By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
Towns, schools, businesses and public safety agencies in the Champlain Islands – like all of Vermont and the nation – are bracing on how to best deal locally in the wake of the growing outbreak of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
During these unprecedented times Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has ordered schools closed by Tuesday afternoon and children will remain at home until at least Monday April 6 – and most likely longer.
It remains unclear how children will meet their mandatory school days, or what normal class learning can be done at home during this ever-changing worldwide medical crisis. More will be known in the coming days and weeks.
As of noon Monday, Vermont had 12 confirmed cases for COVID-19 – eight are Vermonters and four are non-Vermonters.
Out of the four newest cases, two are from Chittenden County. Both were in their 30s, one is a woman and one is a man, the Vermont Health Department said.
Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s Health Commissioner, said 415 tests have been conducted statewide.
Levine also noted the confirmed cases show the virus was spread through community contact and not by distant travel.
Scott also is seeking to limit gatherings to 50 people or less. That could have impacts on some government meetings, various public events, Church services, including weddings and funerals.
North Hero officials were due to discuss the continuity of operations in light of COVID-19 on Monday evening at its Selectboard meeting, according to one of its members, Ben Joseph.
Additional extraordinary emergency steps are foreseeable as Vermont tries to meet the challenges.
Numerous public events across the Champlain Islands are being postponed indefinitely. Others have been cancelled completely.
Federal, state and local officials say it is important for residents to following the directives designed to keep people safe and to keep informed on the once-in-a-lifetime medical issue.
In an effort to keep the Grand Isle County region up to date, The Islander has created a special website designed to provide information and assistance needed, according to Owner/Publisher Tonya Poutry.
The “COVID-19 Resources for Grand Isle County” website can be accessed through The Islander’s regular website, she said.
Besides a link for COVID 19 local information, the site has separate links on how to get local assistance and also how to give help to your neighbors in need.
Meanwhile local businesses, including those that supply essentials like food, are trying to make adjustments to help the community.
Keeler Bay Variety in South Hero has begun a free delivery service to area homes and will offer curb service for those that prefer not to leave their car in the parking lot.
The deliveries are available in South Hero, Grand Isle and North Hero to start, according to Wendy Horne, one of the owners.
She said the extra services are just starting and could be expanded going forward depending on what the store hears from customers.
“We are still going strong,” she said.
While they had run out of some items by Monday, a delivery truck from the store’s wholesaler was due to arrive Tuesday, Horne said.
Mandy Hotchkiss, co-owner of the Blue Paddle Bistro, said the South Hero restaurant has begun delivery service of meals to area towns. The plan is to offer it in South Hero, Grand Isle, North Hero and to go over the causeway into the West Milton/Colchester area.
The popular eatery also is encouraging takeout as an option, she said.
Walter Blasburg, owner of the North Hero House, said Monday that the restaurant and inn would close down temporarily and monitor the situation.
“We just made that decision,” he said Monday afternoon. “The number of reservations has dropped off and with cancellations. People are really nervous and the staff is really nervous.”
Blasburg said the business would evaluate the situation at the end of the month. He said North Hero House has about a dozen employees currently and expands to 50 during the summer.
He said the staff has been taking extra precautions, including extensive use of sanity wipes. He said he believed it was a matter of time before businesses would be asked to shut down.
“We are trying to get out in front of it,” Blasburg said.
Criminal justice personnel also are taking steps to keep both officers and public safe during interactions.
Grand Isle County Sheriff Ray Allen said staff members have been issued gloves and masks and have been encouraged to try to limit exposure to groups.
Allen said he is limiting access by the general public to the department facility in Grand Isle.
“We will come out to them in the parking lot,” Allen said.
He said sheriff’s deputies will continue to respond to serious complaints. He said in some cases – like a late reported car accident – will likely be handled by phone.
“In life threatening incidents we will still be responding,” Allen said.
Allen said he will continue to keep the community updated and plans to link to The Islander website for COVID-19 resources.
Vermont State Police said it is taking similar steps.
State Troopers will physically respond to major case investigations such as homicide, and to calls regarding crimes in progress, motor vehicle crashes with injuries, missing persons cases and domestic assault, as a few examples, department spokesman Adam Silverman said.
“As needed, troopers may take precautions such as social distancing, consulting with medical first responders, and using personal protective equipment,” he said.
Grand Isle County State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito said he was on a conference call Sunday night with his colleagues from 13 other Vermont counties to talk about how to best proceed.
DiSabito said he filed an emergency motion Monday in Vermont Superior Court seeking to appear by phone for upcoming hearings.
He noted that President Trump issued a national emergency order and Gov. Scott issued a state order a few hours later in an effort to avoid Vermont hospitals from becoming swamped.
DiSabito said there was a plan to move one hearing to St. Albans because it has a larger courtroom, but he said that is now meaningless due to the ever-changing landscape of the virus.
He said he has locked his office in an effort to protect his staff. He said he is reviewing cases by email and filing documents electronically.
Many non-profits and social service agencies are trying to keep operations going.
Among them is Spectrum Youth and Family Services, which works with homeless and at-risk youth serves – and serves Grand Isle County.
“Spectrum is open,” Executive Director Mark Redmond said in a news release.
“The reality is that our youth need us and you more than ever at this moment. We have to be there for them.”
CIDER canceled it Monday Neighbor’s St Patrick’s Day lunch as well as community meals for the near term.
CIDER will provide only home delivery. To arrange a home delivered meal, call the office at 372-6425.
The plan is to continue rides for critical care medical transportation only. Van excursions, group shopping trips, Living Strong exercise and Tai Chi classes are postponed until further notice.