By Polly Mikula
It’s now ok to take a walk or ski with a friend — as long as you are outdoors, wear masks and stay six feet apart, Governor Phil Scott said at the state press conference, Tuesday, Dec. 22. In addition to recreating outdoors, families can now gather with one other trusted family from Dec. 23-Jan. 2, and youth recreational and school sports can begin practicing, Dec. 26.
These steps mark the first time the state has relaxed mitigation measures after Covid-19 cases spiked in November.
“Really this is all about case counts… we put in place measures in November after we had the outbreak related to the skating facility and a number of large Halloween parties that furthered the problem,” Scott said. “Since we put these measures in place, we’ve seen a plateau, even a reduction yesterday [in case numbers], which is great news for us. So we thought it was time. Vermonters have paid dearly to be in the position we are in today. This is a step forward, back to way we were pre-Halloween…we’re starting to mitigate our way back out of this. But, again, we’re taking this one very, very small step at a time to make sure we don’t impact (in a detrimental way) anybody’s health in the future… these are incremental changes.”
Scott clarified that families can add one trusted household total, not a different family each day of the week. He also said after the Dec. 23-Jan. 2 trial period “we’ll take a break to collect data” and assess where to go from there.
Scott also “strongly encouraged all who do choose to gather to get tested afterward. It’s never been easier and more accessible to get a Covid test,” he said, Tuesday.
Regarding outdoor recreation, Scott said the state was returning to prior guidance (outlined in the ACCD work safe guidelines, 4.1). Specifically, “as long as you can physically distance and wear a mask you can participate with others,” he said. But everyone is still required to abide by the “arrive, play, and then leave approach. Mingling after is not allowed,” he said.
Youth recreational and school sports will begin a phased reopening starting Dec. 26 when teams may begin practing, working on skills, strength and conditioning. There must be no contact with others, physical distance maintained, and everyone must wear a mask at all times, Scott clarified.
No adult recreational leagues are allowed at this time nor are spectators permitted, Scott added.
All other mitigation measures remain in place.
Trends allow state to relax restrictions for holidays
Michael S. Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Dept. of Financial Regulation said this week marked the first time in 16 weeks that regional Covid-19 case count has decreased week-over-week. Hospitalizations, regionally, have also stabilized.
Vermont also saw a reduction of cases week-over-week with 89 fewer cases and a positivity rate below 2% first time this month. Of the counties in the Northeast region with the fewest active cases per million on Dec. 22, eight of the 10 were in Vermont — Rutland and Windsor County among them posting the fourth and eighth lowest cases, respectively.
Dr. Mark Levine, state health commissioner, however, urged caution saying the state is currently monitoring 293 situations and 41 outbreaks, 19 of which are in health care setting and 11 of those in long-term care facilities.
Because the virus is most deadly among the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, Levine said, “We still do not recommend any gathering with anyone over 65, those that have underlying medical condition, or work with higher risk populations.”
State projections had shown the possibility of a Thanksgiving-related rise in cases, but that did not material-ize. State officials say that’s in large part to Vermonters complying with mitigation measures aimed to prevent the spread. Data from the Dept. of Financial Regulation shows that Vermonters were among the least mobile in the country over Thanksgiving weekend.
State officials hope that the same will be true for the Christmas and New Years holidays, but out-of-state travel data from years past shows that these two holiday weeks are traditionally the highest for visitors into Vermont.