Editorial: A way through the unknown
In the midst of this historic pandemic, let’s pause for a moment and reflect on where we are and we’ve been.
It’s week five of the shutdown that Gov. Phil Scott imposed on Vermonters to stem the tide of the novel coronavirus. The day he announced the “Stay Safe, Stay Home” order was (wouldn’t you know it) Friday, March 13. So much has happened in that time it seems like months have gone by.
Middlebury College announced that Tuesday, March 10, that students would be sent home and classes would continue remotely afterward. That exodus saw 2,300 or so students leave the town of Middlebury, and the directive sent a good number of the 1,200 staff and faculty into hiding. Those moves practically emptied the town’s streets. Ten days later, on March 24, public schools throughout the state were closed and students were to transition to remote learning from home.
Restaurants and inns and all non-essential businesses would soon shut down, leaving everyone trying to figure out how to make this suddenly new world work — how to file for unemployment; how to keep employees paid or connected to their jobs so that when it’s all over there are jobs to return to; how to work remotely and monitor kids at home who are supposed to be working on assignments that were hastily made for a new format never before implemented. Medical providers and first-responders faced a new perilous task, but also front-line workers at grocery stores and pharmacies, truckers and delivery carriers suddenly faced work environments that poised considerably more risks than ever before.
Naturally, there have been hiccups.
Some businesses may have stayed open when they shouldn’t have. Rules of social distancing first had to be learned, then taken seriously, and then remembered when seeing friends one hasn’t seen for longer than usual. The state’s unemployment lines have been swamped and nonresponsive. Loans, grants and government programs have been a new test for business owners, who are also faced with keeping a business running with less help and still remain afloat. Dairy farmers, fitness centers, physical therapists, dentists and many others are caught in this enforced shutdown via the impact it has on its revenue stream — all of whom are trying to sort out just how long they can exist on limited government aid (when and if it comes) that will likely not be enough to avoid significant losses.
It’s a strange world right now.
But hope, as the saying goes, springs eternal, and there are signs all around us.
The first is Vermont’s reaction to this crisis. Gov. Scott has served the state well with his decisive actions, compassionate tone, firm reliance of fact and science not politics, and a measured approach that has earned the public’s confidence and trust. His leadership has been exemplary.
As a result, Vermont’s caseload has been contained relatively well by the state’s early and effective social distancing. Our hospitals seem well prepared and other than the shortage of testing (a national problem made worse by President Trump’s incompetence), we are well positioned to handle the pandemic.
Many Vermonters have a natural knack for social distancing, and the transition to working remotely, at least at this office and many others we have reported on, is going well. We’re learning, we’re making fewer mistakes than in the first weeks, and we’re settling into a routine that works. Church congregations are learning to meet remotely; clubs are starting to meet remotely as well. We’re adapting quickly and a new reality is starting to not seem so strange.
We’re finding new ways to socialize, to have fun, to relax at home and enjoy each other’s company. Many of us live with extended family and are benefitting from those closer ties.
It’s not all ideal. There will be problems with teachers teaching students remotely. There is a reason classroom settings are better. Be that as it may, we’ll make it through this semester; seniors will graduate in a unique ritual yet to be worked out, and communities will find unique ways to honor them. Then we’ll turn our attentions to how schooling might be different in the year ahead.
What we know now is that life won’t transition back to “normal” before the summer is over. What we know is that the virus is still prevalent throughout society and can re-emerge quickly as soon as defenses relax.
Come May 15, the date to which Gov. Scott extended the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, it’s likely that a few of the stringent orders now in place will be lifted, but count on continuing to wear face mask in public places; count on restaurants and inns being on a restricted status; count on mass events and gatherings still not being allowed until sometime later in the summer or maybe not until a vaccine is widely distributed; count on an extended order to work remotely for all those businesses who can reasonably do so.
But in Vermont, at least, count on the state, your community and your neighbors to be there for you. It’s tremendously encouraging to read in the paper each week, and in our newsletters Monday through Friday, how many extraordinary efforts are being made to help those in need and to keep each other safe. It’s heartening to see the resilience within the community to accept these new realities with good humor and faith.
Mind you, it’s far from over. We still must remain vigilant. But today we can see a path forward, a way through the unknown whereas before it had been uncertain.
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