Community & COVID Resources and Holiday Greetings

I hope you’ve been able to enjoy the gorgeous snow we got this past week! It was perfectly timed to give kids a true snow day on the last day of Hanukkah; I hope it stays on the ground so we can enjoy a white Christmas too. I’m writing to give you an update about COVID-19 and also some community resources I’ve learned about directly, as a citizen legislator, over the past few months.

Citizen Legislator
Since our legislative session ended in late September, I’ve been working as a substitute teacher at the Middlebury Union Middle School (MUMS), helping them meet staffing needs during this time when teachers are out more often due to COVID precautions. I’ve spent time in nearly every type of classroom and learned a lot about how students and teachers are dealing with COVID protocols and coping during the pandemic. I’ve had the privilege of watching incredible educators in action, including the awesome paraprofessional featured in this national profile of special educators during the pandemic. Teachers and school staffers are working incredibly hard to help students stay safe and continue learning during this extremely difficult time, and students are grateful to be able to be in school with peers and supportive adults, even if it’s only two days per week for many students. It’s been an great experience, and I encourage you to try it too, if you can. Many schools have a high need for good substitute teachers during the pandemic. Contact your local school district if you’re interested in a flexible, part-time job that would really help our community during this crisis.

I’ve also had the pleasure of visiting several local school and college classes, mostly through Zoom. I’ve made the rounds to several fourth grade classes, in Middlebury, Salisbury, and Cornwall, talking about civics and citizen engagement. I put on my senator hat for a day at MUMS and talked to all of the eighth graders, who were learning about the three branches of government. I also talked with Castleton University social work and Middlebury College gender studies classes. It’s been tons of fun and I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from students (especially 4th graders!), teachers, and parents. If you’re a teacher or student and you’d like me to come talk with your class, let me know.

While not in school, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about eldercare resources and helping my 84-year-old mother who had a bad fall at the end of August. After she spent time in the hospital, rehab, and getting home health assistance in our home, we made the difficult decision to move her to a residential care facility. All of this has been even more sad and stressful because of COVID when seniors have been especially vulnerable and facilities that care for them hit hard. If you’re facing challenges caring for an elderly family member, I highly recommend calling Elderly Services to get support and discuss options. Addison County Home Health and Hospice or AgeWell can also provide important services such as case management, direct care, or transitions counseling. If you need financial assistance for eldercare needs, the Vermont Choices for Care Program provides long-term care Medicaid assistance for qualified Vermonters.

Finally, you may have heard about my Election Day car accident that resulted in a sore body and the need for a new car. After research and lots of advice, we decided to get a fully electric car. I know a new car is a luxury most people can’t afford, especially now during the pandemic. But if you find yourself in the market for a new car, there are a lot of good deals and incentives to purchase or lease electric vehicles, including a rebate for Vermonters with middle and modest incomes created by the Legislature last year. Given that a recent study by the Climate Economy Action Center of Addison County found that transportation is the second biggest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in our area, electric vehicles are at least part of the solution. You can find lots of helpful information on the Drive Electric Vermont website.

COVID-19 Update
Unfortunately, COVID continues to rage across our country and cases are still high in Vermont, with hospitalizations and deaths on the rise, especially at long-term care facilities. Your vigilance over the past month has helped cases stay relatively low in Addison County, but I know many people who have been directly or indirectly impacted by illness and deaths. The Governor has continued to uphold restrictions on gatherings and activities and my advice as we head into these next two holiday weeks is the same as it was at Thanksgiving: please don’t travel or gather with other households, and please do wear a mask, wash hands, and stay home as much as possible, especially if you’re experiencing symptoms. You can read the latest weekly update from the Commissioner of Health here.

Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon! This past week, the first Vermonters received an initial dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, including about 30 frontline healthcare workers in Addison County. My friend, Dr. Eric Benz was among them. His wife texted me saying that their family is “breathing a little easier” after he got his first dose of the vaccine. It’s so important to remember the stress frontline workers and their families have been under for the past nine months. In order to protect everyone, we have to continue to be vigilant for many more months before the vaccine can be widely distributed to everyone. You can get more information about the vaccine status from the Department of Health and the UVM Health Network.

As we head into the final weeks of this extremely difficult year, I am hopeful about the light at the end of this long COVID tunnel. Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year, but we will be treated to an astronomical spectacle that hasn’t been seen by humans since 1226 – the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn! If it’s a clear night, the event will be plainly visible during the 5:00 – 6:00 pm hour. Get outside and enjoy! During 2020, our state has banded together like no other. Check out this great collection of Good News, Positive Trends and Stories of Resilience From an Awful Year compiled by Seven Days. It will help you remember the goodness in our state and world. Finally, for a bit of holiday cheer, listen to this recording of “Sleigh Ride” by the Vermont Youth Orchestra (my daughter is the violinist with the Santa hat!).

From my family to yours, whatever holiday traditions you observe, may your celebrations be as safe and joyful as possible.