Editorial: COVID-19: What to expect this fall
As mid-summer passes toward the first of August, it’s shocking how quickly the local conversation has moved from how retail stores, restaurants and many professionals were going to be able to serve customers and clients to today’s hot issue: With school and college openings on the horizon, how are we going to survive amidst a pandemic that has grown fiercer in many areas of the nation rather than subside as Americans had once so confidently predicted. Alas, it is our lot that while other of our peer nations have managed to stem the pandemic’s tide, it has gotten worse here because of the incompetence at the nation’s top levels of government.
So it is that Addison County, along with all of Vermont, faces a new set of challenges as we approach the next few months.
Of utmost concern is how area schools and colleges, day care and elder care facilities, larger manufacturers and other facilities that revolve around large gatherings of people will manage their daily activities while putting a premium on preserving a healthy community environment.
Middlebury College has spent many weeks developing strict protocols for returning students and will make a presentation to the community next Tuesday. The public is invited to participate. (See details in a special meeting notice on Page 5A.) Area school districts and many in the business community are also working hard to reimagine how they will open and serve their constituencies.
As we all try to outline successful scenarios, let’s agree on a few givens:
• First, we’re all in this together. Our goal is not to pit one side against the other, but to work together to find the best solutions for all of us.
• Perfection is not the goal. It is unrealistic to expect Middlebury or any town in Addison County will have zero cases of COVID-19 going forward. Addison County has already had 71 cases of the virus in the past five months, and for much of that time we had closed schools, churches and businesses. Our advantage today is that we know how we can protect ourselves by social distancing, wearing masks and taking the precautions that we read about daily. Knowledge is power and if we can get everyone to use that knowledge wisely, other countries have proven how successfully the virus can be contained while keeping a relatively open economy.
• What is realistic is to develop strict action plans to respond to COVID-19 cases for pods of every size. By September 1, each individual, family, business, or institution should not only know how to keep from getting sick (social distancing, wearing masks, etc.), but also know how to respond to the slightest signs of infection; which medical professionals to call; where to go for testing; how to keep from spreading any likely contagion to others. It needs to be second nature and it needs to be universally accepted within the community.
Besides those givens, we can also be proactive:
• At work, and maybe even at home each morning, we can adopt temperature checks. Masks could be mandated and worn in all public spaces where social distancing is not likely. Hand sanitizers at entrances to your home, vehicle and place of work or when engaging with others (schools, events, etc.) could become commonplace.
• We must be creative in finding new ways to be social, to practice good citizenship (attending virtual meetings, voting by mail, volunteering in all the ways people do), while also helping build our communities. This pandemic is not a reason to become a hermit, but rather a reason to embrace good deeds that make community stronger. To say that another way, it’s a version of the old saw: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. If we let them, these are times that bring out the best in each of us.
• That said, embracing the scenario to open our schools, the college, our businesses and other aspects of our daily lives is not without risk, and it is not the only answer. Closing schools, the college, churches, non-essential businesses and events must be part of a viable strategy if the coronavirus spreads beyond control. It should be part of the toolbox; an agreed-upon response when and if being open is no longer viable.
In a guest-editorial below, Sen. Chris Bray writes of liberty in an enlightening essay. “Liberty,” he says President Washington and the other founders of our nation recognized, “is the freedom we give to each other by surrendering a little bit of our own.” Each of us must think beyond our self-interest. Please take a moment to read it, and reflect on that wisdom.
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