Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger held a COVID briefing Wednesday afternoon during which he presented information on several projects the city is working on. He didn’t mention protests that have been occurring in the downtown for over a week until questioned at the end of his presentations.
Protesters have been camping in Battery Park, a site that overlooks Lake Champlain on the western edge of downtown Burlington. It’s also adjacent to the Burlington Police Department. Every evening hundreds of activists march a few blocks to City Hall to demand that the city fire three police officers. They have pledged to continue their camp and protests until the city complies. The officers were investigated and cleared in use of force incidents in 2018 and 2019, and the police department says the cases are closed.
Protesters will not talk to the media. As soon as his briefing opened to questions Mayor Weinberger was asked about the situation. He was measured in his responses and said they want to protect the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights and overall safety. “We certainly see it as the city’s responsibility to ensure safety. We’ve also been in communication with the protesters. We’ve been doing took the step of finding a way to get this individual who was carrying brandishing a firearm illegally we had found a way to stop that. So we’re thinking a lot about safety and working hard to do everything we can to ensure safety. And I do want to praise the protesters. There’s been very large numbers of people and it’s been very peaceful and I know there’s a lot efforts on the protesters side as well to keep it that way.”
The Democrat says he has talked to protest organizers about the challenges in meeting their demand that three Burlington police officers be fired. “These are all incidents that were fully investigated by law enforcement officials outside law enforcement officials and all three of these officers were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. The internal disciplinary measures were completed and varying degrees of discipline were handed out with the different incidents. And that’s the process we have. That is the lawful orderly process we have. And the city attorney has released memos and we have shared this information with the protesters about really the limitations within the law of reopening and revisiting that. So that certainly has been expressed to the protesters.”
Weinberger hopes to find common ground in other areas, but in the meantime he’s not going to try to stop the protests. “We have asked the protesters to coordinate if they want to be in the streets. We are happy to accommodate that. You know I did go and get a first-hand view of the park and see that to this point it’s a very orderly scene there. There is a medical tent. Public health is being followed in everything from COVID public health efforts to keeping the park sanitary. If that were to change that would be a real concern. I’ve expressed that to the organizers and I think they heard me on that, that that is something that the city sees as important if they intend to exercise these First Amendment rights for an extended period of time.”
Earlier, a new pilot program that may help detect COVID-19 was described. Wastewater epidemiology has been used in the past to detect polio and monitor for opioids. Innovation and Technology Department Analyst Carolyn Felix says this pilot will seek to determine if COVID can be detected early in wastewater. “Evidence really suggests that people start shedding the virus in their stool immediately after they’ve contracted the virus. And this can often be sometimes seven days before they begin exhibiting symptoms. And this includes folks who may be asymptomatic. And so I think that in addition to our strategies around clinical testing wastewater surveillance really does provide an additional tool that we can use to kind of detect levels of the virus in the community.”
The reopening of college campuses has been a concern across the country and it’s been no different in Burlington. Chief Innovation Officer Brian Lowe, the city’s liaison between the University of Vermont and Champlain College, says so far there has been a high degree of testing compliance among students. “You miss two tests at either institution and that’s it you are suspended. Additionally there’s also no indication of delays in the return of those tests.”
The city also unveiled a new website to help promote local business in the wake of the pandemic. Love Burlington.org lists over 400 local businesses.