Covid 19

Mayor Miro Weinberger Updates the Public on Burlington’s Response to COVID-19

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 20, 2020
Contact: Olivia LaVecchia
                (802) 734-0617

Mayor Miro Weinberger Updates the Public on Burlington’s Response to COVID-19

 

Burlington, VT – Today, Mayor Weinberger shared the following update with the public regarding COVID-19 in Burlington.

Good afternoon. I want to start by acknowledging what a challenging time this is for everyone. Hourly workers, parents of young children and children of elderly parents, health care workers, grocery store workers, first responders, renters and homeowners and people experiencing homelessness, small business operators and large companies, the young and the old, officials at all levels of government – all of us – are facing issues that just a couple weeks ago would have been difficult to imagine.

This is truly a crisis in which we are all in it together.

And, a week after the Governor declared an emergency, I remain very confident that our community and our State will demonstrate the discipline, resolve, compassion, and resourcefulness necessary to weather this storm and protect each other until the clouds part, whenever that day may be.

Over the last 24 hours, the COVID-19 emergency in Burlington has deepened.

Yesterday, we lost our first Burlingtonian to the COVID-19 virus.

Earlier today, the State announced that there are now four other known infections at the facility that had been housing the victim, the Burlington Health and Rehab Center, which I understand to be the largest known outbreak in the State.

Further, we are starting to see a significant increase in patients entering our ICU – a critical health care resource in the battle against this pandemic.

In response to these events I would like to speak to the following topics this afternoon:

  • These events at Burlington Health and Rehab
  • New measures the City of Burlington is taking with respect to public facilities
  • A new request I have made to the Governor’s office and the response I have gotten to that
  • Burlington’s efforts to support all of our residents, businesses, and organization who are suffering in this moment, and the steps we will be taking in the days and weeks ahead to protect the City’s financial health in a moment of unprecedented financial uncertainty, as the financial crisis caused by the virus is deepening.

First, I want to send, again, my deepest condolences to the family of woman we lost yesterday. One member of the family has been in touch with me and I want the whole family to know that I understand that this loss is devastating and that I am thinking of you all.

I also would like to speak to the spread of the virus within the facility. I have been very concerned about the more than 80 patients in this facility since learning of the first infection Monday night. Throughout the week I have been in touch with senior members of the State team about the status of the center.

Early this morning, in response to my calls last night after the Governor’s press conference, I had a conference call with Dr. Levine and Secretary Smith. I voiced to them again my deep concern about the situation in the facility and asked them to publicly assure the families of the all the patients in Burlington Health and Rehab, many of whom live locally, that the State is doing everything possible to stop the further spread of the virus within the facility.

I have made a number of specific requests with respect to the facility to the State:

One, while understanding that there is currently an acute shortage of available test kits nationally and locally, I asked them to prioritize appropriate virus testing at this facility to identify as quickly as possible all patients and health care workers who are infected or suspected of infection.

In my call with Dr. Levine this afternoon he confirmed that all symptomatic residents and symptomatic staff are being tested.

Further he indicated that the total number of symptomatic staff and residents is much larger that the confirmed positive cases at this point. To avoid any confusion, I think it is important that you seek the accurate, current figures from the Department of Health.

He stressed, again as he did at the press conference, that there are other illnesses within the facility, and it is possible that some of these symptoms are not related to COVID-19.

Secondly, I have requested assurances from the State and the facility that the latest CDC guidance regarding infected sites is being followed. That guidance will be released with my remarks today. Specifically I am looking to the department of health to confirm that the following critical guidance from the CDC has been achieved:

“Facilities with confirmed cases should be isolating infected/suspected infected patients in separate, well-ventilated triage areas or private rooms with a closed door and private bathroom if possible. Facilities should begin implementing engineering controls including physical barriers and curtains between patients facility-wide.”

In my conversation with Commissioner Levine this afternoon he indicated that this was the goal that the State and the center are working towards. I have requested confirmation that this has been fully achieved.

Finally, I asked Dr. Levine whether any of the symptomatic health care workers have recently been working in other nursing homes or health care facilities and he indicated that he would get back to me with a confirmed answer to this question.

I also would like the public to know that I have spoke to the Executive Director of the facility today and offered him any support he needs in addressing this crisis. He indicated that they are running low on emergency supplies, as many facilities are. I welcomed Commissioner Levine’s statement that the State is assisting with this situation. The City too will stay engaged with this issue and offer any help we can, though our supplies too are already running low.

I was reassured in my call with the Director that the families are being communicated with by the center twice a day. I have requested to join their next call and have the City participate in all calls going forward during this crisis.

