Editorial: COVID-19: Maintaining decency in troubled times
As national news of school-related outbreaks grab the occasional headlines, it’s normal to worry that our own towns in Addison County might be next; that we’re foolish to try to beat a virus that is spreading in unknown ways; and that the best strategy is to hunker down until vaccines are plentiful and the coast is clear.
That’s one legitimate train of thought.
It has, however, two significant shortcomings. First, it doesn’t account for the business community needing substantially more government aid to stay afloat if consumer activity is substantially restricted. More importantly, it fails to put the national news in context.
Vermont is not Texas, Tennessee, California or the Midwest where virus rates are all still high. On the contrary, Vermont has done an exceptional job of keeping the virus contained and continues to have the lowest per capita rate of infection in the country.
In short, our risk here is much lower than it is in other states.
True, Vermonters can’t take that success for granted. We must proceed with caution and diligence. But Vermonters also should know that it’s within our ability to reopen our schools, colleges, and our business communities in reasonable ways that allow sectors of the state’s economy to recover from the serious setbacks experienced over this past eight months. In Middlebury and in Addison County, we are positioned better than most to make a successful transition to a re-opened economy and civic life.
In today’s issue of the Addison Independent is a 40-page COVID-19 Resource Guide. Its aim is to provide the Addison County community with an up-to-date understanding of the measures district schools and Middlebury College have taken to protect public safety (and the safety of their students, faculty and staffs); as well as reviewing the basic steps to avoid contracting or spreading the virus. Two vital partners in that effort are the Town of Middlebury and UVMHN-Porter Hospital, whose roles are also outlined in this Guide.
After spending hours over the past few weeks reviewing the detailed game plans of these institutions, I feel increasingly confident that Addison County can successfully keep the incidence of COVID infections low and well within our ability to treat individual cases. The very fact that Middlebury College tested over 2,000 students and found only two students with positive results is testament to the college’s directive to students to pre-quarantine before their arrival. That these two students were isolated and contract tracing found no further spread is again testament to a process that works. So, too, is the news that a couple of students who were violating college COVID-19 protocols have already been sent home. The college’s ability to impose such disciplinary measures — coupled with the students’ real desire to be on campus and not studying remotely at their parents’ houses — provides an enviable leverage that neither the local school districts nor area towns have.
Personally, we worry more about the spread of the virus among our school-age community, and among those few adults who have thumbed their noses at state mandates. As for the latter, the troubling example is the party in Killington that infected 14 out of 40 and saw spread within the community, partly because the Vermont Department of Health found little cooperation among adult locals. Those folks, by the way, weren’t 20-year-olds, but rather attendees at a party for someone turning 50.
As we have stated before, the challenge is to manage the risks we face. The optimistic take-away — as we have seen since the pandemic hit the area this past March — is that it can be done. And Addison County, in particular, has the ability to do it extremely well.
It will, however, take confidence and a can-do attitude. It will require diligence to keep our defenses strong and creativity to adapt to changing conditions. And it will take a willingness to persevere and not give up in the face of obstacles and setbacks that might momentarily dampen our optimism.
It is likely there will be small outbreaks of the virus in our communities. But as we identify and contain those, we should grow stronger in the knowledge that we can do so quickly and successfully.
And even with all the diligent planning by our schools, the college, our towns and Porter Hospital, the key determinant to the county’s success lies in each individual’s reaction.
If everyone is diligent, wears a mask, practices social distancing and quarantines as needed, we’ll be golden. If a few thumb their noses at the effort, it sets everyone back and puts everyone at risk.
But take heart in the good plans that have been made in Middlebury and Addison County. Take heart in the reaction by Vermonters, so far, to do the right thing and respect each other’s health and safety, and pledge to do your part as we make our way through the next several months of this pandemic.
It’s well known that by successfully navigating adversity, you gain strength. By that measure, Middlebury, and all of Vermont, has much to gain. If we do it well, Vermont could be seen as titans of civility, community respect and common sense — all virtues desperately needed at the national level and which will be seen as attractive qualities by those looking to live in states that maintained such decency in troubled times.