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Scott Announces Retail Businesses Can Open To Half-Capacity Starting Saturday

Phil Scott at a podium
ORCA Media
Gov. Phil Scott announced retail businesses could open to half their capacity on Saturday, Aug. 1, the day the statewide mask mandate goes into effect.

Citing Vermont's low rates of COVID-19 activity, Gov. Phil Scott announced business could open to 50% of capacity beginning on Saturday. But he urged residents to keep following public heath guidelines, pointing to a new coronavirus fatality as evidence that the virus was still present in the state.

State officials reported Thursday that a 57th person in Vermont died after contracting the coronavirus, and said at the governor's Friday press briefing this person was older. It was the first COVID-19 death recorded in Vermont in more than a month.

"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 Friday. "It is however a sobering reminder that this virus is still with us, and we all must continue to do our part to keep our friends, family and neighbors safe and healthy."

"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. It is however a sobering reminder that this virus is still with us." — Gov. Phil Scott

The governor said that while he's concerned about what he's seeing nationally with the pandemic, Vermont has the lowest positivity rate in the country as well as the lowest number of cases.

"Our own numbers show we can take another step forward," Scott said. "It's been awhile since our last turn of the spigot."

Beginning Saturday, Aug. 1, the same day the statewide mask mandate goes into effect, the governor said retail businesses can increase their capacity from 25% to 50%.

"While we still have much more work to do to open our economy, I believe the cautious approach we are taking is the right one," Scott said.

"Operation Cloth Face Covering For Everyone"

Scott also announced the state would be distributing over 200,000 free face masks to towns, community partners and local emergency responders.

The state's mask distribution program — literally dubbed "Operation Cloth Face Covering For Everyone" — will offer each town enough masks for 25% of their population.

More from VPR: Governor Phil Scott Issues Statewide Mask Mandate

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said it will be up to local communities to figure out how to distribute the facial coverings.

"You could have home in box in a lobby in a town office, if the town office is open of course," he said. "You could make them available by appointment at the town office, or the health officer can deliver them directly to those in need."

The National Guard will also hand out masks at food distribution sites around the state, and the Health Department will have masks at pop-up coronavirus testing locations.

$2M broadband program

The state is offering up to $3,000 to qualifying Vermont households to help them get high-speed internet to their homes.

The Department of Public Service has $2 million dollars available for the program, which will provide funds to help extend telecommunication lines to households. The money comes from the federal coronavirus relief package.

More from VPR: Did Your Zoom Video Freeze Again? COVID Crisis Highlights Internet Inadequacies

Gov. Phil Scott said while this new program will help, it’s not going to be enough to provide internet to all Vermonters who need it.

"I still believe this needs to be a national issue," he said. "Congress should take action and confront this the way we did with electrification."

To get funding, households must demonstrate their need for high-speed internet is related to the pandemic, like a need to work from home or have access to remote learning.

COVID tests for out-of-state inmates

All of Vermont's out-of-state prisoners will be tested for COVID-19 after six inmates who returned to the state this week tested positive for the virus.

They arrived from Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, a private prison in Mississippi. The inmates were quarantined and tested when they arrived at Marble Valley Regional Correction Facility in Rutland, which is the Vermont Department of Corrections policy whenever new inmates enter a facility.

More from VPR: Six Vermont Inmates Return From Mississippi Prison With COVID-19

The governor said the state should know the results from the out-of-state inmates' tests soon.

"They’re being tested today, tonight we should get all the results back," Scott said. "Mississippi has agreed graciously to administer all the tests and give us the results, probably tomorrow."

Vermont houses more than 200 inmates at the Mississippi facility.

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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.
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