Two Milton residents have tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as of Tuesday, according to Town Manager Don Turner.
One patient is under self-quarantine in Milton and the other patient was transported to the University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center by Milton Rescue.
On Monday, the selectboard held a special teleconference meeting during which members approved a resolution giving Turner more authority to maintain operations and ease the financial burden on different areas of government and staff affected.
"We've essentially declared a town emergency," Turner said.
The resolution allows Turner to pay staff if they're unable to work, to pay overtime for Milton Rescue staff, to pay volunteers if a point comes when the team is not large enough to staff the ambulance, and to hire additional staffing if need be.
"It also allows us to suspend collective bargaining units under emergency circumstances," he said. "It was important [for the selectboard] to act on a resolution that acknowledges what we're doing."
He added that if his staff are declared nonessential at any point, by state or federal direction, the staff would be expected to work from home and compensated based on their regular shifts. "Because of the disparity of paid leave, I wanted to make sure staff members were able to use sick leave and paid time off for child care, self-isolation, etc," he said.
At this time, the town does not have an emergency operations center open; the only support function affected is Milton Rescue. The team currently staffs two full time members, 12 per diem members and 39 volunteers for a total of 53 members.
"We've been gearing that up for several weeks, we were prepared," Turner said, regarding the Milton residents who tested positive for the virus.
"We are very dependent on our dedicated volunteers—we're pretty fortunate," he said, remarking on the additional mutual aid from Saint Michael's College Rescue members and a UVM Rescue member. However, if agencies halt mutual aid and prefer to keep folks from helping on other calls, Turner said Milton would be in trouble.
"We are in good shape right now. We continue to prepare for the next phase, hoping that we never get there," he said. In preparation for the worst, Turner said the town is making a list of volunteers who have served on Milton Rescue before or have related experience, should the department need additional members.
The emergency declaration also allows for Rescue to operate differently, opening up possibilities to bring on more staff and to pay volunteers.
"Everything so far is good," Turner said, emphasizing the need for residents to remain calm and asking for folks to trust that their government has a plan. "We all have to stay calm and work together, stay focused," he said.
The town has also created a community help board, Milton Helping Milton, after Turner kept receiving calls from residents asking how they could help. Examples of assistance available through this community program include picking up groceries or prescriptions; meal prep and delivery; elderly check-ins (remotely or social distanced); daycare; tech support; pet sitting; and immediate repairs.
"I see people are heeding warnings and following CDC guidelines. That's good. Everybody's doing what they can," said Turner. "Some people are very anxious, but I think my experience, so far, has been one of calmness: we have a plan, we have a government, we know the guidelines we should follow."
In addition to preparing for the worst, Turner said he looks forward to planning a celebration with the whole town of Milton after the pandemic ends. In the meantime, he's also noticed some silver linings. "We've been eating at home more than we have in a long time," Turner said. "These are things we took for granted everyday.
"For me personally, I'm looking beyond this. I want to give Milton a reason to look beyond this. We will make it through this. It's hard right now but we will make it through."