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Vermont rest areas close facilities, add port-a-potties

(WCAX)
Published: Mar. 20, 2020 at 4:23 PM EDT
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All 16 state interstate information centers and rest stops are officially closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Our Ike Bendavid talked with the state to find out more about the closures. The state says like many other things it's a safety precaution but they also did it because 75% of their employees are in the at-risk category.

At the Williston rest stop, crews continued to sanitize and clean. Friday afternoon, the information center officially closed along with all 16 others in the state.

"I didn't know anything was closing," said Andre Dubois of Jefferson, New Hampshire.

North on Interstate 89-- a similar sight at the Georgia rest stop.

"I didn't even realize they were closed," said Joe Abair of Colchester.

As drivers use the information centers for bathroom and text breaks, they are also essential for truck drivers to pull over and get some rest.

"It's been busy, very busy," truck driver Jessie Pena said.

Pena started his day in Massachusetts and was still heading north.

"I'm almost running my whole 14-hour clock," he said. "I got three-and-a-half hours left."

The requirement on hours for commercial drivers has been lifted so people like Pena have been working nonstop.

"You see everyone buying toilet paper, water, everything like that. We are the guys who deliver all that stuff," Pena said.

But when people are still on the roads, why close the rest stops?

"We just don't have the staff anymore to operate all 16 centers," said Chris Cole, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services.

Cole says 75% of their employees are over 60 and have underlying health conditions. They are closing to prevent any exposure.

"It's just become clear to us now with the recent shift in employees taking time to isolate and shelter at home, especially those over 60. We don't have the staff to operate the centers anymore," Cole said.

But Cole says he knows these pull-offs are important, so even though they are locked, people can still stop there.

"We will have port-a-potties delivered to all of the information centers and rest areas. They will have hand sanitizers on the inside," Cole said.

The port-a-potties will be cleaned multiple times a day. And people are still welcome to take a snooze in their cars.

"That's what these facilities are for and should be encouraged to use them," Cole said.

Which is good news for drivers like Pena who are delivering goods we all need.

"Thank god a lot of these truck stops are staying open and helping us out," Pena said.

The state says prior to this decision, visits were down at rest areas because of coronavirus. In mid-February, rest areas saw about 46,000 stops. That's about 10,000 more than in mid-March.

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