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Vermont bars get greenlight for counter seating; lodgings go to full-capacity

Published: Sep. 18, 2020 at 7:51 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 18, 2020 at 8:35 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - For the first time in several weeks, Governor Phil Scott Friday cranked another turn of Vermont’s economic spigot, easing restrictions on lodging and restaurants just as the fall foliage season begins.

Vermont continues to lead the nation in fewest COVID cases and the lowest positivity rate, even as thousands of college students came back, but state officials admit the economy is still hurting.

“As we continue to have low case counts and as we’ve learned from our experience in lodging and dining over the last few months, we’re updating our guidance,” said Gov. Phil Scott Friday.

Lodging accommodations can now fill all of their rooms. Travelers still have to adhere to quarantine rules. Bars and restaurants are also allowed to serve at the counter but those are still at 50 percent capacity.

Willie Docto, the owner of the Moose Meadow Lodge in Duxbury says this is welcome news. “Even though we are a small property, our guests need to be able to eat or have a beer, and for them to be able to go into a restaurant or a bar and for them to be able to sit at the bar goes a long way,” he said.

We spoke with him in June when travel restrictions were beginning to lift. To his surprise, he’s only down 7% in revenue.

But not all in the industry have been so lucky. Data released Friday shows fewer people traveling to Vermont through the pandemic. And other data shows statewide bookings are increasing, but they’re still about 40 percent less than last year.

State health officials say even though more people are coming in, the state needs to build upon the social habits picked up over the pandemic. “Whether we’re talking about a lodging establishment or a bar -- is to prevent milling around, prevent a breakdown in social-distancing and prevent crowding,” Said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

But even though the latest turn of the spigot is welcome news for Docto and thousands of others in the tourism industry, the state is still missing out on visitors from the north. “I think things are not going to change until we have people coming from Canada. As long as the Candian border is closed, there’s a whole market there that we’re missing,” Docto said.

Canadian officials extended that border closure on Friday till October 21.

TRAVEL UPDATE

DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak presented an update on case modeling and the travel map. He says that out-of-state visits were way down over the summer, so the timing for loosening hospitality restriction should help a bit as leaf peepers look to visit this fall. He says the number of people able to come here without a quarantine is now about 7.4 million -- up by about 2 million people -- even though there was an uptick in COVID cases in the Northeast, though still very low compared to the rest of the country.

ASSISTANCE FOR SMALL BUSINESSES AND NONPROFITS

Businesses impacted by COVID19 can seek free help from a network of nonprofits and organizations to adapt their business to the new economic landscape of 2020.

The governor says five organizations are now offering technical assistance for small businesses and nonprofits. The $2.5 million program will also help businesses navigate applications of grant programs.

Vt. Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle says it’s aimed at giving small businesses the tools to stay flexible through changing economic times. “It might be for creating more of an online presence, for example. It might be the layout of a restaurant,” she said.

HEALTH UPDATE

As of Friday, Vermont health officials reported a total of 1,706 coronavirus cases in the state and 58 deaths. A total of 154,099 tests have been conducted, 464 travelers are being monitored, 8,489 have completed monitoring and 1,536 have recovered.

Those who died from the virus will again be honored with flags lowered Saturday, like they are on the 19th of every month.

After some positive tests at the Crossett Brook Middle School in Waterbury, the health commissioner says that many members of the community have been tested and all came back negative.

Vermont still has the lowest positivity rate in the country.

Officials provided an update on the health of Vermont inmates housed at a Mississippi prison. AHS Secretary Mike Smith says the outbreak is basically over and that 178 inmates are in recovery and one in quarantine. Inmates will be tested again later this month and he expects that the state will renew that contract with that prison for a year.

UNEMPLOYMENT UPDATE

Governor Scott says there are about 35,000 unemployed Vermonters. He says the vast majority of those people don’t have jobs available. He says as the spigot turns, the job search requirement for unemployment assistance may be put back in place in the next few months.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Scott responded to an override to his veto of a major climate bill in the Vermont House, saying he supports greenhouse gas reduction efforts and the sceince behind it, but that the current bill has political overtones and sets a dangerous precedent. Scott seemed to indicate that he is more pleased with the regulated cannabis market bill that should arrive on his desk soon.

CREEMEE UPDATE

In a bit of comic relief, Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts responded to allegations raised at last week’s briefing that the Vermont creemee does not include milk products. Tebbetts clarified that there is indeed cream in creemees. “Well, it starts with Vermont dairy. Our extensive modeling shows Vermont creemees are made with a base of milk, cream, sugar, and natural stabilizers. Again, not too complicated. Milk, sugar cream,” Tebbetts said.

“That should put everyone at ease,” added Gov. Scott.

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