State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) Status Updates
- The Governor activated the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) Wednesday, March 11th to support the ongoing work of the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) and to expand the State’s capacity to handle the COVID-19 response.
- The SEOC is open every weekday from 8am-4pm until further notice. The SEOC is available 24/7 through the watch officer. The SEOC’s phone number is 1-800-347-0488.
The SEOC is the lead coordinating agency for the overall statewide response, while the VDH Health Operations Center is leading the public health response by providing data-driven guidance and executing a robust testing, monitoring and contract tracing program.
Refer to the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) website for current health guidance.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT) maintains a webpage of COVID-19 resources for municipalities.
Last Updated November 25th.
Please note: Questions have been organized into the following overarching themes. If you are looking for specific topic, you can search for a keyword by using your browser's find command.
- Local jurisdictions’ COVID-19 responsibilities
- Continuity of local government
- State interventions
- Local business
- Town employees and volunteers
- Testing and public health
What should towns be doing to respond to COVID-19?
The governor’s executive order (and its addenda) outline the restrictions that towns should enact and publicize. Further guidance to share can be found on the websites for the Department of Health and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
Emergency Management Directors (EMDs) are the point of coordination for all hazards, including disease outbreaks. This responsibility includes being prepared, knowing local resources, and knowing how to get additional resources.
Continuity of staffing is a particular concern in the context of COVID-19. Continuity of operations (COOP) plans should include identification of essential functions and lines of succession. A local COOP plan template is available on the Vermont Emergency Management website.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns website also has a wide range of COVID-19 guidance and resources.
Are municipalities responsible for the enforcement of the Governor’s Executive Order 01-20?
If a municipality is aware of a business that is not complying with the executive order, the first step would be to send a municipal official or public safety official to the establishment to remind them of the need for compliance, and to request voluntary compliance.
Local police departments are receiving guidance from VSP on enforcement of the executive order and where to direct complaints. Generally, the focus is more on education than aggressive enforcement. Individuals with complaints about businesses not complying, to include lodging establishments, should contact their local law enforcement.
Business noncompliance can also be reported using the Vermont State Police Executive Order Reporting Tool.
On April 3rd, the Attorney General’s Office issued a Directive to Law Enforcement on the enforcement of the COVID-19 Emergency Order. This directive detailed further enforcement measures that can be taken by the Attorney General’s Office if an individual or entity refuses to comply.
Should municipalities issue a local emergency declaration and/or stand up a local emergency operations center (EOC)?
Issuing a local emergency declaration is a decision for the local legislative body. Unless local ordinances allow for greater capability or flexibility under an emergency declaration, there likely is no benefit to issuing such a declaration because the Governor has declared a State of Emergency statewide.
Some towns are declaring a local state of emergency so that when they look back, they can point to that as the reason for doing something outside their usual practice.
Towns may find local EOCs useful for coordinating resources. The decision to open a local EOC rests with the local jurisdiction.
What should local municipalities do to avoid COVID-19-related scams?
Municipalities should be diligent in checking email sources and content for any indications of misrepresented identities. The Federal Trade Commission and the FBI both have guidance on how to avoid scams related to COVID-19.
Please report scams to the Office of the Vermont Attorney General.
Often during disasters, municipalities are targeted by scams asking for money to register for financial assistance on SAM.gov. Registering on SAM.gov is always free.
Can towns start requesting information stored through VT CARE (Citizens Assistance Registry for Emergencies) for planning for our vulnerable population?
Yes, with the Governor's Declared State of Emergency, responders are able to request CARE registration data allowing the responders to plan and provide appropriate assistance. See the CARE Process for Emergency Responders for the request procedure.
What guidance is there for Town Health Officers (THO)?
There are VDH Town Health Officer leaders in the Health Operations Center providing local THOs with guidance. THOs should be working within their municipality to ensure EMDs and other local officials are kept up to date with the latest THO guidance. The Governor’s executive order outlines other actions the local THOs should be taking.
Towns have no mandatory reporter requirements regarding calls they receive from citizens thinking they might have COVID-19 (in the way they are mandated to report dog bites). The symptomatic person should work directly with their healthcare provider.
What should we be using to clean and disinfect?
Please refer to the CDC guidance document Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes.
Should town offices be open?
ACCD guidance on reopening applies to the public sector as well as the private sector.
It is a town’s decision whether to close its town offices. Some towns are allowing appointments as needed. When town offices do close, we recommend reporting that to the Secretary of State. There is further guidance and a list of reported town office closures on the Secretary of State’s website (under the “Municipal Assistance” header).
The state considers responding to records request a non-essential function, and this determination is unlikely to change. It is important to avoid forcing town employees to go to their office if they feel unsafe doing so.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns has additional guidance on town offices.
Does the governor’s executive order limit the work of road crews?
