This story was updated at 5:51 p.m.
In a bid to help Vermont’s struggling tourism businesses, some of which make most of their money in the summer and fall, the state is opening the borders to travelers from some counties in states as far away as Ohio and Virginia without quarantining.
“There are now about 19 million people who can travel to Vermont free of a quarantine requirement,” said Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, who has been handling Covid-19 modeling for the state since the crisis began last winter.
“We anticipate seeing continued improvement over the weeks ahead, with many more visitors being allowed to enter Vermont without the quarantine,” Pieciak said.
Vermont in early June started opening up to visitors from “safe” Northeast counties — those with fewer than 400 cases of Covid-19 per million residents. Previously, anyone visiting Vermont from any state for non-essential purposes was required to undergo a two-week quarantine.
As of July 1, the state will begin to open for quarantine-free travel to visitors who drive from counties with low rates of the virus in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia and Washington, D.C. A map of counties that meet Vermont’s requirements is updated weekly on the Agency of Commerce and Community Development’s website.
While the expansion of the map opens up the possibility of quarantine-free travel to Vermont from a broader geographic region, there currently continue to be higher rates of the virus in many urban areas, including Washington, D.C. Unless those rates decline, people traveling from those counties are expected to quarantine.
Vermont lodging owners welcomed the expansion of the visitor pool, but noted that most of their visitors come from urban areas in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
“I appreciate his efforts to turn the spigot, but I can’t help feel the folks who are making these decisions don’t really understand the lodging industry and where our customers come from, and how they make reservations,” said Carol Kulczyk, who co-owns Robert Frost Mountain Cabins in Ripton, of Scott’s measures to ease the restrictions on travel to Vermont.
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“The fact is, the majority of the folks who travel to Vermont are from driving distance and metro areas. They live in the cities. I have two customers in my whole customer database who have ever come here from West Virginia.”
The tourism industry has been hit hard by the Covid-19 restrictions, which closed bars and restaurants altogether on March 17 and all hotels, inns and campgrounds later the same month.
While the state started easing restrictions on lodgings in May, about 10,000 people who work in Vermont’s hospitality industry are still unemployed, Scott said at his regular Covid-19 press conference June 26. That’s about a quarter of the Vermonters covered by the state’s regular unemployment insurance.
Many popular tourist attractions haven’t opened this summer. Some lodging businesses and restaurants say occupancy and visitor limits make it impossible for them to operate at a profit.
“Even though we’ve opened up restaurants and lodging to 50% and allow travel without quarantine from counties in the Northeast with a low case count, these businesses still aren’t bringing in enough customers to make ends meet,” he said. “This isn’t just about the businesses, and the tax revenue, they generate. It’s about their employees’ livelihood.”
Kulczyk said June 26 that she understands the importance of the social distancing measures to keep Vermont’s rate of Covid-19 infection low, but said there are other things the state could be doing to help lodging operators, who are among the business owners affected the most by the pandemic-related business closures. It would be helpful if the state released its new information about “safe” counties on Mondays instead of Fridays, she said, to give prospective visitors time to make plans for weekend visits.
“I would add that what is also challenging is these ever-changing rules,” she said.
Karim Houry, who co-owns the Woodstocker B&B in Woodstock with his wife Isabelle Chicoine, said he also spends a lot of time on the phone with guests who have booked, or who want to, letting them know the latest guidelines on “safe” counties and quarantines.
“It is very, very positive,” he said of the openings announced June 26. “But a challenge for the governor and his administration is, if we could have some sort of an indication over the next 30 to 60 days at what are we looking at, given the information we’re getting from the rest of the country, that would be great.”
Clarification: This story was updated to reflect that while Washington, D.C. has been included in the state’s expanded travel guideline map, the current rate of Covid-19 cases there does not meet Vermont’s threshold for quarantine-free travel.
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