Business & Economy

Sleepover camp guidelines could show path to letting tourists back in

Gov. Phil Scott updated reporters on Friday about efforts to reopen the economy. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

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Employees of indoor fitness centers and nail salons will be getting back to work June 1 as Gov. Phil Scott opens more sectors of the economy. The governor also increased the limits on social gatherings from 10 to 25, one of many changes announced at his regular Covid-19 news conference Friday.

The governor’s message contained some hopeful news for business owners in the tourism sector, who have been watching anxiously for some sign they’ll be able to open to out-of-state visitors as the summer approaches. That guidance came as Scott outlined the safety guidelines by which residential summer camps will be able to accept children from out of state this summer.

The state has developed a plan that allows limited sleepover camp operations. Campers will be asked to quarantine at the camp or at home, or to combine a quarantine and a Covid-19 test before arriving in the state, said Scott.

He described the plan as “a pilot project if you will. Taking this step, within this very controlled environment, will give us insight as to how we might manage out-of-state tourists as we ease travel restrictions.”

Vermont’s rate of Covid-19 appears to be moving in the right direction, with only 24 confirmed cases over the past seven days, said Mike Pieciak, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation. Pieciak, who has taken charge of the state’s disease modeling efforts, said that low rate is doubly significant given that the state has greatly increased its testing capacity, even for people with no symptoms, in the last two weeks.

The governor added that there is a small cluster of cases in Winooski, though he didn’t give details. Health Commissioner Mark Levine was also reluctant to describe where in the community the outbreak had occurred.

Levine acknowledged Winooski has a higher rate of immigrants and a more diverse population than most Vermont communities and that some of those groups nationwide have had higher rates of infection.

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“I think we all understand and should respect the fact that part of the reason that these diverse populations are in our country now … are because of some of the trauma that they have experienced in their country of origin and we certainly don’t want to make any kind of presentation that would further rekindle trauma in a population that’s already experienced it,” Levine said.

Scott declared a state of emergency in March and instituted sweeping business closures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The state began reopening businesses about a month ago. The fact that the infection rate hasn’t risen since then shows that Vermonters are adhering to the strict safety standards that the state has laid out for each industry, Scott said. But he noted that Vermont’s also subject to what’s happening in neighboring states, such as New York and Massachusetts.

“The fact is, how our neighbors are doing is one of the biggest factors in determining how quickly we can reopen, especially when we are talking about travel and tourism,” he said, noting that there are still thousands of cases in and around New York City.

Scott didn’t give a time frame for opening the state to more visits from tourists. So far, he has been asking out-of-staters to stay away from Vermont to avoid spreading the virus. All visitors to the state are asked to quarantine for two weeks, with exceptions only in the case of residential summer camps. 

Friday, Scott said watching what happens to infection rates when sleepover campers start arriving will give the Health Department and others good information about what could happen if tourism businesses were able to welcome out-of-staters.

“We want to get there as quick as possible,” the governor said. “We thought this could inform us. We are also contemplating other measures which might get us there as well.” He said he didn’t have more details.

“So much of it depends on this modeling,” he said. “We want to open up as quick as we possibly can.”

The ACCD will release guidance Friday on the opening of indoor fitness centers, massage therapy, nail salons, spas, and other close-contact businesses, the governor said. While social gatherings of 25 will be allowed, both indoor and outdoor, the governor said it is better for gatherings to be held outdoors. And “it doesn’t change the 25% capacity limits set for retail, lodging,” he said. Restaurants are also limited to 25% capacity, and outdoors only. “All those remain in place.”

The next goal is opening up restaurants to interior dining, the governor said. 

“That’s the next step we want to take,” he said. “If we do this in a measured way, we’ll be able to make sure we’re not doing any potential harm to people as a result of our actions.”

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Anne Wallace Allen

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