The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is causing widespread disruption in our state and is a matter of grave concern to all Vermonters. Together with other branches of state government, the Vermont Legislature is dealing with this crisis as best we can given that new challenges are being revealed every day and that many of our responses will require federal intervention and financial assistance. As this is a rapidly evolving crisis, I encourage you to stay current by checking the Department of Health’s website: www.healthvermont.gov/covid19. If you have any questions about COVID-19: Dial 2-1-1.
Since the Senate adjourned Friday afternoon, so much has happened. The House passed several bills designed to expedite public health and protect Vermonters financially with an expansion of our Unemployment Insurance laws. Their work helps position the Senate to act quickly and constructively once the federal government has acted on this issue. We hope this will happen soon so that by the week of March 23rd, we will be able to return and pass measures that enable Vermont to take advantage of federal opportunities and our share of the $50 billion in federal relief authorized by the Federal Emergency Declaration.
Early Friday evening, the governor declared a State of Emergency by Executive Order. This limits public gatherings to 250 or fewer, restricts visitation at long-term care facilities, and creates flexibility in some areas of health care delivery.
By Sunday, with more people in Vermont diagnosed with COVID-19, the governor made the decision to close all schools beginning Wednesday morning. This is a public health mitigation strategy designed to keep us ahead of the curve preventing and reducing the spread of the virus. This order will be in effect until April 6.
By Tuesday, school districts must develop plans to address how they are going to continue to educate and feed students, serve those with special needs and provide childcare for health care workers and emergency responders. Students need to make academic progress and prolonged closures will be a huge challenge for parents, teachers, students, and Vermont’s economy. We will learn more in the next week.
The Legislature has conference call briefings every day at 4 p.m. We will be working remotely this upcoming week as the Statehouse is given a deep clean. But in order for us to continue working remotely and to enable other public meetings – municipal or state – we will have to first vote in person to change the law. Our statutes governing the Legislature require that all votes must be taken in person and Vermont’s Open Meeting Law – enabling transparency in municipal and state government – requires that at least “one member of the public body, or at least one staff or designee of the public body, be physically present at each designated meeting location.”
As my favorite poster up at the Statehouse reads: “Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands.” Please follow common sense preventive actions to help stop the spread of germs. Good information on how to protect yourself and what to do is available on www.healthvermont.gov.
I appreciate hearing from you. I can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at the Statehouse 802-828-2228 or at home at 802-457-4627.
Sen. Alison Clarkson