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Our Opinion: Vermont makes smart choices on outbreak

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Faced with a public health crisis that may yet turn ugly very quickly, Vermont's elected leaders have, to this point, shown effective and cautious leadership in their response to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Friday, Gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency, banning large public gatherings, suspending some regulations to help the health-care system and job seekers, and calling the Vermont National Guard into active service. The Legislature has voted to adjourn for a week and handle its business remotely for the time being.

And Sunday, the Scott administration ordered K-12 school districts to provide a school closing plan, due Wednesday, that provides for food and special needs services for children; childcare options for healthcare workers and other essential workers, and making sure students have schoolwork to do and remote learning plans once schools close.

As of Wednesday, Vermont's students will be learning from home.

There will be questions asked about why this decision was broadly hinted at, but not made, on Friday. But this step is going to cause some hardship, and it's understandable that the state needed time to build a plan -- and perhaps time to weight support for closure from school districts and parents.

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Calling off events with more than 250 people in attendance was easy. A decision that affects everyday life for thousands of students and families was a far tougher task.

Scott and his team on Friday explained that ours is a state with a well-documented daycare shortage and a graying population, and older adults are to this point at the greatest risk of complications from Covid-19 requiring hospital treatment. Their thinking was that kids should be with other kids during the day, with supervision, socialization, and access to healthy meals. They also wanted to avoid an impossible choice for parents who need to work, but can't leave their children unsupervised.

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But the fact remains that despite all the hand-washing and elbow-bumping, students in close quarters carries the potential of exposure to a virus that apparently can be transmitted without the presence of runny noses, coughs and sneezes. That means they're also potentially exposing their own families at home for the waking hours they're not at school. And their teachers have families and loved ones, too.

So the plans due Wednesday are of paramount importance.

There's much more to be done. But our leaders are wise to be taking actions aimed at reducing exposure and growth of the virus, and their transparency with information is welcome and effective. These steps will hopefully give our medical infrastructure a fighting chance at reacting to the wave of serious cases that will surely come — and preventing the heartbreak of doctors and nurses having to decide who gets treatment, and who doesn't.

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Vermonters should heed Gov. Scott and local leaders. Stay home if you can, and isolate yourself if you're sick. Work from home if you can. Help those in need. Limit social interaction to only that which is necessary. Get your news from trusted sources and verify rumors before you spread potentially harmful gossip. And yes, wash your hands, frequently.

It's not all rosy. The panic shopping that is taking place at local supermarkets is not helping. More can and should be done to assure calm and prevent hoarding. That's not how we're going to get through this together.

At the end of the day, we desperately want to avoid the nightmare scenario of too many sick people and not enough hospital beds. That's the heartbreaking story from Italy and other countries where Covid-19 has spread



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