COVID-19 Update for April 7

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I’m thankful the weather has been beautiful these past couple days, because I know that every-day life has become stressful and intense for many people. Addison County has the second highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Vermont, with neighboring Chittenden County (home to my constituents in Huntington and Buels Gore) recording the most cases of the virus in the state. We’re reaching the point when all of us have been, or will be soon, touched by this pandemic directly or indirectly through friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers. The fear, anxiety, and loss can be overwhelming. Please be kind and patient, and take care of yourself. These are not easy times.

Wear a Mask When Out for Essentials
On Friday, the Vermont Commissioner of Health advised that we should all wear cloth facial masks or coverings if we need to leave home for essential purposes, like going grocery shopping or taking care of others. This advice is based on information about how COVID-19 can spread before a person has any symptoms. Because people may have COVID-19 but no symptoms, wearing a face mask may help keep people from unknowingly spreading the virus.

Face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing and other prevention measures, so you should continue to keep a six-feet distance from people outside your household and you should also keep washing your hands regularly. Read the CDC’s guidance on how to use and make cloth masks and watch a video of the U.S. Surgeon General about how to make your own face covering using household items. Many local community members are also making masks for medical workers, friends, and neighbors. Read Front Porch Forum to find one of the many people who have offered their fantastic sewing services. Medical-grade mask supplies are needed for health care workers and first responders. Please uses cloth or other recommended facial coverings for your yourself and loved ones.

Health Resources Updates
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. Visit the Porter Medical Center website for information about local medical services. If you are experiencing symptoms or have questions about your health, please call your primary care physician with questions before showing up in person for testing or medical care. If you do not have a primary care physician, you can call Vermont 2-1-1 for assistance.

Now is an important time to be sure you have health insurance coverage. If you do not have health insurance, or have recently lost your coverage, you can sign up for Vermont Health Connect until April 17, no matter how long you’ve been uninsured. If you have lost your income due to COVID-19, you may qualify for free comprehensive coverage with Vermont Medicaid. Or, you may qualify for assistance paying for Medicare premiums or prescription medication. You can find out more information and apply for assistance by calling Vermont Health Connect at 1-855-899-9600. You can also get free help navigating your options by calling the Vermont Health Care Advocate at 1-800-917-7787.

We’ve all heard stories about the shortage of medical supplies and personal protective equipment, which is a nationwide and even a global issue. So, it is wonderful to read that innovative Vermonters are stepping up in so many ways to help, including a team of scientists, engineers and doctors at the University of Vermont that has recently invented an emergency ventilator and is working to get it quickly approved and manufactured to help ease the local and national shortage of these live-saving machines.

Education Resources
I know first-hand that this crisis is really stressful time for students and parents alike. Many of us are home with children of varying ages who are trying to keep up with school work in a completely new format. Teachers and schools are doing a great job communicating and providing guidance, and parents are trying hard to help their children while also working and/or dealing with significant health or financial challenges. All of this is particularly difficult for parents of children with special educational, medical, or social needs. The most important thing during this crisis is the health and safety of you and your family, including everyone’s mental health. We’re all learning a lot about flexibility and resilience during this crisis, and those lessons are likely more important than keeping up with every school assignment.

For parents looking for more and varied resources for children, Vermont PBS has partnered with the Vermont Agency of Education to provide for continuity of learning during the COVID-19 outbreak, allowing Vermont teachers and students access to free educational resources via television broadcast throughout the duration of school closures. Check out the new At-Home Learning page on the VT PBS website for more information. In addition, public libraries offer a good variety of online tools to access audio books, film streaming, and many digitial services. For examples, check out the resources available at Bixby Library in Vergennes and Ilsley Library in Middlebury. Public library resources continue to be here for all of us during this crisis. Current and aspiring college students can find lots of resources and virtual events regarding financial aid, student loans, and career & college planning at the VSAC website. Finally, if you’re looking for more information about a host of COVID-related topics, you may find this Coronavirus Tips: Frequently Asked Questions and Advice resource page from the New York Times helpful.

Virtual Town Halls on Employment Issues
So many people have lost jobs because of this crisis and are looking for information and assistance. The VT Department of Labor is hosting two virtual town halls this week to focus on employment issues. The first is this afternoon, Tuesday, April 7 at 2:00pm and covers Resources for the Self-Employed, including resources for self-employed or independent contractors and the process they should take to apply for unemployment insurance benefits. The second is on Thursday, April 9 at 2:00pm and covers Employer Services and Rapid Response, including a description of the step-by-step process for employers who may need to lay off employees, who to notify and work with, and what to do when and if they are looking to hire. Previous events can be viewed on the Department’s YouTube Channel.

Community Giving
I know many people are struggling financially right now, but if you are able to contribute financially to organizations on the front-lines of fighting this pandemic, you could make a donation to the United Way’s Addison County Responds campaign to provide emergency grants for local health and human service agencies responding to this pandemic and emergency funds for individuals who need support beyond what existing programs can provide. They are just shy of their goal to raise $185,000 to help our community and neighbors who most need help during the pandemic. In addition, Porter Medical Center and UVM Medical Center are selling a limited number of raffle tickets to win a lovely Addison County landscape painting donated by the Edgewater Gallery to support the hospitals’ COVID-19 Response Funds. “These funds are supporting immediate and emerging local needs related to navigating the pandemic, including resources for patients, front line caregivers, and the delivery of health care.”

Burning Ban and the Census too
As you know, COVID-19 is a severe respiratory virus that can be exacerbated by lung stress or damage, including irritation from inhaling smoke. So, effective immediately, the Fire Warden for the Town of Bristol has issued a temporary ban on all burn permits until further notice. This decision was made in consultation with the Fire Chief and Selectboard. The ban does not include small campfires or fires for cooking food. They ask for your understanding and consideration during these unprecedented times. While other towns may not yet have issued such a ban, I urge you to refrain from burning leaves or brush during a time when neighbors may be struggling to remain healthy or recover from COVID-19.

Another reminder to complete the U.S. Census as soon as possible so that everyone in Vermont can be counted. You can easily do so online at the U.S. Census website. Getting counted is more important now than ever because federal funding to states is based on population counts. As a small state, we need every single person counted so we can get our fair share of federal assistance during this emergency.

Finally, if you’re a Hamilton fan like me, check out this virtual zoom performance from the cast of Hamilton, performed online for a nine-year-old girl who missed seeing the show because of the pandemic. I hope it makes you smile.

Take care, stay home, and be in touch.  We’re all in this together.