COVID-19 Update for April 11

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I know this is a holiday weekend, as many of us observe Easter, Passover, and the traditional start to spring. Celebrating a holiday during a pandemic is difficult and I know many of us are wishing we could be with family and friends. My family usually celebrates Passover with a huge Saturday Seder, with over 30 people gathered around our table to honor the story of our ancestors and feast on delicious food. The next day we celebrate Easter Sunday with baskets full of treats and an egg hunt in our yard with our neighbors. This year our Seder table will include just five of us and our Easter treats will be scant. This reality is likely similar for you and your family. Next year, may we all be able to be with loved ones from near and far. Let’s keep that hope alive during this pandemic.

Stay at Home Order Extended
Yesterday Governor Scott extended the Stay Safe, Stay Home order through May 15 and clarified previous orders related to real estate transactions, lodging establishments, motor vehicle inspections, temporary housing, and emergency response services. Read the full order with the link above, and please continue to stay home for everything but essential activities and critical work. If you remain unclear about whether your business or organization can remain open during this time, you should read the sector-specific guidancefrequently asked questions (FAQs) for businesses, and critical businesses guidance provided by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. If you have further questions, you can request additional guidance using this form. If you believe a business or organization is not appropriately following the Governor’s orders or guidance, you can issue a complaint using this Executive Order Reporting Tool.

As always during this crisis, everyone should be following recommended social distancing and public health protocols, and erring on the side of caution so that everyone can be safe and healthy. As you know, the Vermont Commissioner of Health advised that we should all wear cloth facial masks if we need to leave home for essential purposes, like going grocery shopping or taking care of others. This advice includes wearing a mask at your workplace if you work for a critical business. For example, all health care, grocery store, food service, farm, delivery, and other critical service workers should be wearing face masks while on the job. Read guidance from the VT Department of Health on using cloth face coverings. I know it feels strange to wear a mask, but doing so protects everyone around you from contracting a potentially deadly virus. We’re all in this together, we should all wear a face mask.

Health Resources Reminder
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. The Department has recently added a webpage which provides more details about the Current COVID-19 Activity in Vermont, with data by age, gender, and county. 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 finding a doctor.

Unemployment Insurance Update
Due to the huge volume of unemployment insurance claims they are processing, the Department of Labor has implemented an alphabetized schedule, based on your last name, for filing claims. Each Monday through Friday is reserved for specific sections of the alphabet, with Friday through Sunday open to everyone. You can find out more here. This system is meant to decrease the wait-time and volume of calls each day and hopefully speed up the process for everyone. You can still file an initial claim online here and get answers to FAQs here. The Department is also training and hiring more people to answer questions and process claims during a period of unprecedented unemployment insurance activity. Please respect this new system, and as always, be patient, persistent, and polite!

Work of the Vermont Senate
Sixteen members Vermont Senate, including me, met in person at the State House on Wednesday to provide final authorization for the full Senate to meet and vote on legislation remotely. It was a surreal and somber meeting, as we each entered the Senate chamber separately, donning face masks, and took seats scattered throughout the room in order to remain spaced apart. On Friday, we held our first “virtual floor session” via remote video and approved four bills to aid in the state’s response to this emergency. The legislation, which is now before the VT House, will provide resources for local emergency medical services and sheriffs to better maintain personnel during this crisis, enable additonal legal transactions to take place remotely, and place a nearly full moratoriam on evictions and foreclosures during this crisis. You can read a journal of our actions yesterday here and watch all Senate proceedings live or after-the-fact on YouTube. We continue to meet nearly every day in committees or as a full senate to address the COVID-19 crisis and ensure the operations of the state.

Finally, although I know these spring holidays don’t feel the same this year, at least one world leader, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, has deemed the Easter Bunny an essential worker. Ardern told children in her country, “You’ll be pleased to know that we do consider both the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny to be essential workers.” She added though, “…if the Easter Bunny doesn’t make it to your household, then we have to understand that it’s a bit difficult at the moment for the bunny to perhaps get everywhere.”

At the moment, as Christians remember the sacrifices of Christ and Jews remember the ten plagues that befell the Egyptian people and we all remember the beauty of spring, things may be difficult but around the world people are doing what they can to remain hopeful and human in the face of crisis. Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring. Take care, stay home, and be in touch. We’re all in this together.