Editor’s note: This commentary is by Sen. Joe Benning, the Senate minority leader who represents the Caledonia-Orange District in the Vermont Senate.
I have the privilege of serving with the group of eight known as the Vermont Legislature’s Joint Rules Committee. That committee oversees the workings of our Legislature. Its work is especially critical as we Vermonters react to the virus known as COVID-19. After deciding to make the unprecedented decision to close the Statehouse in the middle of the session to minimize spread of the virus, our work continues. Without trying to sound like I’m lecturing, I’d like to use my experience there to offer some ideas about what we can all do in this challenging time.
First, don’t panic. We Vermonters have weathered many storms and we will weather this one as well.
Second, avoid using this time to criticize those who don’t ordinarily agree with you politically. We are all facing a common threat. I am proud to be working with all my legislative colleagues and the professionals who have the skill, knowledge and patience to get us through this time. We are meeting through various formats on a daily basis (sometimes more frequently) and will get you the latest information when we know it. This is no time to place blame. There will be plenty of time to develop report cards on who did or didn’t do what, and when. Now is not that time.
Third, let’s rise up to our heritage as Vermonters and Americans. Remember our proud history of self-reliance and think through how best to protect yourself and your families. You don’t need government to tell you to wash your hands. Government cannot react as fast as you can to stay on top of your own protection. For tips on best practices, visit healthvermont.gov. That site will also give you the latest updates on virtually everything you need to know. It is far better to spend an hour there than on idiotic social media sites that are dominated by know-it-all trolls.
Fourth, let’s remember Vermont’s tradition of caring for your local community and neighbors. With schools shutting down there will be an increase in the need for daycare. Can you offer to help watch your neighbor’s children? This is especially important for neighbors working in the medical profession. Be prepared for the possibility that schools may be closed for quite some time. Check on the elderly living alone. They may not have the internet skills you do and might appreciate knowing about the latest news. Being the most vulnerable to this virus, they probably already have elevated fears about what is going on. Yours could be a needed voice of calm.
Fifth, learn alternative ways to continue patronizing local businesses that depend on you to keep our economy moving. You can still help them and practice social distancing by using the drive-thru, ordering take-out or utilizing home delivery. Small businesses need us, and our economic recovery will take less time if we can keep them afloat.
Sixth, please stop hoarding. Our economy is still running. It did so even during the Great Depression. Toilet paper continues to be made and it will get to the stores in due course, but it’s really aggravating when you are suddenly in need and some panicked hoarder has emptied the store shelf.
Finally, use this time to enjoy your families and your local environment. I took a hike and had the chance to view an ancient red Vermont farmhouse across a snow-covered field under a cobalt blue sky. It brought me comfort to realize it had survived a civil war, world wars, hurricanes, economic depressions and several global pandemics. With fortitude it reminded me: We will too.