Burlington, Vermont officials held a number of meetings on Monday to update the public on the coronavirus outbreak. The regular meeting of the City Council was attended virtually to comply with social distancing recommendations.
Vermont Governor Phil Scott has ordered all schools in the state to remain closed until at least April 6th. Monday afternoon, Burlington School District Superintendent Yaw Obeng said the community and staff have been supportive and flexible during this unique time. He provided updates on the district’s food services, curriculum and child care efforts. “During our first week of service BSD (Burlington School District) provided over 3000 meals at 11 sites throughout Burlington. So in an effort to be sure that we have enough meals for all children that need them, we ask that you take just what you need to get through to the next delivery date. Quick update around curriculum: people have been managing in their homes with their students and have done a great job. We know there are families in BSD who do need better access to technology especially at the elementary level. We have a team in place working on a plan to provide Chromebooks to elementary students. And then finally the governor has directed school districts to develop a child care plan and support essential workers. Official start date for the plan is Wednesday, March 25th.”
Obeng cautioned parents that he has seen evidence that students are not practicing social distancing while the schools are closed. “I want to ask our parents and students to take this virus seriously. I witnessed a group of students playing football on the field. Last week I heard stories of high school students gathering for parties. We do need you to heed the warnings that are coming from all the public health practitioners in terms of gathering unnecessarily. That's going to help us curb this virus and be able to get back to normal.”
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger held a virtual press conference and addressed the additional three deaths in the state over the weekend. All occurred at the Burlington Health and Rehabilitation Center, where another COVID-19 related death occurred last week. The Democratic mayor has been calling for more aggressive action from state officials since the initial outbreak at the facility was revealed. “What is needed now is immediate action before there is further tragedy, Commissioner Levine must get the patients in the rehabilitation floor that has not yet been affected out of the building to a safe place. Further the Department of Health and the Center then need to take immediate further action to ensure that the CDC guidance calling for as much physical separation between positively identified patients and those that are not yet positive be achieved as quickly as possible.”
The Burlington City Council met virtually Monday for its regular meeting. It was dominated by concerns regarding the pandemic. A resolution before the panel outlined several initiatives for the city’s response. Mayor Weinberger said with more than 1,000 city residents losing their jobs as a result of business closures last week, it establishes the Burlington COVID-19 Resource and Recovery Center. It authorizes the transfer of up to a million dollars from the proceeds of the sale of Burlington Telecom to use for COVID-19 emergency response, including the creation of the recovery center. Central District Progressive Peri Freemen requested clarification from Mayor Weinberger regarding the funding. “I just wanted to make sure that I understand it correctly that this gives approval up to a million dollars.”
Mayor Weinberger: “The resolution, yes, would authorize a million dollars of emergency spending. And, you know, several reasons for that. Both of these centers will have the tools and resources they need to do everything they can in the days and weeks and months ahead to respond rapidly to evolving and changing and urgent conditions. Having significant resources in these centers also gives us the opportunity to respond to events and needs that sitting here right now we aren't even able to anticipate.”
The resolution also allows the city to delay certain fees and tax deadlines. Several amendments were added including a call for the Department of Homeland Security to suspend all deportations and detentions during the pandemic.
An amendment calls on Governor Scott to issue a Shelter in Place order, a move the Republican has been reluctant to take. East District Progressive Jack Hanson says he offered the measure because there have been mixed messages from the governor. “I think we've had the opportunity to learn from other countries and other states that every day you wait matters a lot on this. And let's not wait a few more days. I think we need to move immediately and take this step. Again, we've we've we've got to learn from what we've seen in other places and I think it's important for us as the city of Burlington to signal, signal our support for this.”
The amendments and the resolution passed.