Scott aims for April vaccination goal; loosens social gathering, restaurant rules
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Gov. Phil Scott says the state should be able to meet or exceed the president’s pledge to make all adults eligible for vaccines by May. And on Friday he loosened rules for social gatherings and restaurant seating.
Scott said he continues to be encouraged by the state’s vaccination numbers and case counts, allowing another baby step toward normal. “Vaccines will help us beat the virus without all of the mitigation efforts we’ve seen this last year,” he said.
Effective immediately, two non-vaccinated households can now gather at one time. That can include multiple households over time. This means small dinner gatherings and playdates are back on. Restaurants will also be allowed to seat up to six people together from different families. All other capacity requirements and safety guidelines remain in place. Scott said changes for bars are coming soon.
As President Biden is aiming to have vaccinations open for Americans by May 1, officials say they hope Vermont will be at that point as soon as April. “This of course all depends on the vaccine allocation from the feds -- that it continues and that it does increase over time,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith.
Vermont is only getting 500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, none next week, and around 4,000 by the end of the month. That could impact the current pace of vaccinations for school staff.
Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine got his first COVID shot Friday and reflected what it will mean after a long year of social distancing. “I look forward to spending time with family and friends, seeing my out-of-state son and his wife, and my daughter and her husband, and hugging my granddaughter. Yes, hugging will be an order and will be the doctor’s order for all of you,” he said.
And as Vermonters begin to plan weddings, larger events, and trips, the governor says he’s releasing an ‘exit strategy’ plan by early April detailing what can open when. He said more “spigot” turns are coming next week but stressed that “flipping the switch” like Texas and other states is not safe. “If our death rate was as high as some of our neighbors like New York, we wouldn’t be talking about 200 lives lost, we’d be talking about 200 or more,” Scott said.
SANDERS RELIEF PACKAGE UPDATE
Sen. Sanders says the historic $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that was just signed into law on Thursday could cut childhood poverty in half and will make a significant impact in Vermont. “The goal here is to do everything we can to help people that are struggling right now, to rebuild our economy, to open our businesses, to get our children back to school, and to crush this pandemic as soon as we can,” Sanders said. He says Vermont got one of the highest payouts per capita in the country.
As part of the package, Sanders said those making $75,000 or less will get $1,400, and if you have kids they’ll get that same amount too. Married couples filing jointly must have an adjusted gross income under $150,000 to receive the full $2,800. The senator says about 89% of Vermont’s population will get payments. For those who have a direct deposit set up with the IRS it could be in the next few days. The law also extends unemployment benefits into September and will include a $300 supplement on top of what the state provides. There’s also a bigger tax deduction on the first $10,000 on unemployment. And the law will increase the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 for families with kids over six and $3,600 for kids under six.
As this new money comes into Vermont over the next three years, Governor Scott says he wants to work with the Legislature to distribute the money. His team is putting together a priority list of the one-time investments he’d like to see, with broadband near the top of the list.
As of Friday, 25.2% of Vermonters -- more than one in four over the age of 16 -- have received at least one dose of vaccine. Registration is currently open for Vermonters 65+, those 16+ with underlying health conditions, teachers and staff, some public safety employees, corrections staff, 911 operators, and some police.
About 3,000 school staff were tested last week in Vermont and there was just one COVID case reported. About 34% of Vermont schools are doing in-person learning -- most are elementary schools. About 11,000 school staff had been vaccinated as of Friday. There have been covid cases on several hockey teams, though the health commissioner says it’s not through competitions.
As of Friday, Vermont health officials reported 121 new coronavirus cases for a total of 16,623. There have been a total of 212 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 1.5%. A total of 340,210 people have been tested, and 13,893 have recovered.
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