Crime and Justice

Vermont stations officials along borders to monitor traffic during Covid-19

Flashing signs at Vermont’s borders inform travelers, “If you enter VT to stay / Self-isolate 14 days.” Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger
Flashing signs at Vermont’s borders inform travelers, “If you enter VT to stay / Self-isolate 14 days.” Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

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Since Gov. Phil Scott issued an order last week aimed at reducing interstate travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials with the Vermont Agency of Transportation have been stationed at major state border crossings to monitor traffic. 

Last week, the Agency of Transportation selected 28 “high-priority border crossings” along the New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts and Canada borders where officials are “counting vehicles,” according to a list compiled by the state. 

Scott’s order, which directs “non-essential” travelers from outside the state to self-quarantine for 14 days, came down March 30.  

The governor said April 1 that the state had started to collect data about interstate traffic in Vermont because anecdotally, officials had heard that many people were still crossing the state border. 

“We wanted to have some sort of baseline to determine that this was indeed the case,” Scott said during his press conference last Wednesday.   

“And so we set up these points at the points of entry so that we could determine how people were coming into the state and from which states.”

The Agency of Transportation is not taking down out-of-state license plate numbers or referring information about drivers crossing the border to law enforcement officers, according to Stephanie Brackin, a spokesperson for the state. 

Brackin added that the monitoring along the state’s borders “is not an effort to look at exclusively out of state traffic.”

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“The State of Vermont is monitoring all traffic mobility to determine how effectively mitigation measures are reducing travel,” she wrote in an email. 

Scott also said last week that officials weren’t taking down vehicle registration information, “just looking for colors of plates to determine who’s coming in.” 

But the stops have raised concerns for some who live in the areas along Vermont’s border. 

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he’s heard from constituents in his district, and people in New York who commute over the border, who are worried about the  presence of state officials. 

He noted that one third of the people who work at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, the local hospital in Bennington, live in New York state. 

“I want to make sure people are still comfortable in going to work,” Sears said. 

“I had one person tell me they’re going to rent a motel in Bennington because they’re an essential worker and they don’t want to keep going back and forth over the border,” he added.  

Sears said that on Sunday he saw transportation officials on Route 279 in Bennington — which crosses into New York state — taking vehicle information down on clipboards.

The Bennington senator said he will be calling in state officials to testify to his committee later this week and wants to get a better sense of the information they’re collecting, and clarification on current border crossing policies.

Sears said he has “absolutely no problem” with efforts to see whether people are complying with Scott’s order.

“But on the other hand, those of us that live in border communities and that represent border communities I think need some assurance,” he said.   

Senate Democratic leader Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Senate Majority Leader Becca Balint, D-Windham, whose district falls along the state’s border with Massachusetts and New Hampshire, said she’s concerned about the message that stationing officials at the border could be sending inadvertently. 

“I feel like just having that out there can fan what I see as already xenophobic impulses that some people have,” Balint said. 

“I think it preys on our worst fears that we can somehow keep out a virus that’s already here,” she added. 

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“I don’t think that there should be an assumption that someone coming here is going to be acting in a malevant nature.”

While the Attorney General’s Office announced last week law enforcement had been directed to begin enforcing Scott’s stay-at-home order, the Vermont state police are not stopping drivers suspected of violating the governor’s Covid-19 mesures. 

However, in recent days, the state police have received complaints about officers detaining drivers and telling Vermont residents to return to their homes, if they are not out on what is deemed essential business.

Adam Silverman, a Vermont state police spokesperson, said in a statement Friday the claims have been investigated and found to be unsubstantiated.

However, Silverman said police are worried that some may be pretending to be law enforcement during the Covid-19 crisis.

“The Vermont State Police also is concerned that individuals could exploit current circumstances to impersonate law enforcement officers,” Silverman said. 

“Members of the public should ask for an officer’s ID if they are stopped and take note of the officer’s name and agency affiliation.” 

“This would help police verify any subsequent complaints or investigate potential incidents of officer impersonation,” he said.

Kit Norton contributed reporting. 

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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Arthur Hamlin
1 month ago

The problem isn’t people coming from out of state. It’s Vermonters not heeding the basic precautions we’ve been asked to follow, i.e. social distancing. Let’s all get along and help each other instead of jumping on the blaming “others” bandwagon.
There are also legitimate reasons some people need to travel between states. This feels a lot like “profiling.”

Rich Lachapelle
1 month ago

We keep hearing all the buzz phrases from public officials: flatten the curve, shorten the plateau, self-isolate/quarantine…but they come up short on precise explanations and definitions. When someone travels from a known hotspot to their Vermont “vacation home/apocalypse bunker”, sure they will self isolate, AFTER going to the liquor store, the grocery, the take out restaurant, the post office and the gas station. If this is not consistent with the Governor’s definition, then he better clarify that. And only once have I seen it actually explained by a State official the idea that people from different households should not ride in a car together. This is crucial information if we are to get this under control. Much like vaccination, if a critical number of people do not participate, it puts all at risk. Of course, we must place the advice from Sen. Balint at our highest priority : that we must avoid any actions that can possibly be perceived as a “xenophobic message”…yikes.

