Stowe Police Chief Don Hull spent more time away from the office last month than he’d originally bargained for.
A vacation in Montana for a couple of weeks forced him to self-quarantine for another two weeks when he got back to Vermont.
Hull was tested for COVID-19 a week into his quarantine, and was able to come back to work after the results came back negative about a week later.
“Everything pretty much worked out fine,” Hull said last Thursday, two days after his negative test result was delivered to him and his first day back in the office. “I was able to work from home. I had my computer and was able to do conference calls.”
Fortunately for him and for the police department, Hull was able to do that. That might not be the case for other town employees who want to take vacations outside Vermont, says Town Manager Charles Safford.
During the pandemic, Gov. Phil Scott issued an executive order requiring anyone coming into the state to quarantine for 14 days. That would include residents who vacation in Maine or Massachusetts or anywhere else but Vermont.
Stowe’s town government has managed to get by during the pandemic without having to lay anyone off or furlough them, Safford said. Some town employees, such as public works director Harry Shepard and zoning administrator Sarah McShane, have taken to remote work with aplomb.
But you can’t really dig a ditch or grade a road while working at home, which could make vacationing out of state difficult for some employees.
“Hopefully it’s temporary, but it gives us food for thought going forward,” Safford said. “At the end of the day, some employees working from home might not be a bad thing … but I can’t drive a plow truck and I can’t treat wastewater, and I need them when I need them.”
Town employees are allowed to bank upwards of 800 hours of vacation time, and can also bank “earned time-off,” the latter of which a person would likely have to use if self-quarantining and unable to work from home.
Town employees have never been required to say where they’re going when they go on vacation, and Safford said employee handbooks aren’t likely to be rewritten soon, since Gov. Phil Scott’s coronavirus-related executive orders change weekly.
But, he added, at a time when a weekend trip to Boston means an extra two weeks stuck at home, “it might not be the best time to go out of state. You may want to give that some thought.”
Hull actually stopped in at the Stowe police station when he got back, requiring a reminder by his boss of the governor’s executive order.
In a May 13 email to Hull, the day after Hull stopped by the office, Safford said the order “requires everyone that comes in from out of state, even if you are a Vermont resident, to self-quarantine for 14 days, but please consider this a directive to do so. You can still work from home if you desire.”
Safford told Hull that the select board, just two days earlier, had asked “that all employees set the example by following the” governor’s executive order, including wearing masks around other people.
“Please ensure we take the lead so that others follow our example,” Safford told Hull.
Even Safford admitted to lapsing on one occasion — he said he ran into someone in the hallway at the town offices and he wasn’t wearing his mask. He said he apologized to the person but felt bad about the misstep.
Safford said he was actually reminded by the town’s health officer, Fire Chief Kyle Walker, that Hull would need to quarantine when he got back from Montana.
He said Hull left for his Rocky Mountain trip before “all of this went down,” including the 14-day quarantine rule.
“Not to excuse it, but he was in a relatively safe part of Montana, without cell service,” Safford said.
When asked last week about his quarantine, Hull did not mention his trip to the station to grab his work stuff.
Safford said nobody from the police department raised concerns about Hull’s visit to the station. He said the town’s custodian cleans the public safety building regularly and he doesn’t think Hull’s visit necessitated a deep-clean of the place.
Safford said he thinks Hull’s stop at the station was a “one-and-done” deal and he was “forthright and responsive” when told to hunker down at home. Safford visited Hull on Hull’s front porch — maintaining the requisite distancing — several times to discuss work.
“I think he understood the King’s English and there was an awareness from him,” he said. “I didn’t ask him to get on his knees or anything.”