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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Gov. Scott Allows Gatherings Of 10 Or Fewer

The governor in a face mask at a podium.
ORCA Media
Gov. Phil Scott announced gatherings of 10 or fewer people can resume in Vermont on Wednesday.

Gov. Phil Scott on announced Wednesday that gatherings of 10 or fewer people will now be allowed in Vermont for the first time since March21.

The announcement, made at his thrice-weekly press conference, came just ahead of Mother's Day weekend.

Scott said Vermont has flattened the curve, thanks to successful social distancing measures, but that people should continue to maintain a distance of six feet or more from others, to wear masks wherever possible, and to wash their hands frequently.

“The good news is, because of everything we’ve done and the sacrifices Vermonters have made, we can now take steps to restart social visits and enjoy some recreation, as long as we continue to follow important and simple guidelines,” Scott said.

"There is no specific set of guidelines or enforcement measures we can put in place, so we need Vermonters to use some common sense during these visits." — Gov. Phil Scott

Scott said his Stay Home, Stay Safe order will remain in effect until May 15, and he added the state of emergency would continue past that date. He advised that small gatherings should mainly consist of outdoor activities, where physical distancing can occur more easily.

However, “getting together in your homes with 10 or less of your friends or family is also allowed,” Scott said.

For a timeline of Vermont’s response to COVID-19 so far, head here.

To start, the governor recommended that individual households look to reconnect with another “trusted” household that is “taking seriously the need to prevent the spread of this virus.”

“There is no specific set of guidelines or enforcement measures we can put in place, so we need Vermonters to use some common sense during these visits,” he said. “If we do, it means our kids can play together, or a neighbor you trust can take a turn at helping your kid with a remote learning plan, or just sit on the porch and maybe talk.”

Scott asked Vermont residents over the age of 65, or with conditions such as heart or lung disease or diabetes, and those who are considered to be at high-risk by the Centers for Disease Control, to continue to stay home.

“Protecting the most vulnerable among us has always been at the forefront of our goals,” he said. “I am unfortunately asking these folks to continue to stay home at least for a while longer.”

Outdoor recreation and travel

Scott said Wednesday that a 14-day quarantine will still be mandatory for those who re-enter the state after non-essential cross-border travel to neighboring states, and Vermonters are encouraged to avoid leaving the state for the time being.

However, Secretary of Natural Resources Julie Moore had some good news: “No longer are Vermonters being asked to limit outings to no more than 10 miles from home,” she said.

"No longer are Vermonters being asked to limit outings to no more than 10 miles from home." — Julie Moore, Secretary of Natural Resources

Businesses, non-profits and government agencies that support Vermont’s outdoor recreation sector can reopen, provided they conduct business with minimal contact. Guidelines for how to do so are available at the Agency of Commerce and Development's Restart Vermont initiative website, and they'll need to create a "Reopening and Training Plan" before resuming operations.

Additionally, skate parks, ball fields, mountain biking facilities, trail networks and golf courses will now be allowed to reopen, though organized sporting events remain on hold. Campgrounds, pools, beaches and marinas will remain closed.

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Game wardens will be patrolling popular hiking trailheads and other recreation areas to monitor traffic in the coming weeks. If too many people are using an area for social distancing to occur, visitors may be turned away.

Moore said that outdoor activities should not bring more than 10 people in contact with one another at a given time, and that those who partake in recreation should maintain social distance.

“Put another way, no tailgaiting," she said.

More opening-up guidance coming

The governor hinted Wednesday that more guidance for child care and summer camps will be coming in either his Friday or Monday press conferences. Scott also said high school graduations will be addressed on Friday.

"I think any mass gatherings at this point in time are a concern," he said. "I would anticipate that would be part of the guidance or part of the decision-making."

Proactive contact tracing

Health Commissioner Mark Levine advised that, as Vermonters begin to expand their social circles, they should consider maintaining their own record of people they come into contact with, in the event that they later fall ill with COVID-19.  Contact tracing, he said, is about to get a lot more complicated.

More from VPR: Vermont Health Officials Discuss Plans For Expanded Testing, Contact Tracing

Scott echoed this sentiment, saying, “By being careful about who we welcome into our homes, if an illness were to develop, it will be easier to trace to make sure it doesn’t spread further.”

Opioid-related fatalities decline

Levine also reported that opioid related fatalities are down in Vermont for the first time since 2014.

The state saw a 15% decline in the number of deaths attributed to opioid misuse between 2018 and 2019, from 130 deaths to 111.  

“Fentanyl, as it has been for a number of years now, continues to be the primary driver of opioid deaths in Vermont,” Levine said.

The percentage of opioid related fatalities attributable to fentanyl increased in 2019, when the substance accounted for 86% of all opioid-related fatalities. In 2018 that figure was 77%.

Additionally, the percentage of opioid related fatalities that involved cocaine increased from 36% in 2018, to 43% in 2019.

Correction 5/6/20 4:05 p.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that gatherings were restricted to 10 or fewer in Vermont on March 10. Gov. Phil Scott restricted gatherings to 10 or fewer on March 21.

Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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