Vermont to Open Retail Amid Coronavirus Crisis

Gov. Phil Scott is allowing retail stores to open in a week as Vermont sees the third-lowest coronavirus case growth rate in the country

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Vermont Gov. Phil Scott is allowing retail stores to reopen in a week as the state sees another day with no new coronavirus cases or related deaths.

"Our data continues to show we're moving in the right direction," Scott said Monday. "We must still be cautious. Vermonters must still remain vigilant, knowing how this virus has affected some of our neighboring states."

On Monday, May 18, retail stores will be able to reopen at 25% capacity under the condition that they abide by the state's coronavirus operation guidelines. Businesses with 10 employees or less are permitted to use the VOSHA course through the U.S. Department of Labor, Scott said.

Workers will need to complete safety training, maintain a six-foot distance from others and wear face coverings, among other requirements.

"While I know many are eager to shop for clothing and other supplies, waiting a week gives businesses time to develop safety plans, do training, modify stores and understand the steps needed to reopen and operate safely," Scott said.

At Homeport, a longtime retailer on Burlington's Church Street Marketplace, workers have been filling curbside orders for several weeks.

However, owner Mark Bouchett said those sales don't come close to matching traditional retail operations—so he said he's eager for the opportunity to reopen his brick-and-mortar store.

"We're relieved, I think, is the biggest emotion we feel,” Bouchett told NECN. "We think it may be very well in time for us to survive."

Across the Church Street Marketplace, Marc Sherman, the owner of Outdoor Gear Exchange, said he, too, is looking forward to reopening.

Sherman said he's spending this week hammering out store health policies and training employees, while also working to secure hand sanitizer and take other protective measures, like installing cough shields at his registers.

"We're excited to be ready to see our customers again," Sherman said. "We want this to be a healthy and safe environment for everybody and we're taking the measures now, and have been for weeks, to make that happen."

Meanwhile, Vermont saw another day with no new coronavirus cases or related deaths Monday, leaving the total number of cases at 926 and the death toll at 53 from Sunday's report.

"As I’ve said many times, our decisions are going to be driven by the data and the science," Scott said. "By taking a cautious approach, we'll be stronger and healthier at the finish line."

The governor warned again on Monday that the status of the coronavirus outbreak in neighboring states must be considered as Vermont reopens, noting that the number of deaths is nearing 4,500 within a 350-mile radius. Last week, he said out-of-staters could be turned away from golf courses and would have to quarantine for two weeks if they were to come for a stay.

On Monday, his administration announced that people returning to Vermont could get tested at one of the popup sites in the state after being in quarantine for 7 days if they don't show any coronavirus symptoms.

Officials continue to move towards a goal of conducting 1,000 tests a day in an effort to ramp up testing, announced by Scott a little over a week ago.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Monday that the state's testing capacity is no longer limited, encouraging anyone with symptoms, "no matter how mild," to contact their primary care physician or provider to get tested. People without a primary care physician can call 211 to connect with a community hospital or clinic.

"We expect that there are many more people who are infected than the 900 plus who have tested positive to date," Levine said.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott's message for schools is to play creatively while the ban on gatherings of 10 people or more remains in place. That message applies to graduations as well.

The move to reopen retail shops represents another step in Scott's plan to restart Vermont's economy by relaxing the restrictions implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

On Friday, Scott said child care programs and summer camps could resume on June 1. Schools will remain closed through the rest of the year, Scott said last week, and in-person graduation ceremonies are not permitted as the statewide limitation on gatherings of 10 people or less remains in place.

Vermont intends to resume school in-person this fall, pending a continuation of the positive-trending data. The state's coronavirus growth rate has remained steady around 1 percent, officials said, and the number of active cases is lower than it was in March.

Officials have said they will keep a close eye on four metrics throughout the summer; syndromic surveillance, viral growth rate, percentage of new positive tests and hospital and critical care bed capacity.

Businesses centered around low-contact sports, such as golf courses, skate parks and tennis courts began reopening last week and residents started hanging out in groups of 10 people or less.

Scott has asked 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. The governor discouraged people over the age of 65 or those with medical conditions from attending such gatherings.  

Levine has said that with the new guidelines on gatherings comes more opportunities for contact and encouraged Vermonters to keep track of the people they are in touch with in case they become ill.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott issued guidance Friday on how to reopen the economy.
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