Strange days, indeed.
There are so many moving parts at every level — state, federal and local.
The answers still seem as clear as mud in some cases, and while bold efforts are being made to mediate the risk here in Vermont, some actions are certainly confusing.
Wednesday was a day about shoring up help and getting answers.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott described his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order this week as “a needed step.”
“I need you to stay home,” Scott said during a news conference. “Doing so will save lives. It’s just that simple ... Everyone should be erring on the side of public health.”
The order directs Vermonters to stay at home, leaving only for essential reasons, critical to health and safety, such as grocery shopping, medical care or exercise. If leaving the home, Vermonters should adhere to social distancing policies, including remaining 6 feet from others (except for those with whom they share a home), regularly washing their hands and avoiding touching their faces.
All businesses and nonprofits not expressly exempted in the order must suspend all in-person business operations. Operations that can be conducted online or by phone, or sales that can be facilitated with curbside pickup or delivery only, may continue.
The order contains exemptions for those who “provide services or functions deemed critical to public health and safety, along with economic and national security.” That includes health care operations; retail that serves essential human needs, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and hardware stores; fuel products and supply; maintenance of critical infrastructure; news media; financial institutions; and transportation and critical manufacturing sectors. Travel to and from these exempt businesses and entities is permitted.
The order is in effect until April 15, though it may be extended or shortened as needed.
And it will be enforced. In instances where police observe or are made aware of people operating in violation of the governor’s order, law enforcement is encouraged to speak with the proprietor, staff or group, provide a reminder of the new requirements, and “assess voluntary compliance.” State leaders are hopeful the vast majority of compliance to be self-regulating. The executive order does not close roads, nor does it establish roadblocks, checkpoints or the authority to demand identification.
Obviously, such an order has a profound effect on businesses (of all sizes) that are not deemed “essential.” Vermonters — and, honestly, citizens of the planet – are panicked about what the implications will be for the economy in the short- and long-term.
On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., touted the $2 trillion relief package that President Donald Trump and Congress have reportedly agreed to as both “extraordinary” and “necessary.”
The bill will boost unemployment benefits, allow independent contractors and freelancers to access unemployment for the first time, help small businesses, and support hospitals whose finances have been devastated by having to cancel nonessential appointments.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy has been a lead negotiator on the relief package for the U.S. Senate. He maintains it will preserve small businesses, and distribute billions of dollars in resources to hospitals, first responders and those at the front line of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I have said from the beginning that our response to this crisis will come in phases as we address the evolving nature of the coronavirus pandemic,” Leahy said on Wednesday. “Today our response is providing direct assistance to the American people, injecting new resources where they are needed most, and moving our country a step closer to emerging from this crisis stronger than we were before.”
And in the Legislature on Wednesday, the House reconvened a session to approve a rule change that allows the chamber to consent to remote voting, as long as lawmakers agreed to do so with a three-quarters majority vote that could be held remotely itself.
Seventy-five of 76 lawmakers — a quorum, all sitting 6 feet apart — agreed.
With those procedural votes out of the way, lawmakers will now consider bills prepared to provide Vermonters some relief from the crisis.
These challenging days seem very fluid somehow. We all appreciate the attention to safety and setting rules for our public health. It is unprecedented work in unprecedented times.