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Gov. Announces Reopening Plan That Lifts All Pandemic Restrictions By July 4

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State of Vermont, Courtesy
On Tuesday, April 6, Gov. Phil Scott unveiled Vermonts reopening plan. State officials anticipate that by July 4, there will be no mandates for businesses and cross-state travel.

Gov. Phil Scott today announced a COVID-19 reopening plan that would lift all pandemic-related safety mandates by July 4.

“Our goal with this plan is to give Vermonters a transparent look at how we’ll be able to work our way out of this pandemic, moving forward together at a time when we can manage this virus like we do the flu,” Scott said.

Secretary of Commerce Lindsay Kurrle unveiled the reopening plan at the governor’s COVID-19 media briefing earlier Tuesday. She says the administration will eliminate capacity restrictions on all businesses, including restaurants and bars, starting May 1. Social distancing and mask requirements will remain in place until July 4.

“We hope that this Vermont Forward plan will provide some light at the end of the tunnel,” Kurrle said. “We hope it will bring needed confidence and predictability to businesses, municipalities and others in their ability to plan for a full reopening.”

More from VPR: Vt. Distributed $330 Million In Business Recovery Grants. Here's How It Worked For The Ski Industry

Vaccination rates to determine reopening progress

The governor says he’ll encourage businesses to keep social distancing and mask-wearing policies in place, even after Independence Day. But COVID-19 mitigation protocols will no longer be required by his executive order, as long as the state meets its vaccination targets.

Scott said he expects about 85% of Vermonters age 16 and older to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by July 4.

“The key to getting there are vaccinations, which is why we’re laser-focused on making sure as many Vermonters as possible get them,” he said. “And it’s why when you’re eligible, you need to sign up.”

A survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau found that 88% of unvaccinated Vermonters plan to get immunized against COVID-19. Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says that’s the second-highest rate of vaccine acceptance in the country.

“We also rank fourth now in terms of total doses administered, and eighth in terms of the percent of our population that is fully vaccinated,” Pieciak said.

As of Tuesday, more than 90% of Vermonters aged 65 and over have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And according to the governor, Vermont leads the nation in the rate of vaccination uptake in that age group.

“More importantly, cases have dropped dramatically in this age group, as have hospitalizations and deaths,” Scott said.

A total of 231,000 Vermonters have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

More from VPR: Frequently Asked Questions (And Answers) About The COVID-19 Vaccine In Vermont

Travel restrictions loosen this Friday

Starting this Friday, unvaccinated Vermonters who leave the state will no longer have to quarantine when they return. The governor says this will put Vermont’s policy more in line with neighboring states.

Scott added, however, that the revised travel order will still impose conditions on out-of-state travel.

“This requires unvaccinated Vermonters coming back to Vermont to be tested within three days of their return, but they no longer need to quarantine,” he said.

Scott says the revised travel policy also applies to out-of-state residents who visit Vermont. People who are fully vaccinated can travel in or out of the state without any quarantine or testing requirements.

"We hope that this Vermont Forward plan will provide some light at the end of the tunnel. We hope it will bring needed confidence and predictability to businesses, municipalities and others in their ability to plan for a full reopening." — Lindsay Kurrle, Secretary of Commerce

Larger gatherings to be allowed beginning in May

The Scott administration also plans to increase the size limit on public gatherings, just in time for the spring graduation season.

Commerce Secretary Kurrle says that starting May 1, up to 300 people will be able to gather outdoors together.

On June 1, the size limit for outdoor gatherings will jump to 900 people.

“If we can stay on track with our vaccination milestones and continue to follow current health guidance, we hope these gathering size increases will allow for some form of high school and college graduations to take place,” Kurrle said.

Size limits for indoor gatherings will be 100 people starting May 1, and 300 people beginning in June. All gatherings will still be subject to masking and social distancing requirements.

More from NPR: Do We Even Know How To Socialize Anymore?

Vermont sees highest case numbers since beginning of pandemic

On the same day the Scott administration announced its reopening plan, officials also noted that Vermont reported more cases of COVID-19 over the past week than it has since the beginning of the pandemic.

Financial Regulation Commissioner Pieciak says Vermonters aged 29 and younger account for the majority of the new cases. He said case counts are also concentrated in certain regions of the state.

“In particular, cases have been rising in Orleans, Caledonia, Chittenden and Rutland counties, while the other counties continue to see a much lower per-capita case rate,” Pieciak said.

He added that the number of COVID-related hospitalizations has remained stable over the past six weeks, and that deaths attributed to COVID-19 are trending downward, too, despite this jump in cases.

More from Vermont Edition: Good News, Bad News: A Look At COVID-19 Trends In Vermont

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine blamed COVID-19 variants for increasing case counts.

“Vermont, along with the rest of the nation, is seeing more and more evidence that variants, first identified in the U.K. and California — B.1.1.7. and B.1.429 respectively — are accounting for more of our cases,” he said.

He added that a third variant discovered in Vermont this week, known as the P.1 variant, is twice as contagious as the original strain of COVID-19.

According to Levine, the arrival of COVID variants doesn’t come as a surprise to public health officials, but he says they intensify the urgency for Vermonters to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, such as social distancing and mask wearing.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld @PeteHirschfeld.

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The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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