Stowe’s recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases sidelined some key government officials, with one hospitalized for the disease.
Selectboard vice-chair Willie Noyes is a patient at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, where he’s been on a ventilator much of the time, according to Stowe town manager Charles Safford.
“I’d just as soon have everybody put their positive thoughts out there for Willie. And double down,” said board chair Billy Adams at the board’s reorganizational meeting on March 8.
Safford said he’s been getting regular updates on Noyes’s condition from Noyes’s daughter, Alex, who is a nurse. On Monday, she sat next to him and held his hand, but a few days earlier, she said her father hadn’t eaten or drank in nearly three weeks.
Safford said it’s unclear how Noyes contracted the virus, but he had been pulling double duty for the town highway department. Noyes, a mechanic who owns Willie’s Village Auto, was working on town trucks after a work-related injury put the town’s mechanic out of commission, Safford said.
After finding out Noyes contracted COVID-19, Safford put the highway department on quarantine, adding that town plow trucks are a safe environment for drivers, he said.
“We did a bifurcated week and only decided to bring them in for emergency reasons,” Safford said, until they test negative for the virus. Luckily, temperatures stayed mild last week and the weekend deep freeze didn’t bring much snow.
Safford himself also went into quarantine until he received a negative test, because he’d visited Noyes while delivering a selectboard packet.
“We all tried to err on the side of caution,” Safford said.
While Noyes remained hospitalized, another key voice for the board remained muted because of a criminal investigation.
Kyle Walker, the town’s fire department chief and health officer, received kudos for his regular coronavirus updates where he offered written reports and twice-monthly Q&As during selectboard meetings, which drew consistently more attendees remotely than they did in live settings, pre-COVID.
But Walker was placed on paid administrative leave in January after police chief Don Hull asked Vermont State Police to investigate undisclosed criminal activity in which Walker was allegedly involved in as a part-time officer. He became a part-time officer when he was named fire chief.
Both Hull and Safford have remained mum as to the nature of the allegations, and Walker declined to talk. Same goes with state police. When asked about the case Monday, state police spokesman Adam Silverman said only, “This investigation remains active and ongoing.”
Safford said Tuesday, “We all have to respect that this is an open investigation.”
Paul Sakash, a Stowe resident, though, brought up Walker at the March 8 board meeting.
“This is a question that may not be well received,” Sakash said. “Are we still working with an acting fire chief? And if so, how is he being compensated?’
Board members said it remains important to have regular coronavirus updates given the recent spike in positive cases in Stowe and Lamoille County. Tom Jackman is serving as deputy health officer in Walker’s absence, and can provide updates at future board meetings, Safford said.
Assistant fire chief Scott Reeves is filling in for Walker during his leave, and is being compensated at the same rate that the town previously paid the chief when it was still a voluntary position, or $15,000 a year, prorated. Walker’s salary is roughly $80,000 a year.