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Burlington Mayor’s COVID-19 Update Includes Concerns About Returning College Students

Burlington street sign
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Sign in downtown Burlington

Burlington, Vermont Mayor Miro Weinberger took a brief break from his regular COVID-19 updates in July but returned on Wednesday. He covered several issues including concerns about college students returning to the city for in-person classes during the pandemic.
Weinberger traditionally invites the head of the state’s largest hospital system to join him for an update on the status of COVID-19’s impacts on the UVM Medical Center in Burlington and the surrounding area. President and CEO Dr. Stephen Leffler said the hospital is operating at a normal summer pace with few coronavirus cases. He says the state has done extremely well at coordinating the COVID response.  “Vermont has done an exceptionally good job of a coordinated response. We've had little flare ups. We've stayed the course. We've stuck together. We've been able to manage it.”

Weinberger, a Democrat, says planning should begin for large scale COVID-19 vaccinations.  “A new question that's starting to be asked is there needs to be well coordinated, timely dissemination of the vaccine to a lot of people. And the New York Times reports that when asked 50% of Americans say they won't take a vaccine in 2020 if it's developed.”

Dr. Leffler is optimistic that a safe and effective vaccine will be developed and is not worried about those who would refuse to take it.   “I bet there will be 100 million people that are willing to take it. And that's 100 million people that won't catch Coronavirus. That’s 100 million people that won't overflow our hospitals, our emergency departments, our ICU’s, our ventilators. And so I don't think we have to worry so much about the people who say no. Let's just make sure that everyone who's willing to say yes gets it in a timely fashion.”

Students return to the University of Vermont on August 20th. Weinberger said he is hearing a number of concerns from constituents about the influx of students not only at UVM but also at Champlain College. While Weinberger says it’s a reasonable goal for the campuses to safely provide in-person learning he wants a coordinated plan between the city and colleges.  “We don't have that coordinated plan that I can fully support and time's running short on this. I continue to have questions and concerns about aspects of UVM’s plan. And I'm hopeful that with some more engagement we can get to a different place. But as of right now I do  have questions and concerns on testing, reporting, isolation and ensuring that off campus students comply with the governor’s and the city's orders on gathering size.”

Weinberger says the city is meeting with the colleges regarding their concerns.

Vermont’s statewide primary is next Tuesday, August 11th.  Assistant City Clerk Amy Bovee told the mayor that they have issued more absentee and mail-in ballots than the total number of people who voted in the 2018 primary.  “We've broken all records for the number of absentee mail in ballots that we've issued not just for a primary but for any election.”

During his July 22nd briefing, Weinberger provided an update on the stalled CityPlace development project. The city had sent a default letter to developers threatening legal action.  He was reticent to discuss further details Wednesday and expects an update for the City Council during an executive session Monday evening.  “This is a sensitive situation and nothing has fundamentally changed. We have no new proposal at this point from Brookfield. So there are a variety of communications that are going on but there's been no material change in the situation.”