Scott rebukes Trump's handling of race relations

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MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott had some advice for President Donald Trump on Wednesday - read the words of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush on how to handle a racial crisis.

"We need leadership right now, we need someone to unite us," Scott said. "I am trying to do that," he said. "I would recommend that the president should read what President Obama wrote and what President Bush wrote and follow that lead," he said.

"We don't need to incite, we need to unite," the governor said. "We have to listen. We can accept peaceful protests for what they are, as a deep amount of frustration."

While he didn't mention Trump by name, he said the president should learn from his predecessors about race relations.

Scott, during his Wednesday news conference, was asked about Trump's actions Monday in Washington, D.C., when he posed with a Bible on the steps of a church, but not before protesters had been forced to clear away, reportedly with tear gas.

The photo op has drawn widespread condemnation.

Scott has deplored the police action that caused the death of Minnesota man, George Floyd, when one officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes. Earlier this week, Scott appointed a Racial Equity Task Force, and while he conceded a task force wasn't likely to inspire widespread change, he urged Vermonters to make a difference, individually. And over the weekend, he joined the Vermont State Police in condemning the actions of the four Minnesota police officers involved in Floyd's death.

The death of Floyd at the hands of police has sparked widespread protests across the country, including in Vermont.

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On Monday, a large gathering of teenagers in downtown Brattleboro protested Floyd's treatment by the police and said change must come.

The twin topics of police brutality and the coronavirus pandemic monopolized Wednesday's press conference, and Scott said he would be doing more to boost Vermont's ailing tourism industry.

Scott said he would likely be acting by the end of the week to allow restaurants to serve patrons indoors, but under strict guidelines.

He said his administration is working very closely with the Department of Health on guidelines for indoor dining, which he said would require "a very controlled" approach with physical distancing a big part of the guidelines.

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"We have a very long way to go," he said, before the Vermont economy returns to normal. "Our businesses in Vermont are still struggling to survive," Scott said, noting the Vermont Legislature still hadn't acted to approve his $400 million business aid program.

Scott was joined by Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine during the briefing, but neither would answer most of reporters' questions about an outbreak in Winooski, aside from the numbers of confirmed cases. Levine said a "greatly expanded testing effort" had been launched in the Winooski community, and he said contact tracing investigation was well underway. Levine estimated there were 10 to 20 new cases in Winooski.

Vermont has had a long string of new cases in the single digits, and currently there is no one with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a Vermont hospital; there are suspected cases, however.

But Levine would not disclose the background behind the cluster of new cases; in contrast, the rest of the state shows a very small number of new cases each day.

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And he said that while Vermont has a current outbreak of cases of the coronavirus in Winooski, overall the state has very good numbers that allowed the current move toward reopening the economy, or as Scott is now famous for saying, 'turning the spigot.'

He said he hopes to further give a boost to the Vermont tourism economy by encouraging visitors from nearby states or regions where the incidence of COVID-19 is low - northern New York, northern New Hampshire and parts of Maine.

But he warned that the coronavirus is not very far away, and he cited three-day statistics from Boston that he said showed the virus is a short drive from Vermont's borders.

And both Scott and Levine said a top priority for them is establishing a safe way for families to visit their loved ones in nursing homes and hospitals. Currently, all visits but in extreme cases are banned.

Levine said reunited families safely is one of his top priorities.

"I don't want to forget those in long-term care facilities," the governor said.

"Nothing is higher on my priority list," said Levine.

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