Gov. Scott Lifts All Remaining COVID-19 Restrictions In Vermont
Gov. Phil Scott announced today he’s lifting remaining pandemic restrictions after Vermont reached 80% of people ages 12 and older receiving at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
"I'm very proud to announce that Vermont has now become the first state in the nation to vaccinate 80% of its 12-and-older population," Scott said at a special media briefing Monday. “We're able to remove restrictions because they're no longer needed to prevent the surge in COVID hospitalizations or deaths we've been concerned about."
The governor also said he'd let the declared state of emergency expire at midnight tomorrow.
Click here to jump down to a list of FAQs about the state emerging from the pandemic.
Public officials celebrated this milestone 464 days after learning about Vermont's first reported case of COVID-19. Since then, 256 people have died from the virus. Scott thanked a long list of those who contributed to the state's pandemic response, including frontline workers, administration members, state government workers, the Vermont National Guard, the press and Vermont residents.
"Our state has shown the world what's possible when you have a group of people with the right attitude, following the data and trusting medical science," the governor said.
Even as the state reached this relaxation in restrictions, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the work of public health was not finished.
"There is still a lot at stake for many Vermonters, especially those who cannot be vaccinated... this is a responsibility we will all continue to share, to protect them from this virus," Levine said. "To anyone who has chosen to not get vaccinated, I ask you once again ask you to reconsider, for your health and those you love."
While no longer mandatory, Vermont is still encouraging unvaccinated people to follow guidelines like masking indoors and going outside to gather with other households.
Scott said that moving forward, some people might feel less comfortable with returning to normalcy than others, and that was natural and OK.
"I hope all Vermonters show compassion and respect for one another," he said.
Vermont reopening FAQs
1. Why is 80% the benchmark? Is this the number at which we don’t need to worry about COVID-19 anymore?
Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan recently told Vermont Edition that public health officials don’t have “an exact number” on what percentage of the population needs to have the COVID-19 vaccine for the community to be protected from the coronavirus.
“We know the higher, the better,” Dolan said. “We know that between 70- and 80% is likely effective, but close to 80% is better.”
As for why the state waited only until 80% of Vermont residents 12 and older had at least one shot, Dolan says two shots is of course better than one, but as COVID-19 cases decline and less virus circulates in the community, the state is feeling comfortable loosening restrictions earlier than the time it’d take for full vaccination.
More from Vermont Edition: Vt. Could Soon Lift all Remaining COVID-19 Restrictions. Here's What You Need To Know
According to Dr. Tim Lahey, an infectious disease physician and ethicist at UVM Medical Center, this 80% number is “a very reasonable guess.”
“Every scientist will tell you that the exact average number of people in the population that need to be vaccinated to totally make COVID a thing of the past is unknown,” he said.
Using a number like that -- an overall percentage of the population -- doesn’t totally get at the question, Lahey says: Determining community safety needs to take into account the people in groups at higher risk for COVID-19 infection, such as older people, people with certain medical conditions and people of color.
Vermont’s BIPOC population ages 12 and older, for instance, is lagging 5% behind Vermont’s white, non-Hispanic population in vaccination rates.
Lahey says officials will need to watch closely what happens in vulnerable populations as Vermont re-opens more fully.
“Because that’s where the greatest risk is -- and be willing to adjust if you see a problem,” he said.
More from VPR: 'Building The Plane While We Fly It': BIPOC Community Organizers Shrink The Gap On Vaccine Equity
2. What happens with masks in stores and restaurants?
Businesses will no longer be required to follow pandemic guidelines, but the state will still encourage businesses to practice mitigation measures, like requiring unvaccinated people to wear a mask. Individual businesses can also choose to keep more restrictive protocols in place.
Erin Sigrist, president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association, said people should be patient and give businesses time to adjust.
“Just like it took time to get used to masks, it's going to take time for people to get used to no masks,” she said.
