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Scott expands retail occupancy to 50%

Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 6:57 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 31, 2020 at 5:37 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont is continuing to turn the economic spigot while cases of COVID-19 in the Northeast are on the rise. Gov. Phil Scott says new the mask mandate is letting us open the economy more. Our Calvin Cutler has details.

It’s been a while since we’ve opened the spigot. We’ve been in a holding pattern because of spikes across the nation.

Now, the governor is allowing retail to increase to 50% capacity, which by and large doesn't have a huge economic impact. But he says as we continue to lead the nation in curbing COVID-19, a new mask mandate will allow us to open up even more in the weeks to come.

Cases of the coronavirus continue to flare up in southern and western states and they are creeping their way back to New England.

Data released Friday shows fewer New England counties can visit Vermont without a two-week quarantine, bringing down the number of potential visitors in the region to just under 5 million.

"Summertime vacation destinations along the East Coast such as the Jersey Shore, the Hamptons, the coastline of Connecticut and Rhode Island, Cape Cod and even parts of the coast of Maine have seen their cases worsen as their numbers rise this past week," Vt. Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak said.

Though the coronavirus is spreading back toward the Northeast and its summer beach communities, Vermont remains and island, largely untouched.

But with college students coming back and leaf peepers on the way in a few months, the governor is rolling out a mask mandate this weekend.

The state is also giving out 200,000 free masks to communities, stressing that compliance will help us open faster.

"Even with the surges and outbreaks other states have experienced the last several weeks and growing concerns in neighboring states, we still have the lowest positivity rate and the lowest number of cases," said Scott, R-Vermont.

And starting Saturday, retail business can now operate up to 50% capacity.

Sharon Whyte, the manager of Salaam Boutique says the spigot turn will help. Just this week, she had to turn away some customers because the store was at capacity with eight people.

"When we get the opportunity to go to 50%, that's going to double our opportunities for welcoming folks into Salaam Boutique and doubling our sales," Whyte said.

But even as we trend well, we're not out of the woods. State leaders say we have to proceed cautiously and not lose progress in fighting the virus.

"We must recognize that our standing is fragile. The virus is new to the human race. While we know more about how it spreads, we don't know everything," Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said.

The mask mandate goes into effect on Saturday. People will be required to wear masks inside and outside public places when they can’t social distance. Though, ultimately, it will be up to business owners whether or not they enforce it.

$2M AVAILABLE FOR INTERNET ACCESS

The governor says $2 million is available to help Vermont families get internet service. The Vermont Department of Public Service has launched the Line Extension Customer Assistance Program (LECAP) which provides up to $3,000 in assistance to help consumers.

MISSISSIPPI INMATES TEST POSITIVE

Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith confirmed that seven prisoners housed at a Mississippi prison tested positive for COVID. Six of them are back in Vermont and are isolated at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland. The seventh remains in Mississippi. Smith says there are 218 Vermonters currently in Mississippi prisons and that they are working on more aggressive testing for inmates housed out of state.

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