Vermont Research News: What can VT teach the nation about COVID-19?

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Vermont Research News: What can VT teach the nation about COVID-19?

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 12:22pm -- tim

What can VT teach the nation about COVID-19?
Bill McKibben, the Vermont writer recently published a piece in the New Yorker, highlighting Vermont’s low COVID-19 death rates and exploring why. McKibben cites state leadership, high levels of social trust, competent health leaders that have been put front and center in the crisis, a fairly healthy population, and an active and engaged media among other factors.
What are some of the reasons that Vt has less cases?
Vermont has consistently been in the lowest five states when it comes to COVID-19 cases and deaths, both in total and in per capita. Why? We put that question to Mike Pieciak, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation – the office that tracks Vermont cases and models future trends. Commissioner Pieciak, who was first appointed by Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin and re-appointed by Governor Phil Scott, points to contact tracing, the work of the VDH, testing and  staying at home as some possible explanations
Speaking of Explanations
Vermont’s media consistently presents excellent analysis and coverage of the crisis. For example, see Seven Days cover story on Health Commissioner Mark Levine, VPR’s analysis of how COVID-19 has hit people of color the hardest in Vermont, VT Digger’s coverage of the spread of the disease in prison populations. See more VT Digger coverage here, VPR coverage here, Seven Days here and Vermont Edition which regularly listens in and then discusses the Governor’s frequent briefings. Yet the economic downtown has hit media platforms hard. See Bill Schubart’s piece here on the vital role the media plays.
Financial and mental health 
A new poll from VPR/VT PBS indicates deep concerns among Vermonters about their financial and mental health. About 70% of the respondents said that the pandemic threatened their finances and almost one-quarter said the pandemic posed a "threat to their economic future." The poll also looked at concerns about the impact on small businesses, with more than two-thirds of those surveyed concerned about the future of these businesses.  
Vermonters trust their government
A new study from The Center for Rural Studies, called the VT COVID Wellbeing study examines Vermonter attitudes in a number of areas related to COVID-19. The study finds that Vermonters have greater confidence in our local government than before the pandemic, and less confidence in the National government.  And the new poll from VPR & VT PBS finds Vermonter's strongly approve of Gov. Scott's handling of the pandemic.
Disease Map
Vermont historian and writer Matt Fraser writes about COVID-19 in The Disease Map of Rural America. Fraser argues that the urban-rural distinction when discussing the current pandemic and case rates is an oversimplification of rural America. “Maybe, then”, he says, “the disease map of rural America will end up serving as a different kind of map as well—one that can point the way to a new landscape of possibility for left-wing politics and coalition-building in the post-pandemic world to come.”
Human lives and economic impacts
The 2020 COVID19-mitigating public health measures will save between 900,000 and 2,700,000 lives in the US; however, the economic downturn from shelter-in-place measures and other restrictions on economic activity could create an indirect collateral loss of 50,400-323,000 lives over the following years. This according to a recent assessment published on the Social Science Research Network, co-authored by Eline van den Broek-Altenburg and Adam Atherly of the UVM Larner College of Medicine. 
COVID-19 and children
In a recent article for the Journal for American Pediatrics, University of Vermont Medical Center Infectious disease specialists Benjamin Lee and William Raszka suggest that schools can open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults, but that the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.  Read coverage of the article by Ecowatch here. And an article about the authors here.
Collecting alms during the pandemic
How has the pandemic affected morning alms rounds for monks in Thailand? Why Buddhist monks collect alms and visit households even in times of social distancing, an essay by UVM Religion professor Thomas Borchert finds that the practice is essential for a number of reasons -- even in a pandemic. The piece was published in a number of outlets including The Conversation.
Will more people buy local food because of the pandemic?
How will the pandemic change our food systems? According to an article co-authored by UVM’s Dr. Jane Kolodinsky, Dr. Lisa Chase, and Weiwei Wang, “If changes in buying and eating habits persist beyond the pandemic, we may see hope for the expansion of local food systems. Indeed, a larger change in the way most Americans buy food has been needed to move local and regional food systems forward.”
Transit & Social Connectivity
This past spring, a group of Middlebury College students partnered with Addison County Transit Resources’ (ACTR) to explore the efficacy of ACTR’s Dial-A-Ride service which provides door-to-door transportation for elderly and disabled folks living in Addison County. The report includes interviews with participants and volunteer drivers who use Dial-A-Ride as a primary function of their lives, following up with these participants during the COVID-19 pandemic -- concluding that ACTR’s Dial-A-Ride service is successful in enhancing social connectivity in Vermont communities.
Trust and leadership in schools
When teachers work together, students achieve at higher levels. A recent dissertation considers how informal networks organize the attitudes and beliefs of teachers towards concepts like curriculum and instructional practice at one K-8 school in Vermont. The results demonstrate that a teacher’s professional role is not a significant factor among those that seek out their input for instructional support. Instead, trust is the most significant factor in seeking input and advice from colleagues. Additionally, teachers only sought advice from an average of 10% of the total staff in the network. This could be a valuable tool for school administrators in identifying the most influential staff members, since these influential voices can either make or break the success of change efforts.
Access to nature
A new study shows that access to nature is important to people during the pandemic and there has been an increase in people spending time outside. The researchers, including Brendan Fisher at UVM’s environmental program, found that 69.0%  of the respondents had increased or greatly increased their visitation rate to natural/urban park areas, and 80.6% of respondents considered that the importance of these natural areas and access to them either increased or greatly increased.
Community Recovery Visits
Under the leadership of the Vermont Council on Rural Development, more than 12 community forums are being convened to learn and talk about local impacts, practices and solutions. To register or learn more see this page. According to VCRD Director Paul Costello, one emphasis of the outreach is on training, encouraging leadership in action and building a statewide leadership network. The effort is part of the Governor’s Economic Mitigation and Recovery Task Force.
Vermont Climatologist Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux, Professor, Department of Geography, UVM (Fellow of the American Meteorological Society & President-elect of the American Association of State Climatologists) talks about Weather, Climate & COVID-19.

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The Vermont Research News is a bi-monthly curated collection of Vermont research -- focused on research in the Vermont "laboratory" -- research that provides original knowledge to the world and research that adds to an understanding of the state's social, economic, cultural and physical environment.
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