COVID-19 Update for March 17

The situation with the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Vermont is evolving rapidly, with daily and even hourly changes in the status of this public health crisis. These are uncertain times and I know that everyone needs information and assurances that appropriate actions are being taken. First and foremost, take precautions to limit public interactions. Please stay at home if you can and limit your exposure outside of your household. Current CDC guidelines recommend no gatherings of more than 10 people and six feet distance between people in public.

General Information & Assistance
The most comprehensive place to stay up-to-date with the situation in Vermont is the Vermont Department of Health website. If you are seeking non-medical services or resources to help you through this crisis, a good place to start is Vermont 2-1-1 which offers a comprehensive resource directory and referral service. In Addison County, community volunteers have started a neighbor-to-neighbor service, Addison County Mutual Aid, to connect people who can help to people who need help. Visit the website to sign up to help or let them know you need assistance.

Food assistance continues through HOPE and CVOEO food shelves on an outside pick-up basis only. Both organizations are also still accepting donations. Individual school districts have meal and food pick-up and/or delivery services for families – see below for their websites. Hunger Free Vermont also has a good website outlining the status of food assistance programs in the face of the Coronavirus.

Healthcare & Testing
Porter Hospital has been working around the clock to prepare for what may be an influx of COVID-19 cases in our area. You can find general information about their response and resources related to the pandemic on the Porter Medical Center website. This week the Hospital began a drive-through COVID-19 testing service. Be sure to call your primary care provider first to make an appointment – do not just show up. Your primary care physician continues to be your best resource for individual medical guidance. Please call their office if you have questions about symptoms, exposure, treatment, and quarantine procedures.

Education and Care
All schools in the state have closed as of today. Schools will continue to provide food service on a pick-up or delivery basis for students who need it. Schools are also required to provide a continuity of education for all students and are developing those plans now. These plans will vary by school district, grade level, subject area, and availability of appropriate resources and technology. COVID-19 information and resources for each of the main Addison County school districts can be found on their websites: Addison Central School District, Addison Northwest School District, and Mount Abe School District.

Many local childcare providers closed their programs today, following guidance from the Agency of Education and Department of Health. Some limited home visits, under specific circumstances, will continue, particularly to deliver food and check on the most vulnerable children. I’ve just learned that the Governor will be releasing guidance for childcare providers shortly, so the overall status of childcare programs may change soon. Many programs for seniors have been cancelled, including Elderly Services Project Independence. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals are restricting visitor access. Be sure to check on elderly friends and relatives, but do so with caution as they may be at particular risk for infection.

Employers and Employees
I know that many, many businesses and organizations across the district have been severely impacted by this global health crisis. As of today at 2pm, all restaurants and bars have been ordered closed, except for take-out and delivery service. Many other businesses in the county have also closed or restricted services to pick-up only. And employees and businesses as diverse as artists and arts organizations that have cancelled months of performances & programming, childcare programs that have laid off all staff members, and dairy farmers who are experiencing financial challenges due to interruptions in global supply chains are all being impacted.

It’s clear that assistance will be needed for both workers and employers. For questions about unemployment insurance for yourself or employees, call the Vermont Unemployment Claims Line: 1-877-214-3331 and 3332. However, the number was so busy today that they could not take messages, so please be patient as the Department of Labor builds up staffing capacity. The Agency of Commerce & Community Development has provided guidance for businesses and is collecting information from businesses that have been impacted by this crisis in order to qualify for federal assistance.

Senate Work Continues
The work of the Vermont Senate is continuing with daily all-member phone calls to receive status updates and share concerns and questions from constituents. In addition, Senate committees are meeting regularly to discuss specific measures to respond to this crisis and move certain critical legislation along in the process. These calls are open to the public if you would like to call in to listen to the information and discussions. You can find this week’s agenda and call-in information on the General Assembly website.

State government offices across all branches are working together to meet the needs of all Vermonters in the face of crisis and to ensure that our state remains as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. We all should be particularly grateful to people working on the front lines in the Department of Health, hospitals and medical offices, public safety, nursing homes, grocery stores, and everyone delivering critical services during these uncertain times.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out with questions, ideas, and concerns. Keep letting me know your thoughts and experiences so I can advocate for you and get you the answers and services you need. I take my responsibility to serve you during this unprecedented crisis extremely seriously. I will continue to communicate information as I have it. We are all in this together. Let’s be patient and kind, and stay healthy and safe.