This story was updated at 4:31 p.m.
With just one Covid-19 patient now in an ICU in a Vermont hospital, Gov. Phil Scott on May 15 continued to open the state to an economic recovery.
Scott promised he would relax the stay home/stay safe orders that have kept Vermonters in their homes since mid-March. While he extended Vermont’s two-month-old state of emergency to June 15, he assured Vermonters that if Covid-19 infection rates continue to stay very low, outdoor dining, close-contact businesses like salons, and other indoor businesses would be open by June 1. He also said the state’s limit on gatherings, now set at 10, would be expanded to 25 people.
“It’s incredible to think back on all that has happened since early March; we’ve all been through a lot,” the governor said at his three-times-a-week press conference. “Emotions are raw as we methodically reopen.”
The state also released guidance on lodging, effective May 22, covering inns and other lodging operations, short-term rentals, campground and marinas. Those businesses “will be able to accept overnight reservations from people who have met 14-day quarantine requirements,” said Lindsay Kurrle, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. Vermont residents and those who have been quarantined will have to fill out a questionnaire affirming that they have met quarantine requirements, she said.
Lodging operations, with some exceptions, will have to stay at 25% of capacity, Kurrle said — and operators will be responsible for making sure there are no more than 10 people gathered at a time. Lodging operators will have to keep a guest log for 30 days in case they are needed as part of contact tracing efforts.
“These requirements are less about where you are from, and more about where you have been, and who you have been in contact with,” said Kurrle, noting that Vermont residents who have been out of the state for an extended time must also meet quarantine requirements. However, state officials also noted that the quarantine orders don’t apply to people who briefly travel across state borders for routine errands.
“Those who go for appointments or shopping or so forth, to visit family members across the border, they are not expected to quarantine for 14 days,” said Scott.
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Michael S. Pieciak, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, has been overseeing the state’s modeling of the Covid-19 growth.
He said just one person is currently hospitalized in an ICU with Covid-19 in Vermont.
“Our numbers continue to trend in a positive direction, giving us confidence we have the capability to serve Vermonters in our hospital system if there is a significant shift,” he said.
Pieciak said Vermont has the lowest three-day and seven-day growth rates of Covid-19 in the country.
“Your efforts have saved hundreds of lives; your sacrifice has made a real difference,” Scott said of social distancing and business closures.
Scott issued a series of executive orders in March that closed businesses and limited social contact to suppress the spread of the Covid-19 virus. More than 900 people in the state have tested positive for the virus, and more than 50 have died. The state recently started offering free tests to Vermonters who are symptom-free.
In April, Scott slowly started to ease some of the business restrictions, a process he refers to as “turning the spigot.” On May 11, construction, distribution and manufacturing businesses were permitted to return to work under strict health and safety guidelines.
Pieciak said the latest data shows that Vermont did not have a surge in cases after the first moves to reopen. As the governor took more steps to ease restrictions, the number of new cases each day varied (adjusted for the 14-day incubation period of the virus), but ultimately did not rise to a level of concern, he said.
Restaurants, which were closed March 17, have been pressing for permission to offer outdoor dining.
“If the data continues to move in the right direction, we’ll be turning the spigot more and more,” Scott said May 15. “Between now and June 1 you can expect us to open up close-contact businesses, indoor professional services, outdoor dining at restaurants, and increasing gathering sizes to 25.”
On Wednesday, the state released guidance for the safe reopening of child care, drive-ins and retail stores. Stores that were closed because they were non-essential will be able to open their doors May 18, and child care facilities and summer camps can start operating June 1.
Lodgings can open May 22 with limits. Proprietors must ask all out-of-state guests to fill out a form certifying that they have been in quarantine for 14 days. Lodging managers need to hold on to the certificates for 30 days.
“We would ask for these certificates if there were an outbreak,” said Kurrle.
Scott added that while businesses are reopening slowly throughout the next month, he would continue to issue guidance instructing Vermonters to practice social distancing. The administration appeared to be replacing the governor’s “stay home, stay safe” recommendation from March with “stay smart and stay safe.”
“We’re relaxing the ‘stay home, stay safe’ order by aligning it with sectors and social activities that are already allowed to open,” Scott said. If Vermonters are careful, “we’ll be able to get out a little bit more. But staying close to home and limiting the number of people you come in contact with is really important.”
State parks canceled reservations through June 25, said Julie Moore, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources. Reservations for June 26 and after can be made on the State Parks website.
Hair salons are probably next, said Scott.
“We’re looking at the full gamut over the next couple of weeks,” he said. “You’ll find next week if we continue to move forward in the manner that we have seen, we’ll be taking the next turn of the spigot that will include some of those contact businesses. We haven’t determined which at this point, but hair salons are one piece.”
Erin Petenko contributed to this story.
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