With the first deaths of Vermonters due to COVID-19, we know we are just beginning to see the challenges this disease will present to our communities. We don’t know the scale of illness it will unleash in the Upper Valley, nor the severity. Gauging by the health effects we have seen in Asia and Europe and the infection and mortality rates, we likely will have an acute public health care crisis on our hands.
The protective measures we must take to “flatten the curve” of virus infections require that we set aside one of our superpowers: our eagerness to come together (literally) in a time of crisis to support one another. But that just increases our use of another superpower we have as Vermonters: our ability to innovate in the face of adversity. I’m seeing that superpower in full force in our towns. Communities are establishing formal and informal networks to check in on neighbors to inquire about food and medicine supplies. Maybe just as importantly, these check ins will simply say “hello” and “I’m here for you.” Schools had to turn on a dime earlier this week with the governor’s directive that they close on Wednesday. Overnight, schools re-invented themselves as centers for remote learning, while continuing to support the needs of nutritionally challenged students. With constraints on gatherings for those recovering from addiction, several on-line resources have recently evolved to help those continue on their path. In the coming weeks, we are going to invent new ways to create community, to be in touch, to support one another. To build new superpowers. Perhaps, in the immortal words of Gene Kranz, this is going to be our finest hour.
I got an unexpected email from a fellow legislator on Wednesday morning that simultaneously made me tear up and feel optimistic. This experienced state representative is both tough as nails and quick to share a laugh. They admitted to being a very private person in their email to the entire Vermont House of Representatives. They wrote:
I broke down this morning. I run a low-income elderly/disabled housing facility, in addition to another low-income family housing facility, and other residential rental properties, many residents of which are in the service industry. So, in addition to the legislative and community efforts I am trying to lead locally, I am overwhelmed - as are we all.
There is little to no guidance for me on my elderly facility, so I'm flying by the seat of my pants trying to do all I can to ensure COVID-19 doesn't penetrate there; I am in the midst of a significant challenge (not COVID related) at my other property; and, with the service industry where it is now, I am trying to offer as much support as I can. So, all of this combined with my legislative/community duties, I had no idea where to begin today, and I just broke down. For two hours!
Then, my VSHA administrator felt my breakdown and she called to talk. She was so kind - just reassuring me that it's going to be fine; thanking me for all I am doing at the elderly/disabled facility, and urging me to just continue doing what I'm doing at both properties, and everything will work out.
Shortly after, I returned a call to a friend (that I should have returned yesterday) who wanted to touch base about her business and how she can ensure her employees remain on staff through all of this. And, by the end of the phone call, we had a few laughs and talked about how we'd get together after all of this.
And, time after time today, things just started to look up. A restaurant made corned beef and cabbage meals for all of my residents at my elderly facility - and we delivered them to each of them. What an incredible pick-me-up for them - those most anxious and worried among us - on St Patrick's Day! The group we have organized for our volunteer efforts to help the most vulnerable came together with a good, sound, safe, and easily manageable plan. And so much more throughout the day ...
In the end, what I learned is that it's okay to break down. It's okay to admit we are overwhelmed. Take some time to feel it and to appreciate it. But, then reach out to those you know, love, and trust.
Let’s deploy our superpowers to support our neighbors….and in doing so restore ourselves.
On Sunday, Jim and I met with a group of leaders from the four towns we represent, including selectboard and school board chairs, emergency responders, school principals, and others. We had a broad discussion about emergency supports that are in place in our towns and discussed holes in our safety nets. We shared ideas. We discussed the importance of consistency of communication from town leaders, as well as of coordinating our efforts to provide assistance within our towns.
One of the tasks that came out of the meeting for me was to act as a conveyor of information coming out of state government on combating COVID-19. In recent days I have been sending an evening email to this group of about two dozen town leaders.
In our list of blog postings on the prior screen, I have posted those email updates of what's going on in state government. They are titled "Windsor-Orange 2 COVID-19 Updates." I will be posting future emailed updates to the Jim & Tim Report for you to read in the coming days. In the side bar on the main page of this website, I am adding a number of links to state government information on COVID-19 that may be useful to you.
This week the legislature has been operating remotely with 2-3 conference calls each day of various committees and working groups. I’ve been working on constituent questions ranging from issues on unemployment insurance to the Open Meeting Law to health insurance coverage to tax filing deadlines.
As always, please contact me or Jim if there is anything with which we can assist you. We’re here to help.
On March 10th, the Legislature's first day back after Town Meeting, the General Assembly held a Joint House-Senate hearing on the status of Coronavirus in Vermont. Three days before, the first case of COVID-19 had been diagnosed in VT. This hearing included all state agencies directly involved in the health care and emergency response preparations. It was a sobering discussion about the scale of the challenge in front of Vermont.
The intensity of this discussion ramped up over the course of the week culminating in a very long day on Friday, March 13th with the passage of several pieces of legislation intended to expand the state's unemployment insurance system and shore up our health care workforce pool.
For public health reasons, the legislature adjourned last Friday and is now conducting business telephonically, though no legislation is being voted upon.
Yours truly spent about three hours on the House Floor on February 20th explaining, and undergoing interrogation on, H.688, the Global Warming Solutions Act. We passed the bill by a surprisingly strong 105-37 margin, and sent this critical piece of climate legislation along to the Senate.
My personal reward for getting the GWSA across the finish line was a pint of Strafford Organic Creamery's Smooth Maple super premium ice cream. I'm not big on product endorsements and I'm not offering one here. It's simply the best ice cream in the world.