MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Governor Phil Scott Wednesday loosened the state's stay-at-home order allowing for small social gatherings of friends and families and opening up some outdoor recreational activities.
Scott said the state's success with flattening the curve of the coronavirus is working and that his new order allows social gatherings of groups of 10 and under at home or outside.
Staying outdoors for a backyard BBQ would be better than an indoor dinner party, but whichever one you're planning, be prepared to wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay six-feet apart.
Starting Wednesday, Vermonters who are missing their friends and family can finally see them in person again. But Governor Scott warned it's not going back to pre-COVID hangouts. "We must continue to take precautions. These small gatherings will give Vermonters a chance to safely reunite, if we do so carefully," he said.
That means trying to stay outdoors when possible and following safety and hygiene procedures, though the Governor did acknowledge that for families with kids that's difficult. He asked them to pick trusted households with whom they can have closer contact. There are no set rules for who that might be, so the governor asked families to use common sense.
"By being careful about who comes over, if an illness were to develop, it will be easier to trace and make sure it does not spread further," Scott said. "We have to remember -- this virus still exists."
That easing up is good for families like Sarah Mayer's. Nathaniel is almost four, and while he'd prefer the toy stores back open, he's also been missing playtime with kids at school, something the Charlotte mom says has been hard. "I think it will be good for him to see his friends and family more and just interact like everyone else wants to do," she said.
Other people we asked about the governor's changes said they felt it was time, but that people needed to still be careful.
"It's good and bad. I think we need to start eventually, but it's also such a dangerous disease that I think you don't want to be too encouraging, because people still need to keep their distance," said Kyle McCarthy of Burlington.
"I think it's a good idea. It seems like the curve is flattening. It seems like things are getting better, not worse, so he's definitely making the right moves in my opinion," said Jason Buys of Burlington.
These two Burlington residents said they'll still be spending a lot of time social distancing out on Lake Champlain.
"I think we're still a little cautious to hang out with people. I think maybe a few more weeks. But we have a couple of friends that we've been seeing" said Sarah Develis of Burlington.
There are a few groups who still have to avoid in-person social gatherings. Seniors over 65 and those who have medical conditions that put them at higher risk for serious complications from the virus. There's no word on when the restrictions will end for them.
And if you travel outside the state, you still have to quarantine for two weeks when you get back.
STATE OFFICIALS ENCOURAGE VERMONTERS TO EXPLORE NEW PATHS
Baseball would normally be in full swing in Vermont and spectators would be in the bleachers at Montpelier High School watching the Solons try to bring home a win. While organized sports are still off limits, Scott says groups of 10 people or fewer can gather in parks or fields if they maintain social distancing guidelines.
State officials are asking all Vermonters to re-think how they spend time outside and swap crowds for solitude. "So many of us are desperate to get outdoors and enjoy it right now, but we can't go to the same place at the same time," said Vt. Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore.
The latest turn of Governor Scott's social spigot allows for more outdoor recreation including golf, tennis, hiking, fishing and non-contact pickup games. However, beaches pools and all sports leagues are discouraged, even Little League.
"At this point in time, it's no contact, so keeping that 6-foot separation is going to be important. But they can certainly change the game a bit and do some practicing," Scott said.
The state is also backing off of guidelines restricting in-state travel to recreate. In fact, Secretary Moore encouraged Vermonters to explore more of what the state has to offer. "Consider other places that don't have as much travel. For example, check out the latest section of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail between Danville or Saint Johnsbury, or look to your local town forests, which are often hidden gems," she said.
Many people we spoke with say they're excited to break up the cabin fever and to spend time outside.
"I think people can be safe. I think Vermont has done a pretty good job at flattening the curve. I think its time to take the next step and get things back open," said Shelia Brunner of Barre.
"It 's been a really hard couple of months to stay cooped up inside all the time and I definitely miss hanging with my
friends. I'm looking forward to seeing them and being able to do more," said Anna Tuttle of Colchester.
But others worry some might take the latest order as a reason to ease up on social-distancing or will bring in people from out of state.
"We still get visitors from other states that have high rates such as New York or Massachusetts," said Jessica Robles of Montpelier.
"There's going to be more people not following the rules and more people dying and it scares me because I used to be a nurse and I don't like the idea of people dying," said Karen Gray of Barre.
State education officials hope to provide guidance on high school graduations and child care by Friday. Scott says he hopes to provide further guidance on summer camps on Friday or Monday.
VERMONT COVID-19 TIMELINE
March 2 -- first Upper Valley NH case confirmed
March 7 -- first Vermont case confirmed in Bennington county
March 11 -- VT activates emergency operations center; first Chittenden County case confirmed
March 13 -- state of emergency declared; began restricting size of gatherings; restriction on visits to long-term care facilities
March 15 -- K-12 schools closed
March 16 -- gathering sizes further reduced; bars and restaurants closed
March 17 -- child care operations closed
March 18 -- in-person DMV restricted; first nursing home case reported
March 19 -- first VT deaths from coronavirus
March 20 -- elective surgeries suspended
March 22 -- close-contact businesses closed; gatherings limited to 10 or fewer people
March 23 -- telecommuting ordered
March 24 -- Stay Home, Stay Safe Order issued; in-person operations for non-essential biz the next day (March 25)
March 26 -- schools closed for rest of academic year
March 30 -- travelers from out-of-state ordered to quarantine for two weeks
April 10 -- stay at home order extended through May 15
April 17 -- phased restart of economy announced with five areas of focus
April 20 -- first businesses allowed to reopen (outdoor work, crews of 2 or fewer)
April 24 -- reopening expanded to crews of 5 or fewer; garden centers allowed to open with 10 person limit; mandates for masks and safety training for businesses before reopening
May 4 -- crews of 10 or fewer in manufacturing/construction/distribution allowed; non-emergency medical procedures may resume
May 6 -- limited social gatherings (10 or fewer, preferably outdoors) may resume; activities with "trusted households" allowed; high-risk groups & seniors still should stay home
May 7 -- some outdoor recreation may resume (golf, guided hikes, skate parks, etc.)
May 11 -- full/normal operations for manufacturing/construction/distribution
May 13 -- antibody testing update (expected)
May 15 -- state of emergency expires, but will be extended (per Gov's comment on 5/6)
June 15 – lodging reservations resume