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Vt. amending outdoor mask guidance; poised for Step 2 in reopening plan

Published: Apr. 30, 2021 at 6:19 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 30, 2021 at 6:30 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - In accordance with CDC recommendations, Vermont Governor Phil Scott Friday amended the state’s emergency order on outdoor mask-wearing. It comes as the state on Saturday enters Step 2 of its reopening plan.

Starting Saturday, masks are no longer required outdoors if you keep your distance. Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says outdoor transmission is rare, but crowds should always be a concern, masked or unmasked. “If any of your activities turn into a crowded situation, have your mask with you in case you need it,” he said.

With more than 61% of Vermonters 16 and older now vaccinated with at least one dose, the state has cleared the criteria to enter Step 2 of the state’s Vermont Forward reopening plan. Starting Saturday, gatherings will now be allowed to have up to 150 unvaccinated people indoors with spacing and 300 unvaccinated people outdoors. Any number of vaccinated people may gather. Masks and physical distancing are still required when not with your household. Restaurants and bars, hair salons, churches, gyms, museums and theatres, government meetings, and manufacturing will move to the universal guidance.

“Universal guidance transitions us away from specified capacity limits and some of the other nuanced guidance that been in place the last year. The distancing requirement under universal guidance still remains,” said Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling.

At bars and restaurants, a 10 p.m. closing time is still in place, but Governor Scott says that could change depending on how many people are vaccinated. “The better we do as Vermonters to increase the number of people vaccinated, the quicker we can move to the next step,” he said.

Scott said municipalities and businesses will be able to enforce their stricter guidelines including requiring proof of vaccinations. By July 4th, all mandates are slated to be lifted, but the governor says we can’t become lax. “We’re going to have to take responsibility for our actions and what we do to protect ourselves and our families and others, and that’s what we’re going to have after the fourth if we get enough people vaccinated,” he said.

The rule changes starting Saturday do not cover summer camps, schools, child care, and health care. They still have their own specialized guidance.

SCOTT ADDRESSES YOUTH VACCINATION HESITANCY

Gov. Scott appealed to young people aged 18 to 29 to get vaccinated, a group that is lagging behind the rest of the population. Scott compared serving in the armed services and going to war with the public duty of getting vaccinated and he called on everyone to do their part. The state is developing a campaign to target young people, as well as younger men, who are also lagging behind women in vaccinations. Vt. Health Secretary Dr. Mark Levine said the state faces rampant misinformation online about vaccines.

OFFICIALS HOPE TO TRANSITION HOMELESS HOTEL PROGRAM

The state is looking to reduce its dependency on hotels and motels for emergency housing for the homeless. AHS Secretary Mike Smith says before the pandemic -- on the coldest nights -- the state purchased up to 300 rooms. During the pandemic that number spiked to 2,000 rooms. He says it’s not financially sustainable and that hotels and motels want many of those rooms back for tourists as travel restrictions go away. He says the state will lose 250 rooms by July 1 and another 400 by October. Officials are calling on lawmakers to approve the governor’s $40-million plan to help with the homeless housing problem.

As of Friday, Vermont health officials reported 124 new coronavirus cases for a total of 22,952. There have been a total of 246 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 1%. A total of 380,659 people have been tested, and 20,186 have recovered.

Related story:

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

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