On May 21, 2020

Scott extends state of emergency, ‘Stay Home’ becomes ‘Be Smart’

Outdoor dining, salons could be included in reopening plan this week

By Colin Meyn and Anne Wallace Allen/VTDigger

With just one Covid-19 patient in an ICU in a Vermont hospital, Gov. Phil Scott continued to open the state to an economic recovery, on May 15.

While he extended the state of emergency to June 15, he assured Vermonters that if Covid-19 infection rates continue to stay very low, outdoor dining, close-contact businesses like salons, and other indoor businesses would be able to open by June 1. He also said the state’s limit on gatherings, now set at 10, would be expanded to 25 people.

“It’s incredible to think back on all that has happened since early March; we’ve all been through a lot,” the governor said at his three-times-a-week press conference, “Emotions are raw as we methodically reopen.”

The state also released guidance on lodging, effective May 22, covering inns and other lodging operations, short-term rentals, campground and marinas. Those businesses “will be able to accept overnight reservations from people who have met 14-day quarantine requirements,” said Lindsay Kurrle, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. Vermont residents and those who have been quarantined will have to fill out a questionnaire affirming that they have met quarantine requirements, she said.

Lodging operations, with some exceptions, will have to stay at 25% of capacity, Kurrle said — and operators will be responsible for making sure there are no more than 10 people gathered at a time. Lodging operators will have to keep a guest log for 30 days in case they are needed as part of contact tracing efforts.

“These requirements are less about where you are from, and more about where you have been, and who you have been in contact with,” said Kurrle, noting that Vermont residents who have been out of the state for an extended time must also meet quarantine requirements.

Michael S. Pieciak, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, said Vermont has the lowest three-day and seven-day growth rates of Covid-19 in the country.

At Monday’s press conference, May 18, Health Commissioner Mark Levine warned Vermonters against complacency, despite the fact that Vermont again reported zero new cases on Sunday even after administering 700 tests.

Levine noted that Vermont’s coronavirus curve has continued flattening since mid-April, with 940 total confirmed cases in Vermont and 54 deaths from the virus. “We continue with minor oscillations at a very low level of new cases on a daily basis,” Levine said.

Both Scott and Levine said that the majority of Vermonters continue to make the sacrifices necessary to keep the virus from rebounding, based on geolocation data from mobile phones showing how much people are moving around and gathering.

And although Scott has cautioned against making too much out of days with zero new cases — “it doesn’t make for a trend,” he said of this Sunday — he has said the continued low numbers do give him confidence in making further reopening moves, and show that there is no need for stricter orders, like requiring people to wear masks in businesses and public places.

“Again, when you look at last week, we’re the envy of the nation in some respects,” Scott said. “I have governors texting me and saying, ‘You give us hope.’ So what we’re doing is working. And when we see otherwise we’ll take action.”

Upcoming announcements

The Scott administration also previewed some of its upcoming reopening steps on Monday, as well as an economic recovery package that it plans to present on Wednesday, May 20. He declined to discuss the details of that package, but said it would include support for businesses across the state that depend on tourism.

Smith, the human services secretary, said next steps for alternative medicine — such as chiropractors and massage therapists — would be coming on Friday.

Scott also said he hoped that most businesses would be able to open to some extent by June 1.

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