Sen. Hardy offers COVID-19 update

Editor’s note: This story is a message from Addison County State Sen. Ruth Hardy.
We’re into the second month of the COVID-19 crisis in Vermont and April promises to be even more difficult than March. Current state models project the “peak” of cases between mid-to-late April and early May. The sacrifices we’re all making by staying at home are working to slow the spread of the virus, and the following weeks will be critical to saving lives.
While it’s sure to be a really difficult month for all of us, I’m proud of how the people of our state have pulled together to meet this unbelievable challenge head on. In order to continue this effort, the State of Vermont has created a statewide volunteer website where you can sign up to help during this crisis. There is a particular need for volunteers with experience in health care to join the Vermont Medical Reserve Corps including:

Licensed and certified health care professionals;

People with mental health, or other types of clinical or professional experience;

Health care administrative experience, such as with medical data entry or language translators; and

People who have worked with displaced individuals, such as homeless shelter programs.
This effort is about drawing more skilled personnel, such as retirees or those not currently employed in the health care field, into the response and not about redirecting existing health care workers. The bill the Legislature passed last week eased licensing requirements for the purposes of aiding this emergency response. If you are licensed in other states or were previously licensed, visit the Health Department website to review the guide on emergency licensure. Thank you for whatever help you can offer to ease the burden on health care workers already on the frontlines of this crisis.
In addition, many non-profit organizations in Vermont need support during this time to continue to provide essential services during and after this crisis. The Vermont Community Foundation has established a VT COVID-19 Response Fund to support nonprofits that are especially equipped to address the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis in Vermont. In collaboration with a variety of partners, the Foundation seeks to provide flexible resources to nonprofits organizations working to address the most immediate public health and economic impacts of the crisis. Check out the website and donate to this important effort if you can.
Travel Guidance
Earlier this week, Governor Scott issued a directive that all people traveling into Vermont for “non-essential” purposes must self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival into the state, following guidance on self-quarantine from the VT Department of Health. Visitors from COVID-19 “hotspots” are directed not to travel to Vermont. In addition, lodging operations such as inns, hotels, AirBnb, and similar entities must suspend booking and not provide lodging except for specific, limited purposes as relevant for the direct response to the COVID-19 crisis. You can read the full directive here. At this point, people throughout the United States should be remaining home and not traveling to other parts of the country. However, some people may still be returning to their homes or families in Vermont. If so, they should self-quarantine upon arrival for 14 days. Tourism is important to the economy and identity of Vermont and I hope we’ll be able to welcome people from far and wide after this crisis is over, but for now, it’s crucial that we take every precaution to stem the spread of the disease.
Medical Surge Preparations
The Vermont National Guard has been working in conjunction with the State Emergency Operations Center, the VT Department of Health, and local community partners to set up faciltiies to prepare for the potential surge of patients later this month. They have established testing sites in Windham, Grand Isle, and Essex counties, and emergency high capacity care facilities in Essex Junction and Rutland. In Addison County, we are extremely fortunate that Porter Medical Center has been staying ahead of the curve by opening a drive-through testing site over two weeks ago and working with Middlebury College to establish overflow care sites on campus. Health care providers in our community and around the state are working overtime to ensure that we are ready to confront this crisis with skill and compassion. We should all be incredibly grateful for the work of these healthcare heroes!
Health Resources Update
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. Visit the Porter Medical Center website for information about local medical services. They have also established a special website where you can show your gratitude for the healthcare providers on the front lines in our community – #ThanksHealthHeroes – where you can post messages and photos. Finally, 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.
Business and Employment Resources
I have been hearing from many businesses, non-profit organizations, and individuals with questions about resources available to them during this crisis. The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development is working hard to provide guidance and information about resources available through state and federal programs. They have recently created a COVID-19 Recovery Resource Center website with information for businesses, individuals, and communities. It provides a wealth of information, so please check it out! If you are trying to file for unemployment insurance, you’ve likely experienced many busy phone lines and clogged websites. The demand on the Vermont Department of Labor has been enormous and they are doing the best they can to keep up. Please be patient, persisitent, and polite with your efforts to file a claim. Thank you!
Groceries and Cheese
In addition, to healthcare professionals, people working in grocery stores are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis. We all need to shop for groceries, so I urge everyone to take extra precautions when shopping to protect the health of others in the store, including grocery store workers. Please keep a six-foot distance between you and anyone else in the store; only shop when it’s necessary and avoid extra trips to the market; shop alone if possible; and respect special store hours for vulnerable populations, generally first thing each morning. If you are feeling ill, please stay at home; send someone else to do your shopping. Please be patient and kind to everyone in the store, especially the hardworking employees. Read the guidance provided by the VT Retail and Grocer’s Association on how to keep employees safe, and do your part as a consumer to help!
Speaking of groceries, I have heard from local cheesemakers that their sales have decreased significantly with the closure of restaurants and the cancellation of events. Supporting our local food system is more important now than ever. So, if you love cheese, I encourage you to buy local cheese in support of our farmers and cheesemakers. Most grocery stores carry a selection of local cheeses, and you can visit the Vermont Cheese Council website for a directory of cheesemakers who offer online ordering options. Share the site with your friends in other states so they can’t get a taste of Vermont while staying safe at home!
Be Kind to Yourself
The Vermont Department of Health is working hard to take care of everyone in Vermont during this crisis. Here’s some fantastic advice from these experts: “The COVID-19 outbreak can add to existing daily challenges. It is normal for an outbreak to be stressful. Let’s be kind to ourselves when feelings of anxiety or isolation increase. We can treat ourselves as kindly as we treat loved ones. Interrupt negative thoughts by thinking about an accomplishment or something nice we did for someone else.” Great advice – be kind to yourself. You’re doing a great job!
Finally, if you’re missing local performances, check out the Town Hall Theater’s virtual video series, The Quarantine Sessions, with performances from many THT all-stars. It’s sure to make you smile and help you be kind to yourself.
Take care, stay home, and be in touch.  We’re all in this together.
In solidarity,

Ruth Hardy
State Senator, Addison District

East Middlebury

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