Municipal road crews should follow the ACCD guidance for the construction sector, which allows for full, but not “normal,” operations. For instance, the guidance calls for staggered start times and breaks.
Is there a way around requirements for official signatures, for instance on warrants?
The Vermont legislature, VLCT, and others have determined that electronic signatures are authorized in the general statute and meet the requirements of the law.
Can municipalities continue to use schools as their designated emergency locations?
Schools (as buildings) could still be used as emergency shelters as designated in your Local Emergency Response Plans. In a situation where a shelter needs to be opened, the town should make sure its emergency location adheres to social distancing guidelines.
Does a town need permission to bring town vital records home or to move them to another town's vault if the office is closed?
There is no prohibition in statute on bringing vital records home. However, it may not be necessary. Birth and death records may be obtained from the Department of Health website.
How do we continue to meet Open Meeting Law if we take meetings online?
Vermont recently passed a law, Act 92, allowing public bodies to hold a meeting by electronic means without a physical location or requiring a person to be physically present. Towns holding virtual meetings must provide for telephone access and must record the meeting if possible.
The remote voting provision will remain in place as long as the declared state of emergency is in place.
The VLCT municipal assistance center has a new public meeting toolkit on their website, which takes the new law into account.
Can the requirement for posting minutes within a certain number of days under the Open Meeting law be waived if there are clerical shortages?
Vermont recently passed a law, Act 92, stating that in the event of a staffing shortage, during a declared state of emergency due to COVID-19, a public body may extend the time limit for posting of minutes to no more than 10 calendar days.
What resources are available to towns to limit face-to-face contacts via teleconferencing?
There are many free online resources available for municipalities to use for teleconferencing. The State of Vermont does not have teleconferencing resources for municipalities to use. Searching online for free teleconferencing services should provide several options.
How will COVID-19 impact Town Meeting Day?
In the coming months, the State will provide support and guidance to towns on how best to conduct Town Meeting Day in 2021.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns already has a webpage with resources for municipalities on how best to navigate Town Meeting Day this year.
Can temporary appointments be used to maintain a quorum of selectboard members?
According to statute, selectboard members can appoint new members to maintain a quorum, as long as less than half the selectboard is vacant. If a majority of the selectboard is vacant at the same time, then a special town meeting must be called to select new members.
As the pandemic continues, this statute may present challenges to municipalities trying to fill selectboard vacancies while also avoiding the highly congregate setting of a town meeting. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns is working with the state legislature on further guidance.
Will there be financial reimbursement for expenses the town incurs handling this outbreak?
There are many different streams of funding, but the main one available to municipal entities is Public Assistance under the Major Disaster Declaration declared on April 8th (referred to by FEMA as DR-4532). Under this declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is authorized to provide federal reimbursement for 75% of the cost of eligible emergency protective measures (Category B) under the Public Assistance program. For FEMA-eligible costs, the State will also cover the 25% non-federal match through the Coronavirus Relief Fund, so municipalities will receive 100% reimbursement for eligible costs.
Towns need a minimum of $3,300 in FEMA-eligible emergency response costs (e.g., PPE and overtime) to qualify. For more guidance, including a list of eligible items, please visit the VEM Major Disaster webpage.
How might the $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus relief package impact Vermont municipalities?
The Vermont state government received $1.25 billion from the CARES Act. Governor Phil Scott and the state legislature are deciding how these funds can best benefit the state, resulting in multiple grant programs.
The law’s raft of measures for individuals, businesses, and hospitals will undoubtedly also impact Vermont’s cities and towns.
The Agency of Commerce and Community Development has a funding webpage detailing some programs funded by the CARES Act.
Please remember to track expenses.
How do towns approve emergency municipal spending?
The local legislative body (e.g., the select board) makes decisions about emergency spending.
There is currently a shortage of certain items in high demand, like Personal Protective Equipment and cleaning supplies, does the state have a back-up?
The state does not stock cleaning supplies, and is currently prioritizing PPE for hospitals, EMS agencies, and long-term care facilities. Municipalities should not be requesting PPE for staff other than first responders.
Vermont has some items in a strategic stockpile and the Health Operations Center and SEOC is currently evaluating resource requests, prioritizing allocation based on needs. The state continues to explore additional venues for resources to meet the needs within the state.
The Department of Buildings and General Services (BGS) has contracts for PPE and cleaning supplies that municipalities can use. However, supply is limited.
If you have resource needs that cannot be met locally (either commercially or through mutual aid), call the SEOC at 1-800-347-0488.
How is the state communicating with the public?
State messaging is coordinated through the Joint Information Center, a component of the SEOC. Avenues used by Vermont to distribute COVID-19 messaging include state websites (most notably the Department of Health website and VEM COVID-19 website), press releases, press conferences, social media, public service announcements on radio and television, and electronic message boards on the interstate.