3. What happens with evictions?
Evictions are currently halted by state and federal bans but those orders are set to expire. The eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to end on June 30. Vermont’s moratorium, which is stronger than the federal one, expires 30 days after Gov. Phil Scott ends the state of emergency.
More from VPR: Rental Assistance Program Could Help Thousands Of Vermonters Stay Housed
Once the moratorium is lifted, evictions will be able to move through the courts again. Housing officials hope that a federally funded rental assistance program will help many tenants avoid evictions for nonpayment of rent. But there’s concern among advocates and housing groups that the eligibility requirements for the program, like documentation of income, might make it harder for needy tenants to access the funds.
4. What can towns and cities decide for themselves, related to pandemic guidance?
The state’s guidance for unvaccinated individuals to wear masks and stay at least 6-feet apart from others is no longer required, just encouraged. There are no event capacity limits, and no business operation mandates.
Businesses, nonprofits and governments can choose to refuse service to people who aren’t wearing masks, as long as there’s another way to access services through something like curbside pickup or delivery.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns says towns and cities can still limit operations at municipal buildings and work remotely, but need to provide services “such as recording documents required for real estate, financial and other legal transactions” and “so that economically-disadvantaged populations can access available benefits.”
According to General Counsel & Director of Municipal Assistance Jenny Possner with the Vt. secretary of state’s office, entirely remote meetings of public bodies like select boards will no longer be allowed once Gov. Phil Scott lifts the state of emergency for COVID-19. Act 92, which removed the physical location requirement under open meeting law, is tied to that state of emergency order.
“To be clear, the longstanding [open meeting law] does and will continue to authorize members of public bodies to fully participate in public meetings from a remote location, provided that these members can hear and be heard throughout the meeting and that certain protocols (such as, notably, providing a designated, staffed physical meeting location for public attendance) are followed," Possner said.
As for whether municipal governments can enact stricter measures than the state with regards to something like mask-wearing, the governor said in his weekly COVID-19 briefing Tuesday that will not be the case.
“When the state of emergency is over and all restrictions are lifted, that means [the order applies] for those communities as well … unless they declare some sort of health emergency,” he said.
5. Can employers require their employees get vaccinated?
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
The federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, subject to the reasonable accommodation provisions of Title VII and the ADA and other EEO considerations ... These principles apply if an employee gets the vaccine in the community or from the employer. In some circumstances, Title VII and the ADA require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who, because of a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance, do not get vaccinated for COVID-19, unless providing an accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business. The analysis for undue hardship depends on whether the accommodation is for a disability (including pregnancy-related conditions that constitute a disability) ... or for religion.
More from NPR: Employers Can (Mostly) Require Vaccines For Workers Returning To The Office
6. What do parents do if their children aren’t old enough to get vaccinated?
Currently, children under the age of 12 are not eligible for vaccination, and the state recommends unvaccinated people continue wearing masks, stay at least 6 feet apart from people you don’t live with, and if gathering with other households, doing so outside.
According to Dr. Peter Wright, a professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine who has studied infectious diseases for more than 50 years, those measures and general risk avoidance, are effective in preventing coronavirus infections. But for families trying to decide whether it’s safe to travel with their kids, or have them play with others, Wright says there aren’t universal answers.
“It just becomes a matter of your own assessment of the risk you want to take for your child,” he said.
Wright adds that because COVID-19 is a less severe disease in young children, adults should consider the various people they’re interacting with, and whether they’re vaccinated or at higher risk for getting sick.
“You’re really trying to think about the whole umbrella you’re under,” he said.
On the whole, though, Wright said it’s “awfully important” for kids to interact with each other, and now that a lot of Vermont’s population is vaccinated, and it’s summer -- when respiratory diseases spread less -- it’s a good point at which to relax, some.
More from VPR: Vaccine Approval For 12-To-15-Year-Olds Brings The Prospect Of A Normal Summer
Correction 2:20 p.m.: This story has been updated with the correct number of Vermonters 12 and older who have received at least one COVID-19 shot.
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