For nearly two months, teams across the UVM Health Network have been planning for our clinical and operational response to what is now designated as a pandemic by the World Health Organization and declared a State of Emergency in Vermont and New York. It is essential that all of us now move with an abundance of caution and take important measures to slow and ultimately stop the spread of COVID-19. From across the globe, and now in the United States, we are seeing examples of how important it is to act responsibly and swiftly, and we must, too.

As we focus on the health and safety of our patients, our staff and our community — and as we learn more about COVID-19 — I want to share ways we are changing our policies and practices across the health system and also will share some helpful information you can use to keep you and your loved ones as safe and healthy as possible during these challenging times.

What we can do

We need to do everything possible to keep our health care providers and staff safe and healthy so we can be here for our community and do the best we can for our patients and families. We are following guidelines from the CDC and the health departments in Vermont and New York and building upon our own best practices to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Taking care of you and your family: Unless it is an emergency, please remember to stay home and contact your doctor by phone or through MyChart if you have COVID-19 symptoms — fever, cough and/or shortness of breath. Our providers will work with you to determine if testing or medical treatment is needed.

Social distancing: Social distancing is the practice of staying approximately 6 feet away from others. This, obviously, brings into question the wisdom of being a part of large gatherings and crowded spaces. Across the Network, we are limiting in-person attendance at all of our meetings and events to 25 people and are asking our staff to rely more heavily on telephone and video conferencing to conduct business. This includes meetings of our boards of trustees and other essential decision-making groups.

Travel: We have suspended all work-related travel, for example, to out-of-town meetings or conferences. We are also discouraging personal travel. Staff who choose to travel for personal reasons will likely be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their return.

Visiting our patients: We are restricting visitation at each of our hospitals, long-term care and hospice facilities across the network. Please do not visit patients if you are sick or have traveled to high-risk areas in the past 14 days.

Testing: The scarcity of tests and testing capacity nationally presents challenges for providers and for public health officials tracking the spread of COVID-19. Together with our partners at the UVM Larner College of Medicine, we are collaborating with the Vermont Department of Health on expanding our testing capacity. We are committing to leveraging the resources and expertise of Vermont’s academic medical center to address this issue.

Supplies: Particularly with regard to equipment and special materials that protect health care workers from exposure, certain supplies are in significant demand and short supply. We are actively working to manage our current stock of protective gear and other equipment to make sure we have materials available to meet the need.

Addressing this public-health emergency will require all of us to be reasonable — not only for ourselves, but for our families, our employees and our colleagues. Gone are the days of feeling badly for staying home sick. In this day and age, many of us can participate fully in meetings through video conferencing and phone calls. While we may all feel disappointment and frustration over canceled events, disruptions in our daily lives, or the lack of availability of every-day goods, we are up against something that is new, real and concerning.

If we are to save lives and ensure our critical health care organizations have the staff and resources to serve the sickest among us, we need to take extraordinary action. I applaud local and state leaders for taking the actions necessary to do everything we can collectively to slow and ultimately stop the spread of this virus.

As a resource, we have compiled trusted information and helpful resources to provide answers, and I encourage you to visit our website to learn more. The site also carries links to information from other sources, such as the CDC and the Vermont and New York health departments.

Dr. John R. Brumsted is The University of Vermont Health Network president and CEO.

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