Local agencies prepare to confront COVID-19

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

With one confirmed case of the coronavirus known as COVID-19 in the state of Vermont, most area towns and first responders are now beginning to organize their responses to this new health threat.

The Vermont case  — a Readsboro man — tested positive and is hospitalized in Bennington, two school districts have closed schools this week and today Vermont is opening the State Emergency Operations Center in Waterbury to deal with the infectious disease.

In case you haven’t gotten the message yet, the front-line protection against getting the virus is washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water or using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Also, don’t touch your face and stay away from people who are sick. If you are sick, stay away from people.

The World Health Organization’s Mythbusters webpage helps debunk the many incorrect and misleading claims about dealing with coronavirus. Graphic provided

Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Johns Hopkins University, according to the Baltimore Sun, say the virus appears to pass from one person to the next quite easily and the two-week quarantine period that has become standard is reasonable since its incubation period is much longer than either the common cold or the flu. They also continue to learn about the virus.

Beyond that, what should we be doing? First, according to authorities (and anyone with a lick of common sense) is to not rely on social media for advice on avoiding the virus or managing the illness. There are a number of misleading and outright malicious “cures” on social media – including drinking bleach or hot water.

Below is a list of links to reliable information from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the Vermont Department of Health. As this unfolds, the advice is subject to change so check back daily.

For General Information

Busting falsehoods

Local response to threat of COVID-19

At Weston’s Town Meeting last week, Dr. Roger Fox told the crowd “the telephone is your friend” and asked people who think they may have been infected with the coronavirus to call the Mountain Valley Medical Center in Londonderry rather than dropping in.

“The telephone is your friend,” says Dr. Roger Fox asking people who suspect they have COVID19 to call before coming to a clinic Telegraph file photo

Vermont Health Department spokesman Ben Truman concurred, saying that calling your primary health-care provider is preferable to showing up. Truman also noted that if  you have been traveling or in contact with someone who was infected, you should also call the Health Department at 802-863-7240.

Andrea Seaton of Grace Cottage Family Health and Hospital told The Telegraph that anyone with symptoms should call first and receive guidance. If it’s indicated, the person may be asked to visit the hospital’s “negative pressure” room for evaluation. Negative pressure means that airborne germs can’t ride out the door on a gust of HVAC.

The Londonderry Volunteer Rescue Squad has produced a handy guide to the symptoms of COVID-19 and have issued a press release to share them. They are:

  • Fever above 100.4 degrees
  • New or worsening cough
  • Feeling feverish and/or chills
  • Typical “cold” symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat or headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle aches
  • Less commonly: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain

Add to those symptom one of the following:

  • Recent international travel from China, Iran, Italy or South Korea
  • Close contact (less than 6 feet) with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19

At this point, local ambulance services are looking at ways to serve the public without having personnel becoming infected, which would result in fewer qualified people answering calls.

A five member task force of the Londonderry Volunteer Rescue Squad is working on updated protocols for handling infectious patients. Photo provide

The Chester Ambulance Service has had a protocol in place to protect medical personnel for years, according to Amanda Silva, the town’s health officer who also serves on the ambulance service. She noted that personal protective equipment is key. That includes eye protection, masks, gloves, boots and full-body gowns. These are all disposable in bio-hazard containers on arrival at the hospital. According to Silva and Chester Ambulance Coordinator Dan Cook, using the protective gear makes the interaction with an infected patient “low risk.”

According to Birgit Sutter-Davis, the Londonderry Volunteer Rescue Squad has formed a five-person task force to review and beef up the organization’s protocols for handling COVID 19 patients.

Emergency Operations Center opens

This morning, Vermont’s emergency center in Waterbury opened and a number of the people interviewed for this story expect that should increase coordination and help people on the ground get more answers more quickly.

Gov. Phil Scott has activated the state’s emergency operation center. Photo provided

The state’s COVID-19 task force includes representatives from Vermont Emergency Management, state departments of Public Safety, Health, Human Resources, Buildings and General Services, the agencies of Education and Human Services, the Vermont National Guard, Vermont Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Coalition, E-911 Board, the chair of the Governor’s Emergency Preparedness Advisory Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In addition to giving guidance, the state is also looking into ways it can lessen the burden on those who have to spend time in quarantine. According to Gov. Phil Scott’s office, the Department of Labor has been directed to explore the potential of using unemployment insurance benefits to help workers quarantined for 14 days.

“We’re also working with the nation’s governors through the National Governor’s Association to support the conversation in Washington around federal stimulus options,” said Scott spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley. “Of course, we all hope we won’t get to a point where we’re seeing these broader economic impacts, but we are preparing for it.”

Local emergency managers are also working in their own communities. Kevin Beattie told The Telegraph that he is monitoring information from the state and federal governments, but also working on plans for Londonderry and keeping local government informed.

“I’ll be talking to the Select Board on Monday (March 16) and looking at ways to provide people who have to be quarantined the services they need  — like food.”

TRSU creates COVID-19 Task Force

On Monday, Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Meg Powden sent a letter to parents saying that administrators are working to ensure that the six schools under TRSU take the necessary precautions to avoid contracting and spreading the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, the Agency of Education issued guidance to schools on closure during an outbreak and TRSU – with schools in Chester, Cavendish, Ludlow and Mt. Holly — convened a Coronavirus Task Force that includes Powden, principals of all of the schools as well as the school nurses to plan for managing the situation and discussing education options in the event of a closure.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to get panicky,” said Fierman. “This is a respiratory illness, spread like other respiratory illnesses like the flu. Not everybody gets the flu every year.”  Fierman said the school would continue taking steps like reinforcing the benefit of handwashing, telling students and faculty not to come to school ill, disinfecting surfaces including those touched every day such as light switches, keyboards, door handles and school bus seats.

“This is evolving every day,” said Fierman.

NewsBank shuts Conference Center; LEGO contest canceled

On Monday, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Chester canceled its annual LEGO contest, scheduled for Saturday, because the NewsBank Conference Center closed to the public.

On Tuesday,  NewsBank’s Dale Williamson issued the following statement:

“With the virus now confirmed in Bennington, Claremont and Lebanon, we are increasing our level of response to prevent the spread of the virus locally by closing our Conference Center and Fletcher building for public use until further notice. We … believe taking this step is the best approach to protecting our workforce, their families and the community at large.”

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