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Municipal Manager's Update on COVID-19

Posted Monday, March 23, 2020

Though we were looking out for it with a thousand mile stare, we never saw it coming—at least not like this.  The potential havoc and disruption to our healthcare system, to our economy and to our daily routines the pandemic disease has wrought so far is beyond what most could have ever imagined.  It is likely the impact to our local communities, our state and our country will be greater than the combined tolls inflicted by many, many natural disasters.

The federal government is ramping up its response to the crisis as are state governments, including Vermont’s.  Many municipal governments and school boards are reacting as quickly possible, but human and financial resources in Vermont’s small towns (and municipalities in Vermont are all small) are stretched thin. Emergency Management Plans are beginning to be implemented and soon it may be necessary to open emergency management centers in our cities and towns to address the needs of our communities. 

Emergency Management Plans are broadly written and are intended to be used to address the impacts to public safety, public health and property from a wide-range of disasters.  Most exercises of emergency plans involve scenarios that span the spectrum of natural disasters—from long duration ice storms to floods caused by tropical storms and most everything in between.  Our plans also contemplate emergencies and disasters caused by accidents such as the derailment of chemical carrying rail cars and crashes of trucks hauling hazardous materials.

In general, emergency managers and first responders are trained to identify where the damages have occurred, how they should be mitigated and which people need to be taken care of and how.  Has the scene of the incident been made safe for first responders to enter? Do the victims need first aid? Do we have to open shelters or are mass evacuations necessary?  Local emergency management plans have little to say, and expertise among elected officials and professional staff of our local governments is nearly non-existent, when the disaster in question is a pandemic disease.

In the case of this emerging and evolving disaster, we are not gathering victims together.  People are being asked to self-isolate, which means to stay away from others.  This in itself amplifies the challenges to emergency management teams, first responders and even social welfare organizations as services such as getting food or medicine to the people that need those supplies are made more difficult by the fact they are so widely dispersed throughout the community. Please call your neighbors on the phone to make sure they are ok and to determine whether they have needs for food, fuel, or other supplies.  If you cannot find their phone number knock on their door and then stand at a distance, allowing them to open the door to speak to you and offer to leave any necessary deliveries of supplies on the doorstep.  

The victims of this disaster may be the entire fabric of our communities. Many businesses have already suffered greatly over the past 3 weeks due to a drop in business and that was before wholesale shutdowns were ordered.  People are isolated, cut off from co-workers, schoolmates, teammates and friends.  Is it really necessary? YES!!  If we have any hope that someday soon life in these Green Mountains will be normal again, we have to implement these measures.

The coronavirus is no respecter of persons. It matters not whether you are young or old, rich or poor or even healthy or sick.  The virus can get you and make you ill. And while 80% who get the virus will have “only mild to moderate symptoms”, causing some to say “it’s no big deal, are those who you may spread the sickness to able to withstand its effects?  Many have died from this virus around the world and now at least 2 Vermonters have died in recent days.  More surely will die.  But even if our societal actions “flatten the curve” enough to keep from overwhelming the state’s health care infrastructure, how will you feel if a loved one or even an acquaintance dies after contracting the disease from you?  Taking the advised precautions seriously is essential to public health and for the future of this state and our towns.

Waterbury’s public officials and employees and those from around the state are taking our leads from the Vermont Department of Health, Vermont Emergency Management and from the Office of the Governor.  All residents of Waterbury and of the residents of entire state need to pay attention to the directives that come from those sources.  This includes paying attention to and adhering to information and requests for action (or in-action, as the case may be) that are funneled through from the state authorities to the governing boards, municipal managers and emergency managers of local governments.

For the time being we have all been asked to practice “social distancing”—when we must interact person to person, we have been advised to keep six-feet of separation while doing so. Schools have been closed as have been most child care facilities.  These measures have been taken to keep children apart from one another and to keep the parents of those children away from other parents.  Play dates with friends in one another’s home or trips to the playground are not acceptable alternatives.  Have the kids read books, play games, do school work, play in the yard or take a walk with you.  It is important to let them interact with friends, but make sure it is by social media or by phone. Don’t allow kids to congregate in groups, especially not inside, as that is just inviting trouble from COVID-19.

Closed restaurants, bars, theatres, gyms, retail shops, churches, libraries, universities, ski areas-- and the beat goes on-- are a huge inconvenience to most of us. These are places of sustenance for our bodies and minds, places where we are entertained and uplifted after a long day at work, places where come to understand we are social beings.  These places are the places we all go to be with friends and even strangers when something awful happens in our lives or in our community. But we cannot go, nor should we go to these places now.  Please do consider buying gift cards from these businesses.  I am sure most of them are updating websites to make it easier to do this.  Buy a takeout meal from your favorite restaurant and even from one where you have never gone before.  If we have a hope for a vibrant town again once this “event” ends, we are all going to have to find way to get them some cash.  And I know many others are out of work already, making it difficult to spend money.  Simply do what you can.

Thank You!