Gov. Phil Scott on Friday announced the state would temporarily prohibit gatherings involving more than one household and close bars and social clubs, among a spate of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The ban on multi-household gatherings, which began Friday, applies to indoor and outdoor settings and public and private spaces, Scott said in a press conference.
Bars and social clubs, meanwhile, will be required to close to in-person service Saturday at 10 p.m. Restaurants can remain open, but must close in-person services at 10 p.m.
Museums, gyms, restaurants and other customer-facing businesses will be required to keep a daily log of all who enter their facilities.
College students returning for the holiday break are required to quarantine for 14 days, or for seven days with a negative coronavirus test result. This applies to in-state and out-of-state students.
The moves come as Vermont grapples with an increase in COVID-19 cases. The state reported 109 cases -- its most ever since the pandemic began -- on Thursday and 84 Friday after seeing an average of 25 new cases per day last week.
Scott said the uptick in cases is being driven by small gatherings including baby showers, tailgate parties, deer camps and small groups meeting inside homes. He added it was "no coincidence" that the rise in cases comes after Halloween, when some residents held Halloween parties.
"We've proven these steps are effective and we can improve our trajectory," Scott said. "I want to thank those Vermonters who have done their part, who wear their masks, who skip the Halloween parties, who cancel travel, and kept their social circle small. It's this type of commitment that will get us through this sooner."
Scott said the state was also expanding testing and contact tracing efforts to be "in a better position to hunt this virus down and stop it in its track."
The state will also "be directing" Vermonters to comply with requests made by its contact tracing team because "we need to be cooperative and honest when they call," he said.
Scott announced new quarantine requirements for anyone traveling to Vermont earlier this week. He is also deploying state police and other officials to conduct compliance checks amid a spike in coronavirus cases.
"I know it's disappointing, but it's more important than ever to be vigilant, to wear a mask, stay six feet apart, avoid non-essential gatherings and follow our travel policy," Scott said Tuesday. "We can change our trajectory, but we'll need to dig deep and double our efforts so we can protect the most vulnerable and keep our schools and economy open."
While Vermont maintains the lowest COVID-19 positivity rate in the nation, state numbers released Tuesday show new coronavirus infections are up more than 40% this week.
Meanwhile, the city of Burlington is setting up pop-up testing clinics in the New North End after the virus was found in wastewater. City officials said wastewater monitoring shows the coronavirus may be on the rise in the area. Detection of the virus in wastewater can occur as much as three to seven days before it is found in positive tests.
Residents hearing about the new restrictions weren’t thrilled — but they also weren’t surprised, considering the case growth around the state in large and small communities.
“While it’s going to suck, it’s not going to affect us too much,” Olivia Taylor said of the new guidance around socializing with people from outside your household. “We already aren’t seeing a ton of people — we’re already taking a lot of precautions.”
“With the spike, I feel like it’s kind of time,” another Burlington resident, Taylor Firestein, said of the new restrictions. “I feel like it’s the least we could do.”
Burlington’s mayor, Democrat Miro Weinberger, said he supports the moves.
Weinberger acknowledged it’ll be tough to not see friends in-person for a while, but he urged the city to maintain a long-term view.
Weinberger said the effort can help keep schools open, workers working, and even save lives.
“We know that our actions can bring this thing to a halt,” the mayor told reporters Friday.
Weinberger noted the continued disruptions from the virus to businesses, institutions, and individuals should underscore the need for Congress and the White House to continue to focus on relief efforts.
Anyone entering Vermont is now required to quarantine for 14 days or for seven days with a negative test after Scott suspended the state's travel map Tuesday, which allowed people from counties with low levels of community spread to visit without restrictions.
Scott is deploying assets including the state police, the division of fire safety, the Department of Liquor and Lottery and potentially local and county officials to conduct compliance checks. Officers in plainclothes will conduct randomized compliance and education assessments, officials said Tuesday, with a focus on locations frequented by out-of-state visitors, lodging facilities and indoor settings.
Statewide checks were slated to start Thursday to get an idea of the baseline level of compliance when it comes to coronavirus health and safety rules at certain types of businesses. The state may implement additional education strategies or take action if deemed "appropriate," officials said.
Local and state law enforcement will also begin distributing COVID-19 safety cards next week during all traffic stops statewide as an added effort to educate people.
The state policy for essential travel remains the same. People traveling for work or school, medical care, personal safety, shared child custody, or to get food not are not required to quarantine.
Health officials are urging people to limit Thanksgiving travel and keep get-togethers small.
"Maybe we can have Thanksgiving at another time with the rest of the family when we get this under control," Gov. Scott said. "But it’s not right now. We’re at a critical time here in Vermont, and I’m asking you, Vermonters, to sacrifice one more time."
People who live alone may visit with immediate family members who live in a different household, according to the directive from the governor.
The state is also strengthening its testing program in an effort to find cases as quickly as possible.