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I hope this message finds you staying safe and healthy! I hope also you were able to enjoy the beautiful sunshine today. Just as it was important to share information about closing things down safely, it’s also important to share information about opening things up safely. Doing so will take all of us working together collectively.
Restarting Vermont, Slowly
Restarting daily social life and our economy will have to be a slow process in order to prevent the virus from resurging. Last Friday, Governor Scott announced a second phase of the process to carefully open up daily life in our state. Additional “non-critical” businesses can begin limited operations as long as they follow strict health protocols, including:
- “Micro-crews,” of no more than five people per location/job may perform outdoor work and construction in unoccupied structures;
- Manufacturing and distribution operations may resume with a maximum of five employees at any location if they are low-density and ensure employees are at least six feet apart at all times;
- Outdoor retail operations may resume in-person shopping, such as garden centers and greenhouses offering mulch, stone, plant, tree, seed sales, providing these operations permit no more than 10 total people in the store at one time, including customers and staff, and follow guidance from the Agency of Agriculture. Outdoor retail operations shall take steps to schedule or stage customer visits to ensure no congregation; and
- Libraries may allow for curbside pickup for lending in accordance with guidance from the Department of Libraries.
All employees, including those already working (except healthcare workers, first responders, and others already trained in infection control, personal protection/universal precautions), must complete training on mandatory health and safety requirements by May 4, 2020. All employers must document that everyone who works for them has completed this training. In addition, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development has developed sector-specific guidance for many employment fields, so be sure to review this guidance if you have questions about how to keep safe while on the job or doing business.
Unemployment Insurance Update
I know that despite efforts by the Department of Labor to fix the unemployment insurance application process there are still many people who have not been able to get their unemployment claims processed, including some people who have been trying to do so since mid-March. Over the past several days, I’ve been in touch with many people who are at wits-end and running out of money quickly. While I encourage you to keep trying to get through on the phone or online to the Department of Labor, please reach out to me directly and I will try to help expedite things for you. The Department of Labor website has links to the many avenues for contacting them and getting information on programs and support.
Health Resources & Data Update
The Department of Health has begun to release town-specific data on COVID-19 infections and deaths for towns that have experienced more than six positive cases, which in Addison County currently includes only Bristol and Vergennes. This data is updated daily and included with the current COVID-19 activity in Vermont information. The most comprehensive place to stay up-to-date with the situation in Vermont remains the Vermont Department of Health website. Visit the Porter Medical Center website for information about local medical services, including testing for COVID-19. If you are experiencing symptoms or have questions about your health for any reason, please call your primary care physician before going in person for testing or medical care. Don’t wait too long to seek medical treatment – local medical providers are still available to help with non-COVID health issues. If you do not have a primary care physician, you can call Vermont 2-1-1 for assistance finding a doctor.
Please remember to wear a mask and maintain at least a six-feet distance from others when out in public. This will protect your health as well as others around you, and will help with efforts to be able to safely open up Vermont. Since we all should be wearing masks, lots of creative folks have been making homemade masks with personalized and beautiful patterns. The Vermont Folklife Center has launched the Show Us Your Masks! project to collect photos of Vermonters wearing homemade masks. Send your photo along to them for their gallery. I sent my photo today!
The Legislature continues its work remotely on a daily basis with a continued focus on the COVID-19 crisis. Last week, the House successfully passed its first bills remotely, following up on the work the Senate did a few weeks ago. On Monday, the Senate passed additional bills related to municipal property taxes and operations during this emergency, delaying the implementation of special education changes, and including on-the-job COVID-19 exposure for certain front-line worker’s compensation claims. In addition, the Senate is working on bill that would create an Essential Workers Grant Program for frontline workers who have been working throughout the crisis in positions that require direct person-to-person contact that increases their exposure to the COVID-19 virus. These workers, who must make less than $25 per hour, include many frontline healthcare professionals, grocery store employees, non-volunteer first-responders, certain childcare providers, trash collectors, certain custodians, homeless shelter and food shelf employees, funeral home employees, pharmacy and dental workers, and others who have provided critical, frontline services during this pandemic. We hope to pass this bill later this week and send it to the House for consideration. I will provide more details when the legislation is finalized and there is a process established for applying for the grant.
Elections in 2020
As you know, 2020 is an important election year for Vermont and the United States. The legislature has passed a number of provisions that will help allow elections in Vermont to proceed safely. The Secretary of State has been working with the Governor to implement these changes fairly and uniformly across the state. We all want all voters to be able to exercise their right to vote safely and easily. Yesterday the Secretary of State issued guidance on the process changes permitted for local elections this year. While discussions are ongoing about the status of state and national elections, I encourage you to visit the Secretary of State’s Elections Division website to be sure your address and voter information is up-to-date on the My Voter Page. Your local town clerk is also a vital source of information for elections questions specific to your town.
Finally, I know many people have had birthdays during this crisis, away from family and friends, and without the ability to really celebrate. This has been particularly difficult for kids. Today my daughter went to wish one of her best friends a happy 16th birthday from her driveway, after having spent nearly every birthday together since birth. Even famous people have had to celebrate alone, but some of them, like legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, have the benefit of famous singers serenading them from afar. If you’re a Broadway musical fan, definitely watch a bit of Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration. Happy Birthday to everyone who has turned one year older during this crisis!
We’re all in this together. Take care, stay home, and be in touch.