On March 18, 2020

Schools, eat-in restaurants/bars, ski resorts, gatherings closed due to COVID-19

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine discusses Vermont’s first COVID-19 patient at a press conference at the State Emergency Operations Center in Waterbury on Sunday, March 8, 2020. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Staff report

On Monday, March 16, Governor Phil Scott ordered an end to dine-in service at restaurants and bars starting 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 17. The day prior, Sunday, Scott ordered schools to close by Wednesday, and the day prior to that, Saturday, all ski areas in the state had announced they would closed, too.

It is all the latest effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Vermont.

These announcements were made on the heels of another decision to ban gatherings of more than 50 people — indoors or outdoors — in gyms, auditoriums, meeting halls, stadiums and arenas.

In a news release Monday, the governor’s office said the new order regarding restaurants and bars reflected the growing number of coronavirus cases in Vermont, new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Vermont Department of Health, and discussions with neighboring states. Establishments can now only offer take-out and delivery services through April 6.

Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut closed their restaurants to all but takeout and delivery over the weekend.

Many Vermont restaurant and bar owners said they had expected the governor to halt dine-in service. Before the governor’s announcement, several restaurants took that step themselves.

“Additional reductions or prohibitions may be implemented or amended as needed,” the  governor’s office said.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Vermont rose to 12, Monday.

The state had eight confirmed cases as of Sunday evening, and just four when Governor Scott called for a state of emergency on Friday.

“I want Vermonters to know we’re continuously evaluating other mitigation steps and we’ll continue to communicate those as they are put into place,” said Scott. “It’s important to remember that in times of crisis we all need to make sacrifices. But Vermonters, and all Americans, have risen to many challenges before, and this time will be no different.”

Lindsay Kurrle, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, informed lawmakers of the decision on Monday afternoon.

“The governor is going to be making an announcement probably within the hour, about bars and restaurants,” Kurrle told the Legislature’s Joint Rules Committee. “I would like to let him explain his decision behind that — making sure people are taking this seriously, trying to mitigate this now.”

Kurrle said other businesses — like gyms and hair salons — were not going to be forced to close, when she last spoke with the governor, but she added: “Things are changing all the time.”

Person-to-person spread

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said at a press conference on Monday, March 16, that at least three of the four new cases were not travel related, but are “the result of person to person spread of illness in the community,” Levine said.

The affected individuals are spread across the state and reside in Bennington, Chittenden, Orange, Washington and Windsor counties. Patients from Massachusetts and New York have also tested positive in Vermont.

School closure

On Sunday, Gov. Phil Scott has announced a plan for the dismissal of all schools in Vermont and cancellation of all school related activities no later than Wednesday.

The directive will last until April 6, according to a statement from the governor’s office, Sunday, March 15.

But communities should be prepared for the disruption to go beyond the April 6 deadline, Scott added.

Scott’s Continuity of Education Plan directs local districts to continue to offer food and special needs services for children, provide options for childcare for health workers and other essential workers, and ensure children continue to be educated during the initial response and possibly for an extended period.

Students were not required to attend school on Monday or Tuesday. Teachers and staff, however, were to help with the orderly rollout of the cancellation of classes.

Mark Levine, commissioner of the Health Department, has hailed the move as “another important step to help keep us ahead of the curve, in terms of preventing and reducing the spread of COVID-19.”

The decision, he said, was based on “the best scientific evidence available.”

The governor has asked superintendents and school districts to continue to provide services to children, including take-home academic assignments.

Closing K-12 schools statewide impacts roughly 18,000 school employees and about 80,000 schoolchildren across the state.

More than 20 states have already decided to temporarily close schools. Additionally,  many cities and districts also made that decision on their own. As of Sunday, Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin all had decided to close schools, according to USA Today.

Those school closures impacted at least 25.8 million students nationwide.

Lola Duffort, Aidan Quigley and Anne Wallace Allen of VTDigger contributed to this report.

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