MONTPELIER – The month of April ended with fewer reports of Vermonters infected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that has altered life on a global scale. This good news was tempered, however, by word from across the state that manure is spreading once again.
“I thought maybe with being in isolation at home, wearing face masks at the grocery store, consistently engaging in social distancing, we’d be able to put it all behind us, at least for a little while,” said Mark Levine, Vermont Health Commissioner. “But then we started receiving reports of a different sort of environmental spread. People said green fields were suddenly brown. They were stuck behind farm equipment on the road. And, of course, there was the telltale smell.”
Levine spoke as part of Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s thrice-weekly press conference.
He went on to point out that signs of spreading manure have appeared here and there around the state since early April. With unseasonably cooler temperatures and rain, though, officials thought perhaps this season’s outbreak would be stunted, or at least set back several weeks.
With little else to do, though, farmers pressed on and hauled their cow manure-filled tankers and spreaders onto their fields and went to work, not only with the typical can-do spirit of Vermonters, but also with an unusual degree of unbridled enthusiasm.
“It’s good being out here like this,” one Franklin County farmer said. “Just me, the tractor, the spreader, the manure. This is social distancing at its best. The way it was meant to be. A virus isn’t gonna keep people away in the same way a steady shower of greenish-brown, chemically treated crap will.”
Asked what to expect regarding the ongoing spread of manure, Gov. Scott pointed out that patience is key.
“This will go away for a little while,” he said. “But it’ll be back later in the summer, again at the end of the season, another time or maybe even two or three in the fall. So we all need to be vigilant, keep an eye out for the warning signs. If you see a field being hayed or chopped, it’s better to assume the spread will return soon there. Then it’s up to you to keep the distance you need, not just for you, but for your loved ones and others.”
Levine encouraged Vermonters to engage in contact tracing as a method of steering clear of manure. While officials are dealing with COVID-19, he called for “a civilian corps of manure marines” to step up and handle manure at the ground level.
“The good thing about manure spreading,” Levine said, “is that it’s incredibly easy to trace. Look for the tire tracks coming out of barnyards or fields, monitor the landscape for color changes, and perhaps most import of all, if you smell something, say something.”
Pressed about his administration’s slow response to the spread of manure, Scott offered no hesitation in pointing out that the global pandemic pulled away resources normally set aside for keeping an eye on such things. However, the Governor also provided a rare mea culpa.
“To be perfectly honest,” Gov. Scott said, “we should have really seen this one coming. There’s been something in the air for a while now.”