Governor lifts all Covid restrictions, recommendations remain in place for the unvaccinated
By Hannah Laga Abram
Gov. Phil Scott Monday morning lifted all state-mandated Covid-19 restrictions.
The state of emergency, in place since March 13, 2020, will expire at midnight June 15.
The order came after the announcement that Vermont became the first state to vaccinate over 80% of its eligible residents, making it the global leader in Covid-19 vaccinations.
“Vermont has shown the world what’s possible,” Gov. Scott said in Monday’s press conference. “We are here only because of the unity of the people of Vermont, whose commitment to their neighbors and care for each other never wavered.”
The state reached the vaccination milestone after a weekend in which first responders, National Guard members and health professionals fanned out around the state to administer vaccines at walk-in clinics in 56 locations. Nine more clinics were scheduled yesterday, with an additional 59 planned throughout this week.
As Scott emphasized, “the people we vaccinate tomorrow are just as important as those we vaccinated yesterday.”
As of today 80.3% of Vermonters age 12-plus and 83.6% of Vermonters age 18-plus have at least one dose of the vaccine, Scott said. He lauded his fellow Vermonters for their effort to protect their community. “You care for each other, you followed the science, and you put others first,” he said.
While happy to rescind the state of emergency, Scott was not ready for Vermonters to take their guard down completely.
When asked at the end of the press conference, if Vermonters could celebrate, Gov. Scott said he and his crew had not popped any bottles of champagne, and cautioned that Covid-19 is still dangerous in many parts of the world.
Scott first imposed emergency regulations that focused on social distancing and closed in-person schooling at the outset of the pandemic. He added a face mask requirement last July 24.
But after a number of surges when almost 300 Vermonters contracted the disease on some days, Covid-19’s stranglehold on the state began to abate this spring.
As of Tuesday, 24,339 Vermonters have been diagnosed with the disease caused by coronavirus — 23,752 have recovered, and 256 have died, according to the Vermont Dept. of Health.
Rutland County has seen 2,282 positive cases (388.9 cases per 100,000) and Windsor County has seen 1,504 cases (272 cases per 100,000) with 20 and 13 deaths, respectively.
Vermont had 48 new cases and no deaths this week, 97% down from the state’s peak on April 1.
Gov. Scott acknowledged that while he feels it is safe to lift all restrictions, some Vermonters will want to remain cautious.
“We will continue to show respect and compassion for each other,” he said, emphasizing that businesses will be able to determine their own guidelines (i.e. asking customers to wear masks while indoors similar to the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rules at some establishments.).
In addition, it is still recommended that kids under 12 wear masks indoors.
Dr. Levine said at Tuesday’s press conference that he has seen more smiles in the past 24 hours than in the past many months, but that cultivating a non-judgmental attitude toward those who continue to wear masks will be key as we move into recovery phase with a deadly virus still at large.
But in terms of state-sanctioned mandates, today signals the return to “normal,” Gov. Scott said.
What that normal looks like remains to be seen.
“Our work is not done,” Gov. Scott said, adding that additional vaccine sites will open and vigorous testing will continue to be offered throughout the state.
The expiration of the state of emergency also signals the end of the governor’s heightened authority, necessary for rapid action in response to crises, throughout the pandemic.
“This state of emergency has been unique, both in terms of its length and nature,” Scott said at Tuesday’s press conference, adding that he feels it’s important the governor’s authority be “restored to its normal process with checks and balances.”
Though this comes as good news to many, the state of emergency and emergency protocols under Vermont’s general assistance program have supported housing and food aid over the past year and a half. This includes the housing of nearly 23,000 homeless Vermonters in hotel rooms throughout the state.
“We want to make sure the people who relied on the state of emergency order won’t be left behind,” Scott said. An executive order he signed this week will facilitate an intentional phased transition out of the State of Emergency. It includes extended access to federal funding for food and housing aid as well as maintaining the status of the National Guard and the ability of restaurants and bars to continue serving alcoholic drinks to-go. For those living in hotels, new eligibility guidelines will be effective July 1.
Secretary Smith said he expects over two thirds of those currently eligible to remain eligible for an additional three months or more of housing support. For the families that do not qualify, a $2,500 stipend is available to support transitioning. Additional funding and support, including financial literacy training, will also be available.
“We continue to work toward permanent solutions and permanent housing for all Vermonters,” Secretary Smith said.
At the announcement Monday, Gov. Scott stood with several representatives of the team he has worked with over the past 15 months, a team he commented for possessing extraordinary “character, commitment, competence and chemistry.”
He also offered a heartfelt thank you to “everyday Vermonters.”
“You showed the world how to respond when there’s no playbook, and how to do so with civility,” Gov. Scott said. “We should all be very proud, I know I am.”
See a full transcript of Gov. Scott’s speech with this story at mountaintimes.info.