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  • Stephen D'Agostino

Reading’s Health Officer Provides Information, Encouragement, and Positivity

In one of my favorite songs of all time, Joni Mitchell sings, "you don't know what you've got till it's gone." What's gone now—and only temporarily, I imagine—is our usual way of life. You might think I'm going to use the rest of this column to get nostalgic for life way back in February, but I'm not.

I'm going to flip the Joni Mitchell's lyric on its head, or at least its side, and say, "you don't know what you've got till it's here." And it's not an "it" we have, but a person. And that person is Mary Springer, Reading's Town Health Officer. No offense to Mary, but I am glad that we haven't heard from her in her official capacity before the coronavirus outbreak. In all praise for Mary, I am happy we are hearing from her now.

If you get Front Porch Forum emails or use the app, you’ve seen her posts. Sometimes she posts more than once a day to keep up with this ever-changing situation. If you don't have access to Front Porch Forum (, you should, if just for these updates. The primary purpose of Mary’s posts is to educate, but they do more than that.

The day before I wrote this week’s column, Mary posted twice. One post had an update of the number of people in Vermont who have the virus, have been tested, have died, are being monitored, and have completed monitoring. I know this information can be scary. Even writing these words gave me a sense of dread.

When I spoke to Mary last week about her role as Town Health Officer, she told me that she knows these numbers can have a frightening effect. In the same post, she also wrote, “This data is shared to keep you aware of the importance of following the shelter in place protocol...not to frighten you.”

Then she added words of encouragement. “This is a time for family reflection, self-care, and connectedness from afar. We are such a busy people that we seldom take time for what is important.... family, friends & neighbors. Sun and laughter improve the immune your part.”

Mary told me about how she is practicing "connectedness from afar" with her grandchildren and family members who live in other parts of Vermont and New Hampshire. They have a group chat, and they play a game they call "The Generation Game." Mary will ask a question about family history, and then the kids respond with their guesses and answers. Mary then uses this as a teaching opportunity to share family history.

Years from now, when Mary’s grandchildren have grandchildren, they can recall this very positive aspect of the time they spent dealing with the coronavirus and how they learned so much from their grandmother. And they can pass along what Mary shared.

Mary had a second posting on March 27. That one dealt with drug and alcohol treatment and recovery services during this time of “stay at home.” Again, if you don’t subscribe to Front Porch Forum, you should. Even if the information she posts is not directly relevant to you, it may be important to someone you know. Sharing it could help someone in need.

Mary told me that she gets emails regarding the coronavirus outbreak as frequently as two or three times a day. As Town Health Officer, she is the liaison between Reading and the Vermont Department of Health. She sifts through what she receives and posts what is essential on Front Porch Forum.

Apart from sharing information, Mary is also putting her sewing skills to use by making masks at home that people at Mt. Ascutney Hospital, Cedar Grove Nursing Home, or any person who needs one can use.

One other piece of advice Mary mentioned when we talked, and this makes perfect sense, is to take advantage of the resources we have in town. It is possible to buy food and groceries locally. Our town's small population means you will likely run into few people while getting your essential items. You'll support Reading's economy, and you will be less likely to exposed to the virus. That is a win/win for all. Be sure to confirm hours and any restrictions if you plan to shop at Watroba’s or Reading Greenhouse.

Finally, let me say that it was also a win/win for me to speak with Mary. I was able to get information I could share with you about how our Town Health Officer does her job during this time. I also got to experience firsthand the positivity she applies to her Front Porch Forum posts, in a socially distant kind of way.

I have come to accept the situation we are in. Part of what has worked for me is to focus some time each day on home projects. As I mentioned last week, I am knitting a lot, reading a lot, planting my seedlings, and playing my ukulele more. Over the weekend, I went through all the yarn I have and put some aside for a blanket project. Next winter, when this all behind us, and I have the blanket wrapped around me (reading or probably knitting something else), I will be grateful that I stayed positive, both from spending time with my hobbies and because of the encouragement I received from others, Mary Springer included.

That’s the news from Reading! See you next week!

This column originally appeared in The Vermont Standard on April 2, 2020.

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