Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday urged Vermonters to complete the 2020 Census, saying failure to do so could hurt the state's economy at a time when it is rebounding from the coronavirus crisis.
Officials said only some 55 percent of households in the state have completed the census so far, compared to the 60 percent that completed the 2010 Census. Scott said Vermont's percentage of completion this year was among the lowest in the country.
"Even in the best of times, an accurate count is essential for our state and local budgets," Scott said in a press briefing on the state's coronavirus response. "We need to do better. Because the fact is, if we don't full account for our population, another state will get that money for their roads, schools, hospitals and more.
"I know it seems like we've already asked a lot of Vermonters, but it only takes five minutes," Scott said, adding that the census can be completed online.
According to officials, some 70,000 households in Vermont had yet to complete the census.
The remarks come as the state seeks to slowly ease restrictions on businesses in a bid to bolster the economy.
Scott said regional data showed the state is able to "turn the spigot a bit more" to welcome a more out-of-state visitors, adding he would elaborate more Friday.
Scott said his administration on Friday would expand the number of states within driving distance of Vermont from which people can visit the state without self-quarantining.
On Tuesday, the governor said people collecting unemployment benefits will be getting more money. Starting July 1, the Vermont Department of Labor will change its rate structure, reducing individual employers' rates.
In the first full week of July, the maximum benefit for people collecting unemployment will increase from $513 to $531.
The tax relief will help reduce the burden on employers who have had to make difficult decisions to protect the health and safety of workers while limiting the spread of COVID-19 in Vermont, the Republican governor said in a statement.
"We know Vermonters made a tremendous economic sacrifice in order to respond to this virus, and we will continue to pull every lever we can to help workers and employers recover from this pandemic," Scott said Tuesday.
Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said the lower rates were based on 2019 information and do not include the effects COVID-19 has had on the economy.
"Unfortunately, we will feel the impacts of COVID in the subsequent year and for years to come," Harrington said.
Also Tuesday, the Vermont Health Department said it is continuing to investigate a small cluster of COVID-19 cases in Windham County.
The state said similar investigations are becoming more common, especially as the state is opening up and more people are getting together with family and friends in their communities.
More on Coronavirus in Vermont
Deputy State Epidemiologist Laura Ann Nicolai said the cases are currently limited to a small number of people with familial connections. There does not appear to be additional community spread associated with this situation.
Citing privacy concerns, Nicolai would not provide additional details about the people found to be infected with COVID-19.
"We do want people to know that, as we do in all cases, we are identifying and contacting those at risk, facilitating testing and providing guidance for isolation or quarantine as appropriate," she said in a statement distributed by the Health Department.
Health officials in Brattleboro held a testing clinic Sunday and they will continue testing Wednesday.
A total of 927 people have recovered from the illness and more than 59,000 have been tested, according to the Health Department.