On May 14, 2020

Retail cleared to open May 18

By Polly Mikula and Colin Meyn/VTDigger

Gov. Phil Scott announced Monday, May 11, that a “gradual reopening” of the retail sector will be permitted to begin on May 18.

Scott said that all employees at retail outlets will need to wear face covering. Stores will also be required to stay under 25% of their maximum legal capacity, and must conduct health and safety training. Staff and customers must maintain a distance of 6 feet apart and customers would be encouraged to wear masks.

“While I know many are eager to shop for clothing and other supplies,” Scott said, “waiting a week gives these businesses time to develop a safety plan, do their training, modify their store chores and work with ease, and understand all the steps needed to reopen and operate safely.”

The retail reopening will be Scott’s latest “turn of the spigot” in reopening Vermont’s economy — the official guidance will be given Friday, he said.

Scott also said that although the State of Emergency will be extended past the current May 15 expiration date, the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” orders will continue to be relaxed. This will allow gradual reopenings to be properly monitored.

“Again, I think you should expect and we want people to limit their travels for interaction … making sure that we’re socially safe and we’re not getting into aggregate settings, so that we can prevent the spread from happening,” Scott said of the next iteration of his executive order. “So you’ll see a variance of what we have in place, but I would say that there’s going to be relaxing of that order.”

The governor has said that he is confident that increased testing and tracing will allow Vermont to reopen without inadvertently causing new coronavirus outbreaks. “Without a vaccine, this is to ensure safety and reopen,” he said.

He also noted that Vermont had zero new confirmed cases and zero deaths from Covid-19 on Sunday.

“By taking a cautious approach, we will be stronger and healthier, when we get to the finish line,” Scott said Monday, “instead of taking two steps forward and one step back, to take one and a half steps forward without having to retreat.”

Scott emphasized the need to stay cautious and diligent knowing how it’s affected our neighboring states. “There have been 45,000 deaths within a radius of 350 miles of us,” he said, emphasizing that it would be unwise to relax measures that encourage tourism, too early.

Mark Levine, M.D., commissioner of health said the state “knows there have been many more than the 926 cases confirmed,” and encouraged anyone with even mild symptoms to let their doctor know and get tested. “We have the ability to conduct 1,000 tests per day, we encourage all who have symptoms, even mild, to get tested. Including children. There is no cost for testing,” he said.

Levine echoed the governor, saying testing and contact tracing “are so important to catch another peak early so we can prevent from spreading to crisis point.”

The state is also doing blanket testing for groups with one member who has tested positive.

Levine also noted that the list of symptoms associated with the virus have expanded to now include: chills, repeated shaking, muscle pain, headache, sore throat or loss of taste or smell. “The symptoms are now more clear to us than they were a few weeks ago,” he said. “A fever is not necessarily the key indicator, many do not present a fever but have other symptoms.” But a cough remains one of the most common symptoms.

When asked what health experts still don’t know about the disease, Levine had a long list, some of which included: How many people have or had the virus but were asymptomatic? How big of a threat that group is — are they are infectious? If kids are significant transmitters of virus, and many more. But the biggest question that the “whole world is trying to figure out simultaneously, is how to restart and reopen, in a phased and cautious way — it’s impossible to really know without a proper infectivity factor to model case increases.”

“We’re learning from those who are slightly ahead, but impossible to know which epidemic curve Covid-19 will follow? Will we have months before another peak? Will it be off and on? We really don’t know,” he said.

The Scott administration also recently began allowing hospitals to schedule nonessential appointments.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith warned that dental offices should not assume that this will extend to their practices, noting that some dental offices have indicated to patients that they will start scheduling nonessential appointments starting May 18.  “It would be premature to conclude that this ban will be lifted” in the near future, he said.

Scott also said Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral medication that can shorten hospitalization stays for severe patience, will be available in Vermont this week.

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