MONTPELIER — In line with updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier in the week, Gov. Phil Scott on Friday announced that Vermonters would no longer be required to wear masks outdoors as long as physical distancing is maintained.
“The science and data show that outdoor transmission is rare and poses little risk if you follow our guidance,” Scott said.
On the same day that new guidance is set to take effect, Vermont will also be entering stage two of its reopening plan, which will place further businesses under universal guidance and loosen indoor and outdoor gathering restrictions.
State officials also announced pending changes to the general assistance housing plan, which has expanded emergency housing eligibility during the pandemic to house families in hotels and motels.
Here are three key takeaways from Friday’s press conference updating the public on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Updated masking guidance
Scott said the updated masking guidance would go into effect Saturday, and applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. If physical distancing cannot be maintained, masking is required.
Businesses and municipalities have the ability to enforce stricter policies if they so choose, Scott said.
The guidance comes as Vermont’s case data continues to decline. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine reported 124 new cases Friday — the first time in 10 straight days that the state has reported more than 100 new daily cases.
“Knowing that we’re seeing less spread of COVID-19 … gives me a lot of confidence we can continue along the Vermont Forward path,” Levine said.
2. Housing assistance changes
Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith previewed changes to the state’s general assistance housing plan in an effort to transition Vermonters utilizing hotels and motels through that program to more permanent housing or shelters.
Smith said the program is becoming less sustainable as the state begins to emerge from the pandemic, and noted that by July 1, the state anticipates there will be 250 fewer motel rooms available due to use by travelers and tourists. He said during the coldest pre-pandemic nights, the state would utilize between 200 and 300 rooms for Vermonters in need, which compares to roughly 2,000 rooms that have been utilized since the start of the pandemic.
The administration has submitted a plan, developed with input from community partners and organizations, to the legislature. Smith said the plan is contingent on legislative approval of Scott’s $250 million housing proposal outlined in the administration’s planned use of American Rescue Plan funds.
Smith said the program housing families in the hotel/motel program will not see any changes until July 1.
3. Reopening plan proceeds
Phase two of the Vermont Forward Plan proceeds on Saturday, as Vermont met the milestone of 60% of residents having received at least one vaccine dose this week.
“If we keep this up, and are between 70% and 85% vaccinated by June 1, we’ll be able to take our final step, when mandates become recommendations in July,” Scott said.
Under phase two, a majority of businesses will be allowed to operate under universal guidance, with health care and child care among the few exceptions, according to Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling.
Indoor gatherings including one unvaccinated person for every 100 square feet up to 150 will be allowed, plus any number of vaccinated people. Outdoor gatherings would be restricted to 300, plus any number of vaccinated people.