After months without a single coronavirus-related death in Vermont, four people have died in the last two weeks, Gov. Phil Scott said Friday.
One person with coronavirus died in Vermont Thursday, raising the state's death toll to 62. The health department reported a record daily high of 148 positive cases Thursday and 146 Friday, closing in on 3,500 cases total.
"We continue to see very concerning growth. Every single one of us has a responsibility to help slow this down, protect our loved ones and preserve our hospital capacity," Scott said Friday. "All we need from you is to follow the restrictions we announced last week."
Scott implemented strict new guidelines last week to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the state, including a temporary ban on multi-household gatherings and an order to close bars and social clubs. He updated those guidelines Friday.
Scott also emphasized that people should avoid traveling.
"I know this is especially hard with Thanksgiving less than a week away, but I encourage you to take a look at our numbers. Look at the rising hospitalizations and deaths and look at the states around the country, who are exceeding their hospital capacity," Scott said. "Think about the four Vermonters we've lost."
The updated guidance makes clear that anyone who is in a dangerous or unhealthy situation can leave and take shelter with another household. It also allows individuals who live alone to gather with one other household so they can stay connected with immediate family, but they must limit contacts.
Finally, the updated guidelines allows outdoor fitness activities with no more than two people from different households. This means people can take a walk with a friend but must maintain distance and wear a mask. Recreational sports are still on hold.
Scott defended the new restrictions earlier this week, saying those who choose to flaunt guidelines should not call themselves patriotic.
The ban on multi-household gatherings, which began Friday, applies to indoor and outdoor settings and public and private spaces.
Bars and social clubs, meanwhile, are required to close to in-person service Saturday at 10 p.m. Restaurants can remain open, but must close in-person services at 10 p.m.
Museums, gyms, restaurants and other customer-facing businesses will be required to keep a daily log of all who enter their facilities.
Meanwhile, cases are on the rise in Vermont's schools, but officials maintain that they are operating safely and testing regularly.
"We have seen cases in K through 12 schools - a reflection of the unfortunate reality in our communities right now," Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said. "But importantly, instances of transmission of the virus in school have been very limited and not led to large outbreaks. This shows that they can operate safely."
By the end of the day Friday, officials expected to have tested about 45% of all school staff statewide, which accounts for about 9,500 tests.
Health officials are planning for a second phase of testing, which will start the week of Nov. 30. During this phase, about 25% of Vermont schools will be tested each week during December except for the last week of the month.
Each school testing group will contain a mixed geographic sample of schools to provide insight each week into the prevalence of the virus across the state, officials said.
Additional data on the amount of in-person instruction at schools in Vermont was released Friday based on surveys sent out to the districts. The data shows that in-person instruction nearly doubled during the month of October since schools reopened, mostly at the elementary level.
"Now it's our job to keep them open. By keeping COVID out of our communities, we can keep them out of our schools," Levine said. "I know it's hard to rethink our lives and daily activities and to plan a Thanksgiving in our own homes without other family or guests to still face uncertainty about what's coming next. But if we can understand and accept what needs to be done now, we can still prevent further spread and tragedy."