Business & Economy

Bars and restaurants in Vermont will be ordered closed at 2 p.m. Tuesday: Scott admin

Lindsay Kurrle, Vermont’s secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, speaks at a press conference with Rep. Peter Welch on March 16. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

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Gov. Phil Scott ordered the closing of bars and restaurants across the state effective 2 p.m. on Tuesday. 

It his administration’s latest effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Vermont.

Establishments must remain closed through April 6. In the meantime, restaurants will be allowed to offer takeout and delivery services. 

The announcement was made on the heels of a decision earlier in the day to ban gatherings of more than 50 people — indoors or outdoors — in gyms, auditoriums, meeting halls, stadiums and arenas. 

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Vermont doubled to 12 Monday, and Scott announced an executive order limiting gatherings to 50 people. Scott ordered Sunday that the state’s schools close no later than Wednesday, and Tuesday is the last day that Burlington schools will be open until early April at the earliest. 

“I want Vermonters to know we’re continuously evaluating other mitigation steps and we’ll continue to communicate those as they are put into place,” said Governor Scott. “It’s important to remember that in times of crisis we all need to make sacrifices. But Vermonters, and all Americans, have risen to many challenges before, and this time will be no different.”

Lindsay Kurrle, secretary at Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, informed lawmakers of the decision on Monday afternoon. 

“The governor is going to be making an announcement probably within the hour, about bars and restaurants,” Kurrle told the Legislature’s Joint Rules Committee Monday afternoon. “I would like to let him explain his decision behind that — making sure people are taking this seriously, trying to mitigate this now.”  

Kurrle said other businesses — like gyms and hair salons — were not going to be forced to close, last she spoke with the governor, but added: “Things are changing all the time.” 

Earlier Monday, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced he was ordering the closing of bars and eat-in-dining in the city for at least 24 hours starting at 6 a.m. Tuesday. 

Weinberger said the city was exploring how to ensure that closures would continue past Tuesday, which is St. Patrick’s Day, normally a busy day for the city’s bars and restaurants. However, the state directives are expected to supersede the city’s order.

Talmage Jestice, manager at Mad Taco Montpelier, said completely shutting down would be “untenable” for small restaurants. 

“If you’re going to do unfunded mandates, then that has to be tied to some sort of benefits package for the businesses and the workers.”

Jestice said Mad Taco, in addition to requiring employees to follow strict health and safety protocol for virus prevention, has already switched to doing takeout only and is considering offering delivery. He thinks requiring restaurants to switch to take-out and delivery only, rather than to close down, is a more reasonable approach. 

“We’re keeping grocery stores open, which seems more dangerous than what I’m operating.” 

Jeanne Sucharitaves, owner of Thai Smile Restaurant in Waterbury, said her business, which does 70% take-out order should be able to stay “afloat” if the mandate only applies to dining in. But if restaurants have to completely shutter, she hopes there will be some kind of state money to help them over the next month or so. 

“If not, then we’ll be struggling,” she said.

The Joint Rules Committee has been meeting daily with members of the administration, and a number of committees will begin meeting remotely on Tuesday, after Statehouse leaders decided on Friday to adjourn for at least a week and then reassess the situation. 

Aidan Quigley and Elizabeth Gribkoff contributed reporting to this story.

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