COVID-19 Update for May 14

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Yesterday marked two months since the Governor declared a state of emergency and began closing down the state so we could Stay Home & Stay Safe. Thanks to the hard work of thousands of essential workers on the front-lines and the cooperation of Vermonters across the state, we have slowed the spread of the virus enough to begin opening up additional sectors of society. We still have to remain vigilant, as the virus could surge again in Vermont, but it does mean that collectively, we have done an excellent job of keeping each other safe so far.

Fill out the Census
Fewer than half of Vermont households have filled out their Census forms, which puts our tiny state at a huge disadvantage. We need everyone to be counted! You can complete the Census online from the safety of your own home. Please do so today and encourage your neighbors!

Restarting Vermont, Slowly
As you likely know, last week Governor Scott took the first step of allowing Vermonters to socialize in small groups for outdoor recreation and limited social interactions. Inter-household socializing is permitted so members of one household may gather – and allow children to play – with members of another trusted household, provided health and safety precautions are followed as much as possible. I know people took advantage of this to celebrate Mother’s Day this past weekend, although please continue to be especially careful for members of your household who may be at high risk due to age or health conditions.

Last Friday, the Governor announced that childcare providers may re-open programs on June 1 and summer camps can operate this summer, but all programs must follow very specific guidance in order to keep children, staff, and families safe. I know that many childcare providers are concerned about how (and if) their staff, finances, and facilities will be ready to open by June, and I know many parents are concerned about whether it will be safe. Not all programs will be ready to re-open by June 1 and some may determine that their specific operations will have to remain closed throughout the summer, as decisions about specific programs are up to individual camp or childcare program leaders. I know that many parents and children are eager for childcare programs and summer camps to reopen, and that many people throughout Vermont and here in Addison County are working hard to support these incredibly essential programs to ensure that they are safe and viable this summer and beyond.

Finally, the Governor provided additional guidance for lodging and hospitality operations and will allow additional non-essential retail and drive-in operations to re-open on May 18, if they are able to follow the Work Safe guidance from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. All employees must complete training on mandatory health and safety requirements, developed by the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA) prior to opening operations. In addition, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development has developed general Restart Vermont Resources as well as 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. It’s imperative that everyone take extra precautions and follow health and safety guidance so that Vermont can avoid a COVID resurgence after re-opening certain operations.

Testing and Health Update
This week the state launched pop-up testing events throughout the state, including one in Addison County next Wednesday, May 20 at the American Legion on Wilson Road in Middlebury. You can sign-up online for this free testing even if you are not experiencing symptoms. Health care workers, first-responders, childcare providers, and people returning to Vermont are especially encouraged to sign up. The Department of Health continues provide daily updates to current COVID-19 activity in Vermont information. The Department has also begun to provide a user-friendly and interesting weekly summary of Vermont COVID-19 data, and you can also check out the Vermont-specific modeling that has been used to help prepare the State’s response to COVID-19 and guide policy decisions. 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. If you do not have a primary care physician, you can call Vermont 2-1-1 for assistance finding a doctor.

Food Systems and Access
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a mom with a family to feed, I’ve been thinking a lot about food throughout this crisis, and how we grow, produce, and access food in Vermont. With schools and restaurants closed, grocery store supplies and operations interrupted, and many families struggling financially, accessing and affording food has become even more difficult. I am incredibly grateful to all of the amazing Vermonters who have stepped up to help feed their neighbors, communities, and people across our state. Farmers have adjusted and pivoted their businesses to provide more of their products directly to consumers, even giving away food to people who need it, like these awesome Addison County dairy farmers who gave away thousands of gallons of free milk last week in Middlebury.

School districts have been providing thousands of meals every day to students throughout the county, lovingly prepared by school food service staff and delivered on school buses to eager kids and their families. This daily connection to food, school, and community has become the highlight of the day for many children in towns throughout our community. School staff also worked with local stores and community organizations to provide food to vulnerable families as profiled in this collection of stories about How Vermont Communities Are Feeding Their Neighbors. Throughout the state, the Vermont National Guard has also been distributing meals to thousands of Vermonters as part of their overall COVID-19 response, and will do so in Addison County next Wednesday, May 20 from 10am-2pm at the Middlebury State Airport. Vermonters are even helping to feed people across the world, like a young woman from Bristol is doing after being stranded in Kathmandu during the pandemic.

The question, “In a Food Shortage, Could Vermont Farms Feed the Whole State?” was explored in a recent VPR Brave Little State podcast. It turns out the questions is yes, but maybe not in a way we all might enjoy. So, as the Legislature and many, many other people work to figure out how our state will emerge from this crisis, my hope is that we’ll all work to make our farms, agriculture sector, food system, and ability to feed ourselves as a state and region stronger and more resilient. Thank you to all of the farmers, food producers, cooks, bakers, gardeners, delivery workers, friends, and neighbors out there who are helping to feed Vermonters during this crisis!

We’re all in this together. Take care and stay safe.