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I hope you’ve been able to heed the Governor’s “Stay Safe, Stay Home” order and are remaining home unless your work has been deemed “critical” to the response to this public health emergency. You can still go out briefly for things like grocery shopping, medical visits, taking care of others, and exercise, but otherwise, please stay home. We all need to do our part to stop the spread of this deadly virus.
Health Resources Update
The most comprehensive place to stay up-to-date with the situation in Vermont remains the Vermont Department of Health website which is constantly updated with new information. On Friday, the Commissioner of Health announced that Vermont has been able to obtain the necessary medical supplies to expand COVID-19 testing in the state, giving doctors the ability to test more patients with mild or moderate symptoms. Read this CDC outline of symptoms of Coronavirus, with gudiance on when to seek medical attention. As always, call your doctor’s office if you have any questions; don’t show up for testing or treatment without calling first!
Visit the Porter Medical Center website for information about local medical services. Of note, Porter Medical Center is now accepting donations of hand-sewn masks! You can visit their donation page for information about this and other ways to help our local hospital through this crisis. For example, several local businesses have teamed up to make hand sanitizer for Porter Medical Center and other hospitals.
Smokers and vapers, and the people they live with, are particularly vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 because of the stress it puts on their lungs. If you’re a smoker or vaper, now is a great time to quit! Visit 802quits.org to learn more about the tools and support available to help you quit. Similarly, being isolated can excerbate substance use challenges, so check out VTHelpLink, the alcohol and drug support center, for resources to help you on the road to recovery. Finally, if you fear for your own safety due to the threat of domestic violence please seek help – you can find resources at the Vermont Network website.
Schools and Education
On Thursday, Governor Scott ordered that all schools will remain dismissed for in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. I know this reality is difficult and disappointing to many students, as well as teachers and school staff. There are so many special events and traditions that take place during the last weeks of school that will be missed this year. Schools must implement a continuity of learning plan by mid-April and provide students with online and other distance education opportunities to ensure student learning continues. I’m hoping schools will also plan ways to continue some end-of-school activities remotely, so students have a sense of connection and closure in the final weeks of this disjointed school year.
I know students across the state are trying to find ways to stay positive and remain connected to friends. I heard from students in Vergennes who are organizing a statewide remote spirit week this week — you can check out their #vtwegotthis Facebook page for how to participate. My family and many others are trying to get outside for daily walks, with appropriate social distancing — read these tips from the VT State Parks so you can remain safe while doing so. Finally, for a mood boost, listen to these Berklee College of Music students’ virtual orchestra performing “What the World Needs Now is Love.”
Farm Workers and COVID-19
I have heard from many people in recent days expressing concern for visiting farmworkers and how they may be impacted by this crisis. The Agency of Agriculture has been working with farmers to ensure they have proper guidance, in Spanish and English, to protect themselves and all of their workers during this crisis. You can review the Agency’s COVID-19 resources for farmers. The Agency has been working with the farm community to identify appropriate housing options should workers need to be isolated if symptoms occur or someone tests positive for COVID-19. They are finding means to help farmworkers continue to get groceries and hygiene supplies as stores shorten hours and products become scarce. They are also working to ensure that all incoming farm workers are properly screened and temporarily isolated when they arrive in the community.
Porter Medical Center has confirmed that medical care will continue for farmworkers during this crisis. The Porter spokesperson said, “We continue to care for all members of our community who have a need for our services regardless of their immigration status…that is our mission.” In addition, while the Open Door Clinic, the free clinic that serves many farmworkers, has halted in-person services, they continue to provide phone consultations, with nurses fielding clinical calls, triaging patients, conferring with their medical director, and addressing each patient’s concerns with a course of treatment and follow-up as appropriate. This work includes appropriate guidance and follow-up for farmworkers and all patients with symptoms or concerns about COVID-19. They are providing outreach via phone, social media and other communications, telling patients that the Clinic remains ready to take care of them and is making plans to provide “care packages” for farmworkers throughout the area.
The Vermont Migrant Health Education Program and their Bridges to Health program is also engaged in outreach and advocacy for the farmworker community. Finally, I have heard from a number of farmers who employ migrant farmworkers about their efforts to educate and support their employees during this time. Many are working in conjunction with their employment service agencies and farm cooperatives to ensure farmworkers have adequate information and protection. There is no question that visiting farmworkers are particularly vulnerable during this crisis. Like many Vermonters, they often lack adequate paid sick leave, and will not qualify for federal and state benefits that will be available to most Vermonters. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I will work to ensure I have the most up-to-date information on resources and services for this vulnerable and important community.
Federal Aid Packages
The U.S. Congress has passed three major COVID-19 aid packages, which will be hugely beneficial to our state. For starters, individual taxpayers who earn up to $75,000 and couples who earn up to $150,000 will receive “recovery rebates” of up to $1,200 or $2,400 respectively, plus $500 for each dependent child. Additional tax information is outlined in this memo by the VT Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office. Federal unemployment insurance benefits information is outlined in this JFO memo. The Vermont Legislature and our staff are continuing to analyze the legislation and what it will mean for our constituents. I hope to be able to share more clear and accessible information later this week. In the meantime, if you’d like to dig into the details, you can read more information completed by the Vermont Joint Fiscal Office. Please let me know if you have questions and I’ll try to get you answers.
Finally, there are so many stories of tragedy, perseverence, loneliness, resilience, anxiety, and kindness in the face of this worldwide crisis. One of my colleagues wrote about the story of the Vermont Senate’s unified response to the crisis. Seven Days reporters created this collection of Vignettes of Vermonters Adapting to Life in a Pandemic and The New York Review of Books created this Pandemic Journal with stories from around the world, including one from Ripton.
Take care, stay home, and be in touch. We are all in this story together.