Vermont Gov. Phil Scott outlined a five-step process to restart the state's economy Friday after health officials determined they have reached their peak in coronavirus cases.
"While these trends are encouraging, I want to be clear - we're not declaring victory because we're not out of the woods yet," Scott said, "but we are seeing some daylight. Here’s what’s important to understand. We will only continue to see these positive numbers if we’re committed to social distancing."
The coronavirus case growth rate has been consistently below 4% in Vermont, according to state officials, as the death toll reaches 35 people.
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Starting Monday, certain "no-contact" professions will be able to start working again, such as property managers, appraisers, realtors and municipal clerks. Strict working conditions require a limit of two employees per location, maintaining distance and wearing face masks.
"I realize this is a small step forward, but I believe it is the right step forward," Scott said. "I know there are many who think we are moving too quickly and others who believe we should flip the switch open right now, but this is a carefully developed approach with the health of Vermonters as the no. 1 priority."
Garden retailers and construction supply stores will also be able to open under specific restrictions, limited to online orders only with curbside pick up and delivery. Additionally, farmers markets will be allowed to operate beginning May 1 under state guidelines that are currently being developed.
"This won't be business as usual because social distancing is still necessary," Scott said.
Scott's five-step plan to restart the economy involves keeping a close eye on the state data, maintaining a strong health care system, increasing contact tracing and testing, implementing strict policies for business operations and placing restrictions on recreational activities.
Health officials said it is now safe to assume that Vermont has reached its peak for new confirmed cases Friday.
Scott also gave the state's Department of Labor until Saturday to clear a backlog of unemployment claims, promising to send $1,200 checks to residents beginning Sunday if that deadline is not met.
Both Health Commissioner Mark Levine and Scott stressed the need to continue practicing social distancing and limiting large gatherings to further prevent the spread of the virus.
The Health Department is recommending all residents wear cloth face coverings when outside their homes. They're also encouraging facial coverings for essential workers.
Vermont's state of emergency status remains until May 15.