’t cause residents to give in to “mask fatigue” or assume COVID isn’t present in the Green Mountain State.

“There’s a lot of concerns about what could happen as time progresses, and we’ve seen outbreaks across the country with schools, with colleges, with any gatherings of people and we (Vermonters) have been relatively protected, but that’s in part because we’ve been doing a good job of social distancing, masking, those kind of things,” he said.

Hildebrant said some in the medical community were especially worried about New England states as fall and winter approach. Diseases spread when people are inside together in confined spaces. In the South, that can happen during the summer when people go inside to get relief from the heat in air conditioning, but in the North that can happen when temperatures drop and people go inside to a heated room.

Jody McIntosh, a nurse and an infection preventionist, said she has seen some encouraging signs that people are starting to understand the science.

“Some people might not necessarily believe in the mask use but understand the need to because the science behind it and they will do mask-wearing for different reasons like protecting children or family,” she said.

McIntosh said she hopes parents will take time to learn about masks as the school year nears. She said not all masks are the same, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending cloth masks that cover the wearer’s nose and mouth.

She said parents should consider factors such as having enough masks for their children so they don’t re-wear a mask on a daily basis and providing a spare in case the student’s mask gets dirty or torn.

McIntosh said families should remember there are other safety measures such as frequent and thorough hand-washing and social distancing.

Peg Bolgioni, Rutland Regional’s communications specialist, said “Get Behind the Mask” is designed to inform and educate the community using social media, local advertising, a banner that will be hung downtown and video messages.

Bolgioni said there are elements of the campaign that are being developed that either educate kids or provide material that parents and kids can go over together. She said “Get Behind the Mask” was expected to continue and change as needed.

“It’s a perennial campaign. It’s just going to keep going and going and going,” she said.

Decisions about wearing face masks have been highly politicized in recent weeks. Wearing a mask has been interpreted by some as a lack of faith in President Trump, who has been inconsistent and lukewarm about wearing face masks.

Hildebrant said “from what (he’s) read, a lot of it comes from a place of not understanding”

He said he would explain to someone who questions the use of face masks by saying they protect the community from any disease the wearer may be spreading, possibly without knowing or intent, rather than protecting the wearer.

“In my opinion, it says more about you as a person than anything else if you’re not willing to do something to help protect the people around you,” he said.

Hildebrant urged Rutlanders to accept wearing face masks because he said he doesn’t believe society is going back to where it was before COVID. He said a vaccine, even if it’s found quickly, would take more than a year to distribute and other diseases likely are to spread across the globe like COVID has.

“So this isn’t going away anytime soon, if ever. I think people need to realize, this is just the way things are now,” he said.

“Some time, a really long time ago, it was probably uncomfortable for human beings to walk around wearing pants. Nowadays, if someone is walking around without pants on, people are going to say things. We need to sort of get there with masks, OK?” he said.


NATION rail topper

Storm underway

As Hurricane Isaias bears down on Florida, U.S. astronauts prepare to make the first spashdown landing from space in 45 years. A4

Susanna Gellert is in her second year as executive artistic director of Weston Playhouse Theatre Company, Vermont’s oldest professional theater.