Gov. Phil Scott is increasing retail capacity from 25 percent to 50 percent starting Saturday, the same day his mask mandate takes effect in Vermont.
The state will be distributing free masks to emergency management departments in local communities with the goal of giving out 200,000 as part of an education campaign, Scott said during a Friday press conference.
"Although we still have much more work to do to reopen the economy, I believe the cautious approach we are taking is the right one," Scott said. "It's critical we keep the positivity rates low."
Vermont has the lowest positivity rate and the lowest number of coronavirus cases in the country, officials said Friday. Despite those trends, Scott said that he's "still concerned with what's happening nationally." Modeling shows that the spread may be heading back to the Northeast, according to Scott, which he cited as the reason for the mask mandate.
Scott made the decision to require face coverings in Vermont last week, beginning Aug. 1, in public spaces — both indoors and outdoors — where physical distancing is not possible. The mandate applies to everyone over the age of two. Masks will not be required, however, when individuals are eating, drinking or doing strenuous activity.
"We just want to continue to be able to keep Vermonters safe," Scott said.
An elderly person with coronavirus died in Vermont this week, marking the state's first fatality in 43 days and raising the death toll to 57. Health officials have reported a total of 1,407 cases to date.
“Every death is a sad loss for Vermont, though we’re incredibly fortunate to have gone six weeks without a COVID-related death - something no other state can say,” Scott said “It is, however, a sobering reminder that this virus is still with us.”
Friday's briefing follows Scott's announcement for a Sept. 8 start date in schools across Vermont during a Tuesday press conference. Scott signed the executive order Wednesday to give districts an extra week to prepare to reopen this fall with coronavirus safety protocols in place.
“Schools should take this extra time to make sure systems are ready and effective, so we can deliver for our children, and build confidence in the public education system’s ability to be flexible and responsive,” Scott said. “I know none of this has been easy, and I appreciate and have faith in educators and school boards, because I know they are 100% committed to giving kids the educational opportunities and support they need.”
The directive requires all public and independent schools to open for in-person or remote instruction on Sept. 8, with an exception for schools primarily serving students with disabilities, which can restart sooner.
Scott has said that, given positive trends in key coronavirus metrics, Vermont's emphasis is on "opening for in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible, especially for younger students and those with special needs."
However, he said there was no "one-size-fits-all" plan for schools across the state, giving districts the flexibility to choose which model worked best for them. Additionally, he said if cases rise, the state could change its guidance.
The state is ready for schools to resume in-person classes when the academic year begins, according to state officials, based on advice from public health and pediatric medical professionals.
“They point to Vermont’s low case counts, our proven capacity to contain clusters and outbreaks and our experience with childcare centers and summer camps, as well as studies from countries where kids are already in school," Scott said. "While we know we may see cases in our schools, these factors mean Vermont is in a better position to return to school than any other state.”