MONTPELIER – While his emergency declaration has been extended into June, Gov. Phil Scott confirmed Friday the so-called “spigot” would see another turn as lodging facilities, marinas and campgrounds will be allowed to reopen.
Those businesses would not reopen to “business as usual,” according to the state’s Secretary of Commerce Lindsay Kurrle, as lodging facilities and campgrounds choosing to reopen would have strict guidelines they’d need to follow to allow for their reopening.
Lodging facilities with multiple rooms and campgrounds will only be allowed to book up to 25 percent of their available slots at any given time and can currently only host Vermonters and those from out of state who’ve met the still-active 14-day self-quarantine requirement after arriving to Vermont.
Those limits would exclude people who are lodged in hotels and other facilities through Agency of Human Services programming or essential workers.
Lodging facilities serving food are still beholden to the takeout and delivery limits placed on other restaurants in Vermont, and facility managers are required to enforce restrictions currently limiting mass gatherings to only ten people at once.
Those checking into a lodging facility or campground are required to complete a health questionnaire, and the facilities themselves are required to keep a 30-day log of customers in case contact tracing was required in response to an outbreak of COVID-19.
While current state modeling shows the growth rate of COVID-19 in Vermont to be among the lowest in the country, Scott announced Friday the emergency he’d declared over COVID-19 would stay in effect until at least June 15.
“This will allow us to continue responding and managing this public health crisis as we transition out of it,” Scott told reporters during a press conference Friday.
The order would now go by a more relaxed name from the governor’s previous call for Vermonters to “stay home, stay safe” amid the pandemic, however, reflecting, according to the governor, the gradual lifting of state restrictions as Vermont’s experience with COVID-19 continues to improve.
“Because of the success we’ve had, we’re now asking Vermonters to ‘be smart and stay safe,’” Scott said. “Even though we’ve allowed more to return to work and more activities outside the home and will continue taking more steps forward… we still need people to pay attention and stay vigilant.”
Under Scott’s amended orders, Vermonters are still expected to abide by social distancing guidelines and recommendations they wear a mask in public, stay close to home and limit contact with other people as much as possible in order to avoid potentially contracting or spreading COVID-19.
Those who are 65-years-old or older, or have a chronic medical condition, are still asked to shelter in place under Scott’s revised orders, reflecting the fact that the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions have been shown to be more susceptible to COVID-19’s more serious symptoms.
“I know it’s hard, but it’s really, really important,” Scott said.
News of Scott’s proverbial spigot seeing another turn comes as modeling shows Vermont continues to be faring better than expected when it comes to COVID-19’s spread through the Green Mountain State.
According to Vermont’s financial regulation commissioner Michael Pieciak, the spread of COVID-19 has slowed to the point where Vermont’s doubling rate – the rate at which the number of recorded COVID-19 cases would double – had grown to 40 weeks, one of the slowest rates in the U.S.
Likewise, the three-day and seven-day rates of infections in Vermont were now among the lowest in the nation, and, as of Friday afternoon, only one Vermont resident was currently hospitalized in an intensive care unit due to complications related to COVID-19, according to Pieciak.
“Vermont’s actual experience continues to perform better than anticipated,” Pieciak, who has overseen the state’s modeling efforts for tracking COVID-19, said Friday.
Vermont’s neighbors appeared to also be faring better than they had a week ago, according to Pieciak, with states like New York and Massachusetts either seeing improvements or at least holding steady in their respective experiences with COVID-19 amid some of the most severe outbreaks in the country.
Since COVID-19 was first observed in Vermont in March, 933 people have tested positive for the disease and 53 deaths in total have been attributed to complications from COVID-19, an easily transmitted respiratory disease that, while mild for most, could result in life-threatening illnesses for some.
According to the Vermont Dept. of Health, 796 people have recovered from COVID-19 in Vermont after testing positive for the disease.
In his presentation Friday, Pieciak said Vermont’s more positive experience with COVID-19 stemmed largely from Vermonters’ compliance with the state’s social distancing mandates.
“There is no question that we have made many sacrifices while, at the same time, adhering to public health guidance about the pandemic,” Pieciak said. “Vermonters continue to embrace science and public health, and this result leads us to not only better than expected COVID-19 trajectory but has also made Vermont a national leader as well.”
For several weeks now, the Scott administration has gradually lifted restrictions initially placed on economic activity in order to stymie COVID-19’s spread, with an increasingly longer list of businesses being allowed to reopen as long as they adhered to Vermont health department guidelines.
Starting with smaller outdoor crews in April, what the administration has called Vermont’s “phased reopening” – and more colloquially “turning the spigot” – has progressed to include a reopening of the manufacturing and construction sectors, child care services and, most recently, the retail sector.
While a state of emergency would remain in effect until at least June, Scott hinted toward the next steps his administration could take toward reopening the state as long as COVID-19’s spread remained slow and the disease’s spread didn’t threaten to overwhelm hospitals.
By June 1, Scott said it would be possible that some close contact businesses like hair salons and outdoor dining could make up the next “quarter turns of the spigot” and that the current ten-person limit on gatherings could be modified to allow for 25 people to gather at one time.
Members of his administration also reported there were ongoing conversations about how to best reopen dentist offices and church services, as well as conversations around how to safely accommodate visitors at Vermont’s long-term care facilities still locked down to visitation due to the pandemic.
While there were reports of retailers in Vermont pressing Scott for a mandate requiring Vermonters to wear face coverings while in public, Scott said Friday he’d still insist on guidelines and education, believing those would earn a better response from the public.
“I continue to think we’ll see better compliance through encouragement and education than we could with a mandate,” Scott said.
Still, under his revised emergency order, Scott said there was room for local municipalities to call for stricter mask guidelines at their own discretion.