State creates a roadmap to full reopening, starts Friday
By Polly Mikula
“We have roughly 90 to go, 90 days to stay united so we can get back to normal,” Gov. Phil Scott said at the press conference, Tuesday, April 6.
After July 4 Scott said he anticipates the state will only issue guidance — recommendation rather than requirements — for safe business and social practices.
“We now have three safe and effective vaccines in our toolbox, which gives us a level of predictability we didn’t have before,” he said. “Based on vaccination rates we’re now able to forecast when we expect to reach key milestones.”
Specifically, Scott outlined three steps for a phased return to unrestricted travel, business operations, and event gatherings, called: “Vermont Forward, roadmap to reopening.” The path systematically transitions from sector specific regulations to universal guidance (simplified, logical best practices for health and hygiene).
Step 1 will begin Friday, April 9, when vaccinations have been substantially complete for vulnerable populations, and 35-45% of all Vermonters, 45-55% of Vermonters age 16+ have received at least a first dose.
The state will also allow Group A businesses (defined as low contact, short duration, outdoor and controlled environment) to move to universal guidance.
Additionally, starting April 9, traveling out-of-state will no longer require quarantining, but instead a negative Covid test within three days of arrival in or return from the state.
Step 2 will begin Saturday, May 1, when vaccination rates for at least the first dose have reached 50-60% of all Vermonters and 60-70% of Vermonters age 16-plus.
The state will allow Group B businesses (defined as long duration or close contact environments) to move to universal guidance. (Education, youth sports/camps and healthcare are not included and will continue to maintain sector specific guidance).
In Step 2, gatherings and event limitations will be expanded to allow for one unvaccinated person per 100 square feet (up to 150 indoors and 300 outdoors), plus any number of vaccinated people.
Step 3 will begin Tuesday, June 1, when vaccination rates for the first dose have reached 60-70% of all Vermonters and 70-85% of Vermonters age 16-plus.
For traveling, there will be no quarantine or testing requirements. Gathering size will be limited to one unvaccinated person per 50 square feet (up to 300 indoors and 900 outdoors), plus any number of vaccinated people.
On July 4 the state will cease from issuing further requirements and proceed with recommendations only. There will be universal guidance for all sectors and no limits on gatherings and events.
Masking and physical distancing guidelines will remain in place throughout the first three phases. Both will still be “encouraged” following July 4.
“Our goal is for non-profits, community organization, employers and families to be able to plan events and to help businesses plan for future operations and budgets,” Scott said. “We want to give Vermonters something to work toward… this is the last lap of a very difficult race,” he said cautioning that the entire plan requires the state’s vaccination rates to continue at a strong pace. “The dates are subject to change based on circumstances,” he said. “We need all Vermonters to get vaccinated in order to move down this path.”
“We know our businesses need to see the path forward as they continue to expand operations after many months of reduced capacity,” said Agency of Commerce and Community Dev. Secretary Lindsay Kurrle. “We are grateful for what all business owners have done to keep Vermonters safe and look forward to our continued partnership in executing this plan. One thing we have learned is this virus isn’t going away quietly, but we are confident that this plan can stay on track if all eligible Vermonters get vaccinated when it is their turn and continue to follow the health guidance between now and July 4.”
Kurrle added that she hoped that some sort of high school and college graduation celebrations could take place, if the vaccination rates proceeded as forecast.
Vaccinations to date
As of Tuesday, April 6, 90% of Vermonters age 65 or older had received at least one dose, making the state No. 1 in the nation, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The state is fourth in the nation for total doses administered per 100,000 and eighth in the nation for its number of fully vaccinated residents.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, March 3-15, 88% of Vermonters say they will “definitely” or “probably” get vaccinated, which is also among the highest in the country.
“Let the state with the lowest amount of immunity from having had a Covid infection show the rest of the country how we can be the state with the largest amount of vaccine produced immunity,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.
The state is averaging 7,000 doses administered daily, with a high one day total of 10,000 last week, according to Michael Pieciak, commissioner of financial regulation.
In total, 231,200 Vermonters have been vaccinated as of Tuesday, with 90,0000 receiving a first dose and 141,200 fully vaccinated. This represents 35% of all Vermonters (42% of adults, 16-plus) that are partially vaccinated and 21% fully vaccinated, according to a state press release.
Other regions, like Israel and the United Kingdom, have seen their case counts fall considerably as they approached 50% vaccination among their population. Vermont is expected to cross that threshold before the end of the month.
“Within two weeks all Vermonters will be eligible to get vaccinated,” Scott said, Tuesday. By July 4, all Vermonters over 16 will have had plenty of time to receive full doses of a vaccine,” he added.
“As we make progress in vaccination, we can now look forward to a time when Vermonters are largely protected from Covid-19,” said Dr. Levine. “But we cannot simply wait for this to happen. We have to make it happen. Our actions — to prevent further spread and get vaccinated — will allow us to gradually, and safely, go about our lives once again, as laid out in this plan.”
Scott asks Vermonters to ‘double down’
Pieciak said many trends that the state has seen over the past few weeks continue, including elevated case counts driven by younger Vermonters. The average median age in Vermont for Covid positivity is now 27 years old, he said.
Pieciak also noted that the state recorded its highest weekly total to date this past week with 1,231 Covid cases and also surpassed the 20,000 case threshold this week — but Vermont was the last state to reach that milestone, he noted.
Cases also continue to rise in Rutland County (and Chittenden, Caledonia and Orleans counties) whereas cases are declining in Vermont’s other nine counties.
All three of the most common variants (B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1) have now been identified in Vermont and Levine said, Tuesday, “The variants we have in Vermont spread faster than we can vaccinate people… which is why it’s crucial for Vermont to have a robust vaccination rate. It’s all about slowing the rate of spread, suppressing the virus, and markedly reducing the chance for variant strains to succeed because the virus is just not able to be passed around and mutate.”
“Today, it’s important to be realistic,” Scott said. “We’re still in this pandemic. In fact, we need Vermonters to look at this roadmap and double down on the guidance we have in place so we can finish strong with the fewest lives lost and with our kids back in school before the school year ends,” he said. “I’m personally asking you to do your part. We need you to do your part as much now as we did last year at this time… case counts are still high and letting your guard down increases your chances of getting or spreading the virus, so personal responsibility is especially important right now.”
Reflecting on the roadmap and the 90 days until July 4, Scott said he was reminded of the state’s motto: “Freedom and unity comes to mind. These principles are at the core of who we are. Committing to these principles and striving toward this goal together is how we’ll get through this. The finish line is in sight, but we need to dig deep to find the strength and persevere to get through the next 90 days.”
Scott pointed to three guiding factors that will remain at the heart of the state’s strategy: Knowledge, personal responsibility and science. “These are the tools we’ve used to manage this pandemic and these are the tools we’ll use to continue to manage it — like the flu— with simple everyday measures rather than the state of emergency we’ve been in for over a year.”
“Here’s the most important message I’ll deliver today: I hope that each of you sees this roadmap as a reason for optimism and also as a reason to make smart choices, to do your part for the common good. Especially when it’s your turn to get vaccinated,” Scott said.