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Vermont Legislators Assess Public Safety Challenges Of Coronavirus Crisis

Vermont Statehouse
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Statehouse (file)

The Vermont Legislature’s Joint Rules Committee is holding daily teleconferences to discuss key legislative and coronavirus concerns.  Members heard from agency heads Tuesday about the latest emergency management and public safety challenges.

The eight member committee of House and Senate members meets daily via teleconference to assess various topics dealing with the coronavirus crisis. On Tuesday chair Tim Ashe, the Senate Pro Tem, explained they were seeking an update on the status and challenges public safety and emergency personnel are facing.  “There were some specific questions about the extent to which we have supplies of either medical equipment or nonperishable foods, household sundries and things like that should the time come where we need to supplement what's going on through grocery stores and markets and so on.”

The agency leaders were asked what their biggest challenges are. Vermont Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling:  “They range from trying to assist in getting capacity added to the health operations call center to a planning section that's been established to ensure that we have surge capacity for the hospital system and then a variety of work around ensuring the continuity of emergency operations statewide. There's the general picture of the supply chain. Those are probably the big four at the moment.”

Vermont Emergency Management’s Erica Bornemann reported that the state emergency operations center was activated March 11th to coordinate statewide coronavirus response and will continue operations until further notice. She said the president’s emergency declaration on Friday provides a funding stream outside of the public health emergency preparedness funding provided by Congress.   “We're generally encouraging all municipalities to track their costs related to COVID-19 response at this time.”

Bornemann is working with the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the Retail Grocers’ Association and federal officials regarding the supply of basic household commodities.  “We're monitoring the supply chain impacts especially at grocery stores. We've also had a discussion with FEMA and what they've told us is that there's no nationwide shortage of commodities. What we are experiencing is a slowdown in shipments. The number two priority in the state right now, making sure that we have the goods and commodities that Vermonters need to weather isolation and to weather you know whether there's a quarantine down the road. And so it's really our priority to make sure that grocery stores stay open.”

Senator Dick Mazza owns a general store and said his customers are still concerned about supply.  “The problem is people are buying 10 times more than they need because they can't find it. When they do find it they buy all they can buy. I had to cut back on sales of hamburg today because it just got out of hand. But there's still a fear of limited product and they're buying all they can buy.”

Bornemann:  “There is no need to hoard. There's no shortage and we need to try to weather this together and not overbuy at this time.”

The agency heads also told legislators that the Public Safety Department was not planning to close the state’s borders, noting that falls into interstate commerce and the federal government has made no plans to take such actions. President Trump announced Wednesday morning that the U.S.-Canada border is being temporarily closed.


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