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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Are You Preparing For The Coronavirus? Tell Us How #VTPrepares

A red first aid kit and red balls representing the novel coronavirus.
Health officials say the risk of contracting the coronavirus is low in Vermont. But they are also cautioning people to plan ahead. We're talking with health officials about how the state is preparing for the virus.

The individual risk of contracting the new coronavirus is very low, state health officials say. But now is a good time to prepare for the potential impact of a COVID-19 outbreak, even if you don't get sick.

So, how are you preparing? We talk with health officials and take your questions and suggestions for planning for the coronavirus in Vermont.

Have questions, comments, concerns or experiences you want to share about coronavirus? Fill out VPR's brief survey here.

Our guests are:

  • Patsy Kelso, state epidemiologist with the Vermont Department of Health.
  • Laura Wilson, director of operations for Cathedral Square, a nonprofit housing organization for seniors and people with special needs.
  • Heather Hammond, partner and attorney specializing in employment law at Gravel & Shea

As of Thursday, five people in Vermont had tested negative for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Another 170 people are being monitored in Vermont for possible travel-related exposure.

State epidemiologist Patsy Kelso says Vermont is loosening up the more restrictive federal criteria for ordering a test.

"What we’re doing in Vermont is testing people who have a possible exposure, either through travel or contact with a lab-confirmed case somewhere else, not in Vermont, and, the appropriate symptoms, so fever, cough, or shortness of breath,” she tells Vermont Edition.

Kelso says the state does have authority to enforce quarantine, but is relying on voluntary cooperation for quarantine and monitoring. 

Quarantine lasts 14 days—the incubation period for the virus—and weeks of quarantine have the potential of disrupting workplaces in Vermont and beyond.

Employment attorney Heather Hammond says planning can be simple:

"Do we have everybody’s current phone number? And do we have a text chain set up? You know, what is the telework plan, and can you expand that a little bit further, for people who don’t normally telework? How are you going to let your suppliers and vendors and customers know? But also the practical on-site issues, do you have enough Purel in places that’re just going to make people feel better?”

Hammond says now is the time for Vermonters to plan for how the coronavirus could affect their workplace. 

State law provides 40 hours of paid sick leave a year and can be used if individual becomes sick. That 40-hour bank can also be used to care for a sick family member, or if schools or child care centers close.

Some employers offer family medical leave, up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for a serious illness of their own or to care for a family member.

Hammond says parental family leave, often referred to as FMLA, might not apply to many in quarantine.

“From a legal perspective, that would not cover someone who’s just quarantined out of, you know, because they’ve just been exposed," she says.

"And it may or may not cover someone who has a mild case of COVID-19, just as it wouldn't cover someone with the flu, if they were sick for three or four days."

While FMLA might not legally kick in, Hammond says the needs of workers and the realities of following public health directives might mean something different.

"From a practical perspective, most employers are going to give their employees that time off. And what that gives you is what we call ‘protected leave,’ it means your employer can’t fire you because you’re not at work,” she says.

Listen to the full conversation above to hear more about coronavirus preparations in Vermont. 

Broadcast live on Thursday, Mar. 5, 2020 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Disclosure: The Vermont Department of Health and the Gravel & Shea firm are VPR underwriters.

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.
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