Vermont Emergency Management encourages Vermonters to register for VT-Alert. While the system has not been used to disseminate information during the COVID-19 Response, it is a robust tool that is reserved for life safety messaging. The state is hesitant to use VT-Alert when other avenues suffice.
Are State Parks open?
Yes, all of Vermont’s state parks are open for public use. Mandatory health and safety guidelines are in effect. Day use activity is being managed to ensure sufficient physical space is available for social distancing, and amenities are scaled back. State park campgrounds are limited to tent, RV and lean-to camping; a new and improved web-based state park reservation system is also now available.
Local jurisdictions concerned about the lack of social distancing in state parks should publicize this guidance from the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation.
Does the executive order prevent Vermonters from buying/renting residences and moving?
No, the executive order does not prevent Vermonters from moving. Anyone moving from outside the state may have to self-quarantine for 14 days, depending on where they are moving from. More information about travel quarantines is on the Agency of Commerce and Community Development website.
What plans are in place for alternate housing/quarantine for vulnerable populations?
It is best for those exposed or infected with COVID-19 to self-isolate in their own home, however this is often not possible for individuals facing homelessness, with mental health challenges, with disabilities, or who otherwise need more support. The SEOC and the Agency of Human Services established isolation and recovery sites with wrap-around services for these vulnerable populations.
There is currently one isolation and recovery site actively operating, in Chittenden County.
Those in need of emergency housing should call 211 for help finding local resources.
What plans are in place for alternate housing/quarantine for healthcare workers and first responders?
Non-congregate temporary housing shall be provided for first responders and health care workers who are at reasonable risk of having been exposed to or are infected with COVID-19, or are recovering from COVID-19, and cannot return to their usual residence because of the risk of infecting members of their household. The cost of room and board is eligible for reimbursement through FEMA.
Healthcare workers and first responders are not required to move to alternate housing – this is an empowerment measure to support those who would benefit, not a directive.
Like any other resource request, municipalities should address alternate housing needs locally first, and contact the SEOC if state help is required.
Does the federal government have the authority to interfere with the state’s mitigation strategies?
This depends on the legal component of the strategy, but if the federal government lifts its social distancing guidelines, Vermont still has the authority to keep the executive order in place.
What measures are being taken to ensure the reopening of Vermont is not happening too quickly?
No reopening will happen that is not vetted and reviewed very closely by the Vermont Department of Health (VDH). VDH is promoting three federal strategies to ensure the reopening of Vermont does not cause a spike in COVID-19 infections. Those three strategies are: testing, contract tracing, and building up PPE supply in the state.
Governor Scott established the State of Vermont Economic Mitigation & Recovery Task Force which is charged with providing technical assistance and expertise to mitigate the devastating short-term economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with developing strategies designed to speed long-term business and community recovery. The task force is made up of three committees known as action teams. One of the action teams, RestartVT Team, is charged with developing plans for the smooth, safe, and orderly reopening of the economy in close concert with the State Emergency Operations Center and the Department of Health.
What is the current guidance for Vermont businesses?
Starting in mid-April, Governor Scott began a phased reopening of businesses in Vermont, with mandatory health & safety guidance required of all businesses currently in operation and those re-opening. This reopening is detailed on the Agency of Commerce and Community Development’s website.
Any questions about businesses reopening should be directed to ACCD, using the “request additional guidance” form on their website, or emailing ACCD.Covid19@vermont.gov (but please look around their website for guidance first).
What resources are available to assist businesses with their financial losses?
Resources for impacted businesses are listed on the Agency of Commerce and Community Development website. The specific resources change regularly, as new programs are added and deadlines pass.
Where can employers and employees get guidance about workplace safety and COVID-19 procedures?
Agency of Commerce and Community Development guidance requires that all employees, including those already working (except healthcare workers, first responders, and others already trained in infection control, personal protection/universal precautions), must complete, and employers must document, a training on mandatory health and safety requirements as provided by VOSHA, or another training program that meets or exceeds the VOSHA-provided standard by May 4, 2020, or before returning to operations. Employers who need translations of the training materials have one week from the time the materials are made available.
The training materials can be found on the VOSHA website.
As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses further, the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA) is receiving an increased number of calls from employees concerned for their safety and health in the workplace and employers’ efforts to protect them.
VOSHA currently advises employers to follow OSHA and CDC guidelines regarding protection of employees from this virus. In addition, VOSHA further advises employers to abide by the current guidance and executive orders from the administration of Vermont Governor Phil Scott. Employers should be posting FACT sheets such as those distributed by the Vermont Department of Health, to educate employees as to proper precautions to protect themselves.
If employees have concerns they wish to bring to VOSHA’s attention they may do so in writing by accessing the VOSHA website complaint page or by calling toll free 1-800-287-2765.
