Vermont will this week start allowing gatherings of 10 people or less, and golf courses will be allowed to reopen, Gov. Phil Scott said Wednesday.
In a news conference, Scott said beginning Wednesday, Vermonters could carefully begin holding small gatherings while practicing social distancing.
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The move follows state modeling that shows the worst of Vermont’s COVID-19 medical impacts appear to have passed.
However, Scott wants Vermonters to stick with close friends only, to keep their physical distance—preferably by having their visits outdoors—and for vulnerable people to continue to self-isolate.
“I want you to enjoy your friends and family and enjoy Vermont, but it’s important to do it safely,” Scott said. "We need Vermonters to use common sense during these visits."
Businesses centered around low-contact sports, such as golf courses, skate parks and tennis courts can reopen beginning Thursday, Scott said.
"It's one of those little things that kind of just picks you up a little bit when you hear that news," said tennis player Chris Russell.
The moves are part of the state's gradual reopening from strict social distancing measures implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Scott said Vermont has successfully flattened the curve but will continue to practice social distancing. There have been 908 cases of coronavirus and 52 deaths as of Wednesday. Of the total cases, 706 people have recovered.
Scott encouraged households to connect with other households that have been practicing social distancing if they are going to have gatherings.
The governor discouraged people over the age of 65 or those with medical conditions from attending gatherings.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that with the new guidelines on gatherings comes more opportunities for contact. Levine encouraged Vermonters to keep track of the people they are in contact with in case they become ill and to stay away from crowded spaces.
Folks are also encouraged to seek out less-crowded destinations, noted Secretary Julie Moore of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
Moore explained that instead of visiting popular destinations like Mt. Philo State Park, it is a good time to research locales that may be a bit more off the beaten path.
Scott's announcement does not allow campgrounds, marinas, or beaches to reopen just yet. Spectator sports and large organized games are not allowed, either.
"It's been a long spring," observed head pro Cory Briney at the Links at Lang Farm in Essex.
Among the many safety measures his golf course will be following, Briney showed NECN and NBC10 Boston a new cup design that allows players to retrieve their ball without putting their fingers in.
Courses also are limiting cart use to one person, unless players live together, though walking is encouraged.
Payments will be made remotely, and there will be lots of cleaning of surfaces, Briney said, adding that users of driving ranges should plan for extra room between others.
"We're excited to see everybody," Briney said.
Scott reminded out-of-staters they could be turned away from golf courses and would have to quarantine for two weeks if they were to come here.
"My message is to stay home," Scott said to out-of-staters—especially those in COVID-19 hotspots like Boston or New York City. "Hopefully, we'll get to a point in the not-too-distant future where we're actually encouraging people to once again enjoy our beautiful state, but not today."
Scott also urged Vermonters to be hyper-vigilant about hand washing and staying home if they're not feeling well.
Scott said that the state-of-emergency order, which expires on May 15, will likely be extended. He added that there will likely be more information on the order on Monday.
Last weekend, Vermont allowed some businesses, like farmers markets, to reopen.
On Monday, Scott announced expansions to the state's health care services. Outpatient services, clinic visits and diagnostic imaging will all be able to resume after being put on hold in March.
"Restarting Vermont must be a phased approach," Scott said during Monday's update. "We feel it's safe to resume more health care services in Vermont."