Allen Seiple
1 month ago

There is a problem with people coming from out of state. A South Central Vermont Hospital has 4 positive cases. Three of them were from out of state second home owners. Two of those not only violated stay at home directives, but walked past the triaging nurse directly into the ER putting all working personnel at risk. We need to face the facts. People leaving a “hot spot” to take safe haven puts others at risk. It is a total disregard for others in an attempt to protect thyself.

Jay Morse
1 month ago

We are going nuts here. We are all Americans and big brother doesn’t need to be doing this.

Jay Morse
1 month ago

Hooray for Becca Balint for calling out this ridiculous policy for what it is. Unnecessary and bad for the State of Vermont. What’s next? Social media shaming?

Mark Montalban
1 month ago

As a parent of a child who has auto-immune compromised issues, I’m more concerned about the lax of safety protocol in grocery stores. I’d rather have a police presence in these stores where I see many employees loading food or working as cashiers without gloves and masks. I also observe plenty of customers not making space , handling foods, without even gloves. Even when I’m wearing a mask and gloves, I often have to ask for space. The supermarket is were dramatic exposure can occur, not in some hotel room near the state border.

Karen McIlveen1
1 month ago

First stop, grocery store…

Walter Wallace
1 month ago

During my rare shopping for essentials and on my daily walks I, too, find myself in awe of many not heeding elements of common sense and the governor’s orders during this crisis. Commonly seen close quartering with strangers in stores, lack of face masks, sneezing/coughing without covering their faces in the crooks of their arms, and not abiding the 6 foot floor markers in checkout lines is unnerving. These behaviors are observed coming from those with green license plates, not out of staters.

Tom Anderson
1 month ago

Baselines of traffic using personnel when equipment exists that could provide a count? There are license plate readers, cameras and the road traffic counters. Something doesn’t smell right here. Said it before, visiting my elderly isolated mother in Lebanon I see lots of green plates in NH, at DHMC, the NH State Liquor store and elsewhere. Complex problems can’t be solved with simple solutions.

Dev Martin
1 month ago

Ok people (including representatives). Quit fearmongering. This is worse than that people said people were putting needles in Halloween candy (never happened)

Vic Noble
1 month ago

Wish the state would have this effort to snag illegal immigration and fentanyl dealers and to stop ex trafficking. Oh but, wait, those are protected classes, as compared to the law abiding sheep and their silly 4th Amendment.

Leanne m zostant
1 month ago

My daughter was on a jobs website. She is concerned that there were so many ads for Border Patrol agents…

ADehner
1 month ago

Unfortunately people who own second homes in the Lake Champlain Islands are coming here from NY and NJ and not quarantining. They are grocery shopping locally putting us all in danger . I wish the governor had put more teeth into this.

Susan Hoyt
1 month ago

Vermont is a low population state.
Vermont medical resources (ventilators, ICU rms, PPE, medical workers)are commensurate. That is, limited.
Vermont medical personnel have been reusing masks and other PPE for three weeks.
Vermont has had to put out a plea for more medical workers ➡️ including those whose licenses have lapsed.
Vermont medical resources will in fact be overwhelmed by the COVID-19 infections of its own population.
We cannot bear the additional burden of those who have homes elsewhere but choose to come to Vermont simply because they… Want to.
Out-of-state people would do best, Please, to stay safe in the homes that they Do have in their states of primary residence.
Where I live they are blowing into town, going to the grocery store, filling up multiple shopping carts, making store clerks uncomfortable, going to the post office, etc., and not observing social distancing practices.
These are very urgent times.
The word “xenophobia” does not apply here.

Julia Purdy
1 month ago

For those living outside Vermont but working here, employers could issue simple (signed) id badges or stickers.
But can virus refugees please bring their own groceries with tbem instead of clogging our supermarkets and depleting our supplies?

Julia Purdy
1 month ago

14 days should mean 14 days from the time you see that sign, not 14 days after you have run all your errands and visited your friends.

John Montgomery
1 month ago

Love seeing all the VTers mad at us out of staters. You had no problem collecting all that tax money from us for decades! Now we are using our “fair share”! Besides you are going to need us….it is gunna be all the NYers and other out of staters buying up all the foreclosed homes that the shutdown will cause in VT and saving the VT economy!

Peter Rauert
1 month ago

I live in NH and work at a VT border hospital. VT has several restrictive regulations/agencies that hamper VT’s hospitals ability to remain fiscally sound. Note that state oversight did not detect/prevent Springfield Hospital from their fiscal crisis. VT. state income taxes imposed on out of state residents who work in VT are another disincentive to working in VT. If I worked a few miles to the east across the river, I’d pay no state income taxes. This fact is not lost on many of my colleagues. Now, every morning as I cross into VT, I see the DOT trucks with several workers sitting there monitoring those of us who come to take care of VT patients. Is this really an effective use of state resources? Perhaps VT should consider more hospital friendly fiscal policies and be more welcoming to out of state workers in the future if it wants a stable and capable health care system.

 

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