Vermont now has the lowest coronavirus growth rate in the country, a success that Gov. Phil Scott attributes to Vermonters faithfully following health guidelines even as they sacrificed their jobs and businesses.
“From the beginning you followed our guidance, kept the health care system from being overwhelmed,” Scott said at a press briefing Friday. “Your efforts have saved hundreds and hundreds of lives.”
Scott announced an extension of his COVID-19 emergency order until June 15. But he also allowed hotels, campgrounds and marinas to open next week on a limited basis. More businesses will be allowed to re-open soon if the positive trend continues.
“Between now and June 1, you can expect us to open up close contact businesses like hair salons, indoor professional services, outdoor seating at restaurants, and increasing the gathering size to 25,” Scott said.
The governor often cites science and data to back up his decisions. Friday’s briefing included the latest coronavirus modeling developed for the state that shows Vermont, Montana and Hawaii have the lowest growth rate in the country, with Vermont being the lowest.
Michael Pieciak, the commissioner of the Department of Finance and Regulation, oversees the modeling effort. He said Vermont’s success was no accident.
“Vermonters continue to embrace science and public health," he said. "And this result leads us to not only a better COVID-19 trajectory but has also made Vermont a national leader."
The state will continue to rely on that same spirit as it seeks mostly voluntary compliance with public health measures and restrictions on businesses. Scott said he will not mandate the wearing of masks or facial coverings, although he said municipalities could do so if they wanted.
Next week’s hotel re-openings is also based on customers self-certifying in a questionnaire that they were quarantined for 14 days before booking a room. Commerce Secretary Linday Kurrle didn’t want to call it an "honor system," but said it does depend on people’s goodwill.
“If we’re successful in doing this, we’ll be able to open up the lodging sector more broadly as well as open other aspects of our economy,” she said. “So I would just encourage folks to think about the people around them.”
The lodging establishments for now must also limit gatherings of no more than 10 people and can only book up to 25% of their capacity.
Scott said Vermont’s economy can continue to re-start based on four metrics the administration is tracking:
- Syndromic surveillance: The percentage of emergency care visits by people with COVID or flu symptoms.
- Viral growth rates: The growth in cases measured over three and seven days.
- Percentage of new positive tests.
- The statewide availability of hospital intensive care units (ICUs) and critical care beds.
The trends in all four metrics are positive. As of Friday, for example, Vermont had just one COVID patient in an ICU.
Got flu? Get tested
Health Commissioner Mark Levine noted one more positive trend. He said the state currently has no influenza cases.
“So if you’re reporting symptoms that you think might be the flu and saying, ‘I’ll get over it,' you may want to be interested in getting tested for COVID," he said. "Because there is no flu essentially in the state.”