The impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) moved swiftly through The Valley this week with ski areas closing precipitously, followed by school closures, business closures and the imposition of social distancing and self-isolating.
As Monday rolled into Tuesday and then Wednesday, more and more local businesses announced temporary closures. On Tuesday, Governor Scott ordered bars and restaurants to close for eat-in dining. Local school lunch programs were swiftly organized and distribution began Wednesday, March 18, along with remote learning websites and packets for students in the Harwood Unified Union School District. Scott also ordered most day care facilities to close. On Monday, Mehuron’s Supermarket owners requested that only seniors and those shopping for them and those immunocompromised access the store from 8 to 9 a.m.
All local town offices and libraries have closed with libraries offering patrons the ability to pick up books curbside. Local municipal employees are either working from home or working in the offices which are closed to the public for the time being. Local officials are taking guidance from the Vermont secretary of state’s office on complying with the state’s Open Meeting Law. (See story Page 7.)
At Mad River Family Practice in Waitsfield certain appointments were being canceled and the number of patients allowed in the clinic is being reduced. Those without an appointment should not just show up; rather they should call. Those who feel they have been exposed to COVID-19 or have it can call 496-3838 and select Option 1 or call the Vermont Department of Health at 866-652-4636.
Local emergency management efforts were ramped up quickly and a Mad River Valley Emergency Response Team (Warren, Waitsfield, Moretown and Fayston) has been created. This week the Waitsfield Select Board met with town health officer Fred Messer as well as Fayston Select Board chair Jared Cadwell and Warren’s health officer, Jeff Campbell. The board asked that the public avoid attending and was able to establish two conference call lines for public participation. The Fayston Select Board will meet March 24 using a similar plan, according to Cadwell. At that March 16 meeting, the board voted against Messer’s suggestion that the town declare a state of emergency.
The Mad River Valley Community Fund has created a quicker application process and will be distributing funds daily, according to Rebecca Baruzzi, program coordinator. The link to the application can be found at https://mrvcommunityfund.org and Baruzzi can be reached at 802-461-6241.
Members of the newly created Mad River Valley Emergency Response Team met on March 17 to organize volunteer and emergency responses.
The Mad River Valley Emergency Response Team is supporting local community organizations, managing volunteers and establishing an emergency management chain of command. Messer is the emergency management director and incident commander. He is collaborating with his counterparts, each of whom reports to their town select board. In addition to Campbell, who is emergency management director and deputy incident commander in Warren, there is Craig Snell, emergency management director in Fayston, and Stefan Pratt, emergency management director in Moretown. The Mad River Valley Emergency Response Team includes efforts to manage information and volunteers as well as respond to emergencies and events as they arise.
Baruzzi is serving as operations chief of the emergency response team and will be managing volunteer efforts with local nurse Jessica Tompkins. They will connect volunteers with representatives of Meals On Wheels, Free Wheelin’, the food shelf and other social support groups.
“We are working to make sure that our seniors, those with compromised immune systems and those in the workforce (food service and tourism) have systems and resources in place and that they are well cared for. This is why we are creating a system to streamline our safety net efforts,” said Baruzzi.
“We have tremendous assets in our Meals On Wheels program, Free Wheelin’ and our food shelf. These programs have consistently performed beyond expectations and we are reassured that their operations will continue with the addition of health protocols necessary in this situation,” she added.
The programs that exist are currently short-staffed due to the age of the current volunteer base. The volunteer coordinators have asked for anyone who is able to help to go to www.valleyreporter.com and access the Google doc that is posted there. Those without internet access can call Jess Tompkins, 802-793-1116, to be added to the list of volunteers.
“We will be supplying this information directly to the coordinators who will use the list to call volunteers and then train and schedule them,” Baruzzi said.
To receive Meals On Wheels call Chrissy Rivers at the Mad River Valley Senior Center, 496-2543. Those who need help getting groceries or medicines may call Michael Bransfield with Free Wheelin’ at 249-3427. The Food Shelf is open from 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. For off-hours access, call Johnnye Eure at 496-9709.
The Valley Reporter is maintaining and updating a COVID-19 response page at www.valleyreporter.com/index.php/news/local-news/14239-the-mad-river-valley-reactions-to-covid-19.