Home News and Features City News UPDATE: Sasha Thayer pens open letter to the community about COVID-19 facility

UPDATE: Sasha Thayer pens open letter to the community about COVID-19 facility

Goddard College campus. Photo by Mara Brooks.

Plainfield Emergency Management Director Sasha Thayer released a statement Monday in response to The Bridge’s recent story about a planned coronavirus recovery center at Goddard College in Plainfield. 

“A concerned member of our Plainfield community wrote to me yesterday, stating what others may be feeling, ‘I want my local government to insist on a quarantine for the COVID folks staying at Goddard. I want my neighborhood to be safe and to feel safe. Consider the greater good of everyone,’” Thayer’s statement said.

Thayer offered an open letter response to the resident, which she shared on the facebook page Plainfield People and which The Bridge has reprinted here in its entirety.

“Dear [neighbor],

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I’ve also personally raised this with two legislators, Andy Perchlik and Janet Ancel, as well as raised this publicly at the March 30 selectboard meeting, and before that with Joan Marie Misak, who is the nurse who heads the Barre office of the Vermont Health Department, and Paul Dragon of the Agency of Human Services. That said, my personal views aren’t shared by everyone, including members of our Plainfield community.

However, the information in an April 5 article in The Bridge, may allay some of your concerns and does provide additional information from that which we received at the selectboard meeting last week on March 30th. That and the FAQs issued by the Agency of Human Services on Friday, to me, indicate that concerns raised are being addressed. Here’s the URL for The Bridge article (montpelierbridge.org/2020/04/state-addresses-concerns-about-housing-covid-19-patients-at-goddard/) and for the Frequently Asked Questions re this project (humanservices.vermont.gov/sites/ahsnew/files/doc_library/Goddard-FAQ-final.pdf ).

What I have seen and heard over the past two weeks is a shift from solely approaching this all as an illness, adhering to HIPAA requirements re patient privacy, to an approach which has assured us that those in residence at Goddard will not be strolling about the neighborhood and will be removed from the program if they don’t comply with staying on campus. In recent days, there has also been a stronger communication that those who fail to comply with the stay-at-home order could face significant fines, and possible jail time, this applying to all in the State of Vermont. I haven’t personally researched this, so I’m not familiar with the provisions of Vermont law which would allow this.

Of course, the reality is that because those who are asymptomatic, but infected, can transmit COVID-19, we all are at risk from our neighbors, our family members, our friends, all the time.  Those who have received a positive COVID-19 test but remain asymptomatic are required to self-quarantine in their home, but may have had contact with lots of folks in the community before receiving the test results and may present an even greater risk of harm than those who may be at Goddard. So there doesn’t seem to be a safe harbor anywhere at the moment.

I was pleased to learn that the Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Human Services is Kerry Sleeper, who comes from a State Police background. I know him from when I was a lawyer in Caledonia County, first as a public defender and then when I was in private practice. I relied upon him for information when I was doing a private case for residents who were deeply concerned about the then Highway Department’s plan to replace a constricting covered bridge with a modern bridge which would have increased the volume and speed of traffic, as well as allowing tractor-trailer trucks to go through the area where Lyndon Institute is. I found him to be clear and thoughtful.

 Deputy Secretary Sleeper brings 41 years of experience to his current position, experience as a front line VSP trooper, the head of the St. J VSP barracks, later Vermont Commissioner of Public Safety (where the Vermont State Police and Vermont Emergency Management were his responsibilities), and 7+ years serving in the Senior Executive Service ranks with the FBI. From my personal perspective, Vermont is fortunate to have an individual of his background as part of the leadership of the Agency of Human Services, which is in the forefront of planning for the range of individuals that COVID-19 is affecting and will affect here in Vermont. This includes, potentially, health care providers recovering from COVID-19 who may be among those coming to Plainfield through the AHS Recovery and Wellness Campus at Goddard College. Deputy Secretary Sleeper brings a depth of experience to the tasks of advance planning to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Vermont. Again, these are all my personal views.

The other reality is that those who are recovering from hospitalization for COVID-19 need a place where they can recover and receive care. And having that kind of facility in place protects us all.  We don’t want them having to go “home” where they may not receive the care they need, or may feel the need to venture out to get their own food, or to obtain medical care if their health doesn’t improve as anticipated, or if they have other health issues they continue to need health care for before, during, and after being infected.

I can tell you that the preparation and thoughtfulness that has gone into establishing, ahead of time, facilities to be able to care for such patients is way ahead of where Massachusetts is.  Massachusetts contracted with a nursing home in Worcester, MA to become a receiving facility for COVID-19 patients being discharged from a hospital setting but still needing monitoring and care. There was no testing of all the individuals in that nursing home before they started being moved to sister nursing homes in Massachusetts around Friday and Saturday a week ago. So, when it was learned that two, or several, of the patients at the Worcester nursing home tested COVID-19-positive, other asymptomatic residents had already been taken to sister nursing homes without being tested. Transfers stopped abruptly on March 29th, Sunday. The owner of the nursing homes first said that all patients who had been in the Worcester nursing home would be tested, including those who had been moved out (April 2nd letter to family members). By the next day there was backtracking, and the media were being told that only those in the Worcester facility in the dementia wing where the COVID-19-positive patients were living would be tested.

Those coming to the AHS Wellness and Recovery Center at Goddard College have survived hospitalization for COVID-19 and are on an upward trajectory toward health. According to the information shared with the select board and the community last Monday, they will receive health monitoring, food, a safe environment in which to devote their energies towards healing, and a healing environment where they will not have to be indoors 24/7, which, at the same time, provides distance and protection for others in the community.

Can we be guaranteed nothing will go amiss? No. Can there be a demand that a formal quarantine order follow each person who has tested COVID-19 positive? Yes, demands can be made. In raising that very request, I’ve also been told, anecdotally, that for some in Vermont, hostile threats followed disclosure that they tested COVID-19 positive.

Again, from my individual perspective, we are living in turbulent, uncertain times. What we are being told is that our “best bet” is to engage in the very serious isolation that Governor Scott’s stay-at-home order requires. Who would have thought even in January that surfers would be being warned that the spray from ocean waves could bring COVID-19? Or that it would be unsafe to go to a concert at the Unitarian Church, or on a skiing trip in Vermont or Colorado (where a group on a ski vacation brought COVID-19 back to Mexico with them last month)?

I wish for all of us it was different, and easier to cope with. I am reminded of what I taught my 3rd and 4th graders in Sunday School for years, that “Under the sky, we are all one people.”  Some days it’s hard to remember that, and to be able to think, if one agrees, how do we embody that in our community?

Again a reminder that these are my views. As you are probably aware, the selectboard has played no role in AHS’s decision to provide care to recovering COVID-19 patients on the Goddard College campus. In emergency situations such as these, decisions as to what may be the best approach are made at the highest level of government, even though some of these decisions may turn the Vermonters’ lives upside down, such as shutting down Vermont schools, first for a few weeks, then months, and such as the stay-at-home order. This is one of those decisions.

I hope you … and your family, afar and nearby, are well and healthy. I look forward to seeing you walking …this summer, when, we all hope, this health crisis has abated.

Sasha Thayer