Guv ok with remote voting – for now

By Guy Page

April 6, 2020 – Gov. Phil Scott said today he is working “hand in hand” with legislative leaders on Covid-19 legislation and is fine with the use of remote voting “during this point in time during this crisis.” 

Once the crisis is past, his stance could change, Gov. Scott warned at a morning press conference. When the Legislature is “not covering Covid-19, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” He made these remarks when asked by Vermont Daily, “the Legislature is likely to pass Covid-19 related and other bills using remote voting. Will the remote voting process factor into whether you are likely to approve or veto legislation?”

This week the Vermont Senate is likely to vote on remote voting as a body. Last month it approved remote voting for committees, as did the House. Committees in both chambers have become used to meeting on Zoom, and their meetings can be seen live or recorded on YouTube. But neither chamber has yet fully ratified remote voting of all its members. Members in both bodies have expressed concern that remote voting may have the unintended effect of insulating lawmakers from citizens views and questions. 

Vermont testing rates in perspective – Vermont’s 10-12% test positive rate is significantly lower than 35-40% positive test rates in some hot spot states, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said at the press conference.  

Levine said the lower rates show Vermont strategies are paying off. All computer modeling shows “the sacrifices you are making are working …We are actually saving lives by following these strategies and will continue to do so….But it’s not like ‘work done.'” Vermonters must be more vigilant than ever during next few weeks, he said. 

One computer model predicts 4200 Covid-19 deaths in Vermont if preventive measures aren’t taken, Levine said. Modeling with preventive measures shows 1500 of those lives saved.

At present seven Covid-19 patients are being treated now in Vermont hospital  Intensive Care Units (ICUs), Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.

The State of Vermont will publish guidance on the use of protective masks in public later today. The guidelines will closely follow CDC guidelines recommending mask use in public. “It’s just common sense,” Levine said. Don’t wear a mask if you’re alone in the woods, but do wear one if you’re walking in a crowded neighborhood, or in a store, he said. 

Dr. Kelso, state epidemiologist, outlined her team’s response to outbreaks:  

1) prepare longterm care and assisted living facilities as much as possible. For example, The team identified 10 facilities running short on protective gear, and delivered materials to them;

2) when illness is reported, send rapid response team to do contact tracing, and 

3) deliver essential services to people in isolation or quarantine. Her team has assessed needs in 25 longterm care and assisted living facilities, and is scheduled to do so for 13 more. 

Game wardens enforce social distancing on ATV trails – Reflecting the life-saving projections in the computer modeling, state and local authorities continue to ratchet up requirements and penalties for social distancing. The City of Burlington announced over the weekend that civil fines will be levied on anyone breaking rules about staying home.

And, the Vermont Dept. of Fish & Wildlife announced it is increasing patrols on closed Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST) snowmobile trails and other areas where all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riders or others without permission may be causing damage.

“Wardens are actively discouraging illegal riding and trail use and doing so while maintaining social distancing and practicing other measures to protect the public,” the press statement said. “The Fish and Wildlife Department is emphasizing the importance of social distancing and personal safety during all kinds of outdoors recreation.  That means limiting travel to within 10 miles of home to the greatest extent possible, not carpooling to recreation areas, and avoiding congregating in groups at parking areas or other areas.  In addition, out-of-state visitors should not be coming to Vermont at this time to recreate in keeping with state directives to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

“We are concerned that it may be the case that people who are looking for recreation close to home and may be tempted to use trails which are closed,” Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter emailed Vermont Daily. “That would apply to both snowmobile trails and other types of trails which are not open. And while ATVs are a focus of this effort it applies to other types of use which may damage trails as well.”

Photo: House Agriculture & Forestry Committee meets with Agriculture Agency Secretary Anson Tebbetts by Zoom/YouTube April 3.

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