Business & Economy

Summer fairs and festivals canceled; barbers, salons to open May 29

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Vermont’s salons and barbershops will be able to reopen their businesses on May 29 as the state moves toward a general opening, 10 weeks after the governor declared a state of emergency in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Dentists and other health professionals can open, too. But county fairs and field days, and other outdoor festivals, must be canceled this summer, said Gov. Phil Scott, who delivered a laundry list of new guidelines for business reopenings and other activities at his press conference Friday.

Outpatient medical services, including alcohol and drug counselors, allied mental health professionals, naturopaths, and others with limited physical contact with patients, can open, said Health Commissioner Mark Levine.

Scott said his goal is to have most businesses open to at least 25% capacity by June 1. The state is close to hitting its goal of administering 1,000 Covid-19 tests per day, and has as many as 90 investigators available for contact tracing.

“Even with these reopenings and more testing, we’re still seeing low numbers of cases and promising trends,” the governor said of the state’s infection rate. The number of Vermont cases is now doubling at a rate of every 46 weeks, the second-slowest rate in the U.S. behind Hawaii, said Mike Pieciak, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, who is handling modeling of the disease transmission for the state.

But the governor cautioned that Vermonters should remain vigilant and take precautions, including hand-washing and wearing of masks.

“Even with the steps we’ve taken, the reality is we’re still far from being back to normal,” said Scott.

The state’s decision on fairs and field days illustrates that the state cannot know what lies ahead, he said.

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“This unfortunate news, mixed with positive gains, will serve as a reminder we can’t declare victory yet,” he said. “While I have tried to avoid getting too far ahead of our data, the reality is we’re just not ready for large, unstructured events with hundreds, if not thousands, of people coming into an area without control or the ability to separate them.”

Scott and Pieciak emphasized that it’s important to keep close watch on what is happening in Vermont’s neighboring states and Quebec. Pieciak said he plans to include trends from those areas into Vermont’s modeling from now on.

New Hampshire had about 571 new cases in the last seven days, compared with under 20 in Vermont, said Pieciak. New York had about 16,000 new cases in the last seven days.

“There’s something going on in New Hampshire, and it’s probably about the Boston area migrating north to New Hampshire,” Scott said. The state has monitored traffic into Vermont to see where visitors are coming from. Most were from New Hampshire.

“When you see a lot of the cars coming into Vermont, a lot of it has been from New Hampshire,” said Scott.

Scott has been criticized by business owners for some reopening guidelines, particularly by restaurant owners, who received word this week that they would be permitted to open for outdoor dining at 25% capacity – with other restrictions – on May 22.

He acknowledged that the rules make it difficult for some businesses to operate.

“We’re watching other states, watching what they do, trying to make sure that again we put people first,” said Scott. “While we want to open up the economy, and I am desperate to do that for a number of reasons, I just want to make sure we’re protecting Vermont the best we can.”

Scott also announced that churches will be allowed to open to 25% capacity as of May 23. Other close-contact businesses, such as gyms and spas, might be able to open in another week.

“We’re not quite there yet; the epidemiology team wants to track data,” Scott said.

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Anne Wallace Allen

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