Vermont Gov. Phil Scott is allowing child care programs and summer camps to reopen on June 1, he announced Friday, but schools will remain closed through the rest of the year and in-person graduation ceremonies will not be permitted.
"I realize how difficult it may be for many to reopen with the apprehension of knowing the virus is still with us, but I think it’s important to make the transition," Scott said, "as we prepare for what could be normal for a while. We can and we will do it in a way that keeps people safe."
Schools are encouraged to "plan creatively," around graduation celebrations, officials said in a Friday press briefing, noting that districts should ensure safety and equal access. Scott's statewide limitation on gatherings of 10 people or less remains in place, rendering traditional ceremonies impermissible.
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. The number of people who need hospital and ICU beds remains in the single digits and no one is currently on a ventilator in Vermont.
Officials 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.
"Because Vermont is taking this virus so seriously, we’re fortunate to see the data pointing in the right direction," Scott said.
Summer day camps will be allowed to open June 1 and officials are taking a look at overnight camps as well. Child care programs are being encouraged to begin planning, training and on-boarding staff as of May 18 to ensure a smooth transition for opening in the beginning of June.
"To be clear, we are not requiring them to be open," Scott said, "If they want to, and they can meet strict health and safety requirements, they can."
Guidelines for child care programs will be issued by the Department of Public Health next week, building off of policies that have been used in caring for the children of essential workers amid the pandemic. The state is also providing $6 million in restart grants to ensure childcare and summer day programs can meet stringent safety requirements.
"You’ve seen us take a very measured approach, keeping an eye on the data and working closely with the Department of Public Health to safely and slowly restart our economy," Scott said. "We continue to put more and more Vermonters back to work."
When asked about opening hair and nail salons, Scott said he intends to announce a few more businesses in the next week.
"I expect those would be in the queue," Scott said.
Businesses centered around low-contact sports, such as golf courses, skate parks and tennis courts began reopening Thursday. As of Wednesday, residents started hanging out in groups of 10 people or less, per Scott's order.
The moves are part of the state's gradual reopening from strict social distancing measures implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
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.
Scott said Vermont has successfully flattened the curve but will continue to practice social distancing. There have been 916 cases of coronavirus and 53 deaths as of Thursday. Of the total cases, 718 people have recovered, the Vermont Department of Public Health reported.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine has said that with the new guidelines on gatherings comes more opportunities for contact. Earlier this week, 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.
The governor warned again on Friday that the status of the coronavirus outbreak in neighboring states must be considered as Vermont reopens. Earlier this 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.
"What we're trying to do is protect Vermonters," Scott said, adding that he hopes to cut down isolation times by developing testing and tracing capacity to the point where people can get tested upon entering the state. "At this point we’re not able to roll that out, but that’s the goal. That’s what I envision as the future of testing and tracing until there’s a vaccine."