Our COVID Thanksgiving

This will not be the Thanksgiving holiday we want or deserve, but please read on for helpful information about how to stay safe and an end note about gratitude during this time of crisis. As you surely know, the Coronavirus is now spreading quickly in Vermont, just like it has been in most of the United States. Our state is no longer a safe haven, but instead has entered the pandemic reality that most of our country has been experiencing for months. Over the past two weeks, there have been more than 1,200 additional cases and four more deaths in Vermont. More than one-third of all cases recorded since March have occurred during November, and about 70% of recent cases have apparently been linked to inter-household social gatherings, many associated with Halloween parties.

As we head into the holiday season, it’s more imperative than ever that we all do our part to keep each other safe:

Below are more details about some of the recent guidelines and restrictions.

On November 13, exactly eight months since he declared a state of emergency, Governor Scott issued an order prohibiting social gatherings involving multiple households. In addition, all bars and social clubs must suspend in-person, on-premise operations, and all non-school youth and adult recreational sports programs are suspended. Restaurants may continue to operate in-person until 10:00 pm, but may not seat people from multiple households together. Other businesses and organizations that serve multiple people and households may remain open, but must continue to comply with COVID health and safety protocols, maintain a contact log, and re-institute telecommuting and work-from-home procedures to the maximum extent possible.

After hearing from many constituents asking for clarity, I reached out to the Department of Health and Agency of Commerce and Community Development with questions about single-person households, outdoor activities, and places where multi-households meet, such as churches, workplaces, and community organizations. This past Friday, the Governor clarified and updated his order, stating that “individuals who live alone may gather with no more than one other household. Further, nothing in the order requires anyone to remain in a dangerous, unhealthy or otherwise unsafe household; likewise, nothing in this order prevents someone from taking in, housing, sheltering or assisting another individual or individuals to relieve them of a dangerous, unhealthy or otherwise unsafe household. Finally, limited outdoor fitness activities involving no more than two individuals from different households are permitted, provided these activities can be enjoyed while adhering to physical distancing and mask requirements, and require no physical contact. This includes, but is not limited to biking, hiking, walking, running and other outdoor fitness activities.”

While these clarifications did not provide detailed updates for most specific types of businesses and organizations, I urge everyone to be as cautious as possible. If work or activities can be done remotely, please do so. Everyone should wear a mask when in contact with other people outside your household, including at all times when you’re with colleagues, clients, or customers in any workplace. You can take a walk outside with a neighbor, but wear a mask and stay six feet apart. This is for your protection and theirs!

If at all possible, please do not travel or host travelers for Thanksgiving. The Governor has suspended the quarantine travel map and now all travelers coming or returning to Vermont must quarantine for 14 days or seven days followed by a negative test after arrival. This includes college students returning home from out-of-state, family members visiting for the holidays, tourists, and second home-owners visiting Vermont. It’s really important to note that family members visiting or returning to your home must quarantine before interacting with you and your family, which means designating a separate sleeping area and bathroom, wearing masks, and keeping your distance, even within your own home. I know from personal experience that this is difficult, but is really important to prevent potential COVID transmission among family members.

Vermont has been doing a fantastic job with contact tracing, allowing us to prevent most larger outbreaks by ensuring close contacts of people with COVID quarantine and get tested. It is now required for Vermonters to talk with contact tracers if called and follow their instructions. So, please pick up the phone if you’re called by the Department of Health. Testing opportunities have been expanded, including frequent testing clinics in Addison County. Pre-registration for testing clinics is required. If you have COVID symptoms, contact your healthcare provider for guidance. Visit the Vermont Department of Health frequently asked questions page for more information on many COVID topics.

I know all of these restrictions and protocols are depressing to hear right before the holidays. I know that so many people want nothing more than to celebrate, relax, and gather with friends and family. I’m sad to be the bearer of bad news, especially now, but I am grateful to represent a community that has taken this crisis seriously, worked together to prevent the spread of COVID, and made sacrifices to keep each other safe and allow essential services to resume.

Over the past couple months, I have been a substitute teacher at the Middlebury Union Middle School, filling in for teachers who need to be out more frequently due to COVID precautions and protocols. Last week I was fortunate to be a temporary 7th grade English teacher, helping students learn grammar during their two days of in-person school. Following their teacher’s instructions, we began each class with a greeting asking each other what we are grateful for this year. More than half of the students said they were thankful to be able to go to school in person. Our kids are grateful for school. This is remarkable and poignant and one of the fundamental reasons we all must continue our vigilance in the face of COVID. We owe it to these kids who are grateful for the ability to go to school during a global pandemic. Let’s be sure they can return next week. Let’s have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

I am grateful to all of the healthcare workers and personal caregivers; grocery store clerks, farmers, and food service workers; teachers and childcare providers; college students, staff, and faculty; staff members across state government; local government officials and election staffers; community service providers; artists and musicians; local business owners and workers; volunteers and neighbors; parents and families; and all of my constituents who are doing the best they can during these difficult times. Thank you for reading and for all that you’ve done to keep our community safe and healthy.

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