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Scott announces phased-in reopening; back to ‘normal’ by July

Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 7:27 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 6, 2021 at 10:52 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Gov. Phil Scott Tuesday presented the state’s three-month phased reopening plan that he said should result in life and the economy getting back to normal by July 4.

“We’re in the last laps of this long and difficult race,” Scott said, in presenting the Vermont Forward plan. It sets specific goals and dates based on the estimate of how many people will be vaccinated, leading up to July 4, when the governor hopes to have all mandates on gatherings businesses and masks lifted. “We now have three safe and effective vaccines in our toolbox which gives us a level of predictability we didn’t have before.”

The plan’s first step begins Friday, April 9, when an estimated 45% of Vermonters will have received their shots. It includes eliminating travel quarantine requirements for residents and visitors and replacing them with testing unvaccinated individuals within three days of arrival. Outdoor businesses or those with low contact will move to a ‘universal guidance’ system. It simplifies health guidelines across the economy to masking, social distancing, travel guidance, staying home if sick and good hygiene, instead of a patchwork of sector-specific guidance. “Capacity limits and other sector-specific restrictions, but mandatory spacing and masking requirements will remain in place,” said Vt. Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrlee.

Step two starts in May, when 60% of Vermonters should be vaccinated. It loosens gatherings up to 150 people indoors with spacing and 300 people outdoors. Restaurants and bars, hair salons, churches, gyms, museums and theatres, government meetings, and manufacturing will move to the universal guidance.

By June the state will lift all travel restrictions and open gatherings of up to 300 indoors with spacing and 900 people outdoors.

By July 4, the governor expects to have all restrictions on gatherings and businesses lifted and masks will only be a recommendation. Scott calls the roadmap a reason for optimism, but says Vermonters can’t let up in fighting coronavirus. “And also as a reason to make smart choices to do your part for the common good, especially when it’s your turn to get vaccinated,” Scott said.

VACCINE UPTAKE KEY TO REOPENING TIMELINE

Vermont leaders feel confident that despite rising COVID cases this month, they can stick to the new reopening roadmap. “The key to getting there are vaccinations,” Gov. Scott said.

A survey from the Census Bureau last month showed that nearly 90 percent of unvaccinated Vermonters say they’re either definitely or probably going to step up and get the shot. And once that happens COVID rates are expected to drop across all age groups as they have done for older Vermonters already. “Once an age group sees significant vaccine uptake, their cases stabilize and decrease,” DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak said.

But the steady growth in virus variants and data modeling that predicts continued high COVID case counts cresting by the end of April poses a problem. Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine Tuesday announced another highly contagious variant -- originally found in Brazil -- has now been found here. And we know other variants are already spreading through the state, which is why last week we saw a new weekly case record.

State officials say despite that case growth we’re maybe diverting a bit from this more dramatic rise that we saw on Friday, but still above the CDC’s projection for daily new cases of the virus. Levine again pleaded with Vermonters to keep precautions in place just a bit longer. “It’s not time to celebrate yet but I hope, knowing how close we are, I hope we can make this happen sooner,” he said.

As of Tuesday, over 230,000 Vermonters have had at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, making up 42.2% of the state’s population over the age of 16. The state opened eligibility to Vermonters 40-plus on Monday and 19,500 people in that age group signed up. On April 12th, people 30-plus can sign up.

As of Tuesday, Vermont health officials reported 106 new coronavirus cases for a total of 20,373. There have been a total of 229 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 2.2%. A total of 361,294 people have been tested, and 16,698 have recovered.

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