Finally, the quick spread of the virus within this facility makes clear how vulnerable facilities of this type are. On Tuesday of this week after learning of the infection I had a conference call in which we invited all senior care providers and I urged them to double and triple check their practices and protocols for limiting the spread of the virus. Today I am publicly repeating that call and attaching the latest CDC guidance in case they are not yet aware of it.

Now I will address some new City actions in response to recent developments.

As people continue to gather in parks, and as most are doing so carefully, we welcome people getting outside but want to ensure that they are doing so safely. We are putting up new signage reaffirming social distancing measures in parks and playgrounds. The City will be monitoring compliance with these signs daily to determine whether additional measures are needed.

Today, I also reached out to the Governor’s Office to look into closing movie theaters, gyms, recreation facilities and possibly other businesses. Many of these businesses have already closed voluntarily, which I welcome. At this point, I understand from the Governor’s Office that the Governor is considering additional action in this area.

I know it is challenging for Burlingtonians to have services removed. Even as certain parts of daily life must change during this time, the City team is also working hard and with creatively to develop new services. Here are some examples:

The Library is now offering outside Pick Up Service, where residents can place books on hold and when they are ready, pick them up at designated times outside the library.

The Library also offers many online resources, from downloadable ebooks and audiobooks, to streaming movies and TV shows. Librarians are available for phone calls, emails, and online char during open hours to help everyone navigate these resources.

Meanwhile, our Burlington City Arts has launched a new online community and resource called Home Studio, and plans to add to it with creative activities for the community to participate in together while at home every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. 

Our Parks, Recreation & Waterfront team is assisting in providing free meals for youth ages 18 and under at 11 locations around Burlington.

And most of all, remember that our parks are still open. Getting outside, while physically distancing, is not only allowed, it's encouraged. Though our recreation buildings are closed, we’ve put out the tennis and pickleball nets early and all of our parks and trails remain open.

Next, I want to share information about the work that we are doing to develop economic relief for Burlingtonians. We are drafting an emergency resolution that will go to the Council for approval Monday. This resolution has several parts:

First, our employee emergency leave policy.

Second, authorization to set up a Burlington Resources and Recovery Center. This Center will be staffed by temporarily repurposed CEDO employees and potentially other employees, and one of its primary functions will be to support Burlingtonians with accessing State and Federal resources. It will also deploy some City resources. This center will provide direct support to the person experiencing homelessness looking for a hotel voucher, the restaurant worker who just lost their job and is worried about paying their rent, and the local entrepreneur who has had to close or dramatically change their business over the last week.

Third, we currently are still examining the full range of what fee, penalty, and even tax waivers and extensions we will be able to offer, and what it will take to do that. We’ve already announced no utility cutoffs for non-payment, and I expect that there will be other measures like this.

Fourth, we will need to take initial steps Monday to protect the City’s financial health given an expected significant reduction in City revenues and our responsibilities to our employees. We are anticipating millions of dollars of lost and delayed revenues for the remainder of the fiscal year and need to take immediate action to be prepared for that.

Next, I want to speak to homelessness and COVID-19.

We know that people experiencing homelessness are among the vulnerable populations susceptible to the virus, especially in crowded shelters. We are working with DCF, which is leading the State’s coordination of homelessness resources, to expand the motel voucher program so that we can establish necessary social distancing in shelters by allowing people who are experiencing homelessness to stay in hotels or motels. (For additional information on this, please watch the video of the Mayor’s remarks: https://www.facebook.com/MiroBTV/videos/2860654944026177)

To close, it is important to note that the community response in Burlington and throughout the country has been incredible. We can’t sugarcoat this situation – we have big challenges in the months ahead, and we are a long way from full a resolution.  However, the collaborative response between different levels of government, between community partners including the UVM Medical Center and the schools, and among residents, has been unlike anything I have seen in my time as Mayor.

Garrett Graff, who is a writer and Burlington resident, wrote a piece in The Atlantic yesterday said, “The most isolating thing most of us has ever done is, ironically, almost surely the most collective experience we’ve ever had in our lifetimes.”

I have confidence that when we get to the other side of this, we will look back at this as one of the times that the country rose to the call and came together in a stunning way. We are not there yet. That requires a lot of work to get there, so we have to take our share of that and we need people to step up. There are so many inspiring examples already and there are going to be many more in the months ahead.

The first priority has to be to protect the health of this community. Once we have our health, we can figure the rest out, and that is what we will do.

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Press Release Date: 
03/20/2020
City Department: 
Mayor's Office