As new information and actions emerge, please see here for my latest updates.
Update as of March 15: Governor Scott has ordered the dismissal of all schools in Vermont by Wednesday, March 18. School districts will continue to provide services, such as food assistance and educational support to students, and will communicate with students and families as plans are developed.
I know you are concerned about the spread of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 and its impact on you, your family, our communities, and Vermont. I am too. The situation is evolving rapidly, with daily and even hourly changes in the status of this public health crisis. You can stay up-to-date with the situation in Vermont, nationally, and internationally by visiting the Vermont Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization Coronavirus websites respectively.
This past Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a worldwide pandemic. On Friday, Governor Phil Scott declared a state of emergency in Vermont and announced some immediate measures, including:
- A ban on most non-essential public gatherings of 250 or more people.
- Restrictions on visits to nursing homes, assisted living & long-term care facilities, and hospitals.
- Extension of unemployment benefits to cover wage replacement for COVID-19 related absences.
- Extensions for Department of Motor Vehicles license renewals and registrations.
- The suspension of non-essential travel for state employees.
- Additional measures to assess impacts on the state and guide our response.
Vermont Legislative Response
On Friday, the Vermont General Assembly declared a recess until Tuesday, March 24. The Vermont State House will be closed and sanitized during the recess. The State House is a very public, intimate building where meetings happen within close quarters among many legislators and members of the public who could be at high risk for infection. The decision to take a break was made to protect members of the legislature, staff, press, and the public who are in the building, and to decrease the risk that people in the State House could spread the virus to others around the state.
This does not mean that we will cease our work to serve Vermonters. Many legislative committees will continue to meet remotely, piloting technological solutions for online or phone meetings which allow public access. Members will be in our home districts and available to help with local responses to this crisis, and we stand ready to return to Montpelier at any time as necessary.
Prior to recessing, the House passed an initial emergency response package, focused on health and economic measures that will help Vermonters through this crisis. The Senate will be able to take up this work and expand on it when we return and more information is available. House committees are also working diligently to finish the state budget, transportation, revenue, and capital bills so they are ready to pass and send to the Senate when we return.
Depending on the severity of the impact of COVID-19 in Vermont, the legislative session may be shorter than usual, and our focus will be on “must pass” legislation to respond to this emergency and ensure the continuation of state operations. It’s too soon to know what all of this will mean and I’m hoping we’ll be able to return and work quickly to preserve and expand on the great work we’ve done during the first half of the session.
Education and Schools – see update above for closure information starting Wednesday, March 18.
I have heard from many, many parents who are concerned about the fact that public schools remain open despite declarations of emergency and pandemic. As the mother of three children, I share these concerns. There are many considerations related to closing schools, including food access, appropriate childcare particularly if parents lack paid leave or work in healthcare or other essential fields, impacts on learning and educational progress, and social isolation and stress.
I have been in regular communication with local school superintendents and officials at the Vermont Agency of Education, offering my assistance and urging them to come up with a plan that will address these considerations and provide students, teachers, and parents clarity and safety during this public health crisis. As the situation evolves quickly, I am hopeful we will have more definitive information on school closures within the next few days. For now, if you feel that keeping your children out of school is right for your family and you are able to do so, you should keep them home – per the Governor’s statement, schools will treat these as excused absences.
For college students, many institutions of higher education, including Middlebury College, have announced plans to transition to online learning after spring break. I have been impressed by the swift reactions of higher education in Vermont, and applaud their efforts to protect and support their students during this uncertain time.
Most businesses and organizations are being directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and have announced plans for cancelling events or changing plans and procedures. The health, economic, and social impacts of this crisis are not fully known and will ripple out for months and even years to come. I will do my best to stay on top of the effect of the crisis in the Addison District. Please reach out to me with your stories, ideas, and concerns so I know how I might best respond as your state senator.
I know these are incredibly stressful times, but Vermonters are good at taking care of each other and offering assistance during times of crisis. During Hurricane Irene, massive blizzards, economic recessions, and community tragedies, we step up to help neighbors cope and survive. Wash your hands, keep appropriate social distances, but check on each other and offer whatever assistance you can.
I recently received a newsletter from Seven Days that ended with this self-care advice: “It’s a stressful time for all of us. Step away from your devices for a second. Take a deep breath, or two, or 10. Stand up and stretch.Take a walk, if you can.” Take care of yourself, your family, your community. We will get through this together.
State Senator, Addison District