How should municipalities support their staff who are unable to work?
The VLCT has guidance on supporting staff unable to work. Specific questions on this topic can be directed to VLCT, specifically Jill Muhr (firstname.lastname@example.org). Unemployment insurance questions should be directed to Kelley Avery (email@example.com).
Regular pay of staff is not reimbursable via funding from the federal government. What do to in this situation is a town-by-town decision. Towns should address their options through the Department of Labor guidance. Towns should reach out to the Department of Labor if they have questions.
Should municipalities check the temperature of their employees when they come to work?
Prior to the commencement of each work shift, pre-screening, including temperature checks and a health survey, shall be required to verify each employee has no symptoms of respiratory illness (fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath). At the present time non-contact thermometers are in short supply, however employers shall immediately order, and use their best efforts to obtain, thermometers in order to conduct routine temperature checks. For more information, refer to the Agency of Commerce and Community Development guidance.
100.4 F is the benchmark for fever used by the Vermont Department of Health laboratory.
The state is unable to provide thermometers to towns.
How can we get staffing support for essential services (e.g., wastewater treatment), if needed?
Municipalities are encouraged to establish mutual aid agreements in order to support each other in times of need. If a municipality has essential services impacted by absenteeism that cannot be fulfilled through mutual aid or contracted services, contact the SEOC at 1-800-347-0488 to submit a resource request for personnel.
What guidance do you have for towns looking to use volunteers?
Emergency Management Directors are encouraged to engage with volunteer opportunities at a local level. Please review the Neighborly Best Practices for Helping During COVID-19.
If towns are unable to accommodate volunteers, direct those interested to the state volunteer portal. SerVermont is doing the volunteer management through the State portal and is matching volunteers with volunteer needs. If municipalities have an initiative requiring volunteers, they can call the SEOC and that request will be routed to the Staffing Unit.
The VLCT developed volunteer risk management guidance, with an emphasis on insurance issues.
Who is being tested for COVID-19?
The state is significantly expanding COVID-19 testing. The focus is still on healthcare workers, childcare providers, and first responders, but testing is also expanded beyond that, with pop-up clinics open to the general public. Test results should be available in less than 48 hours.
Testing for symptomatic individuals is based on referrals from physicians, and is available on a prompt, as-needed basis.
Asymptomatic individuals can register for testing at pop-up sites around the state, without a referral.
Furthermore, the Department of Health conducts facility-wide testing at congregate living facilities such as nursing homes and prisons, as warranted.
More information on testing is on the Department of Health website.
Positive test results are not shared with the town unless it’s related to contact tracing.
What happens when there is a confirmed case of COVID-19?
The Health Operations Center contact investigation unit go through healthcare providers and family members to find out where the patient was, and the unit follows up with close contacts. If the contacts have symptoms, then there’s likely further actions (e.g., monitoring). VDH is more limited than other agencies about what they can legally say about patients. This includes limited information about where the infected person visited, unless it’s a clear public health concern (e.g., a crowded party).
If a suspect case is being monitored and needs to go to the hospital for as test, they are able to call ahead and are met in the hospital parking lot. This limits the contact to healthcare providers for a patient who may have COVID-19. If a suspect case is going to the hospital for a test, VDH can let first responders know for potential transport.
How is it determined that someone no longer has COVID-19?
Patients are told to isolate at home until they have been symptom-free for 3 days.
Patients are not re-tested to confirm they are no longer infected, except in limited circumstances. Hospitals may follow up with their discharged COVID-19 patients; those procedures vary.
Should the general public be wearing masks?
Effective August 1st, the governor’s executive order requires Vermonters to wear masks or cloth facial coverings over their nose and mouth any time they are in public spaces, indoors or outdoors, where they come in contact with others from outside their households, especially in congregate settings, and where it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least six feet.
This does not replace social distancing guidelines, because masks do not completely protect against exposure. Do not let masks give a false sense of security.
The requirement does not apply to:
- Those under the age of 2
- Those with troubling breathing, or a medical/developmental condition complicated or irritated by a facial covering (documentation or other evidence verifying the condition is not required)
- Those eating, drinking, or engaging in strenuous activity or exercise
- Those exempted under other State guidance
Businesses and non-profit and government entities must notify customers or clients of the requirement to wear masks or facial coverings, and may refuse entry/service to those not wearing masks/coverings.
N95 masks should not be used by the general public, because 1) the limited supply is needed by healthcare workers and 2) N95 masks require a personalized fit test to be effective and safe to wear.
The state is not able to supply masks to everyone, but will provide masks to certain sectors including schools and long-term care facilities to aid those with greater potential for exposure.
The CDC has instructions for making masks at home.
The SEOC Joint Information Center developed a webpage about cloth face coverings that contains information on face covering guidance from the Department of Health, and where to purchase cloth face coverings.