The manufacturing and construction businesses that employ more than 50,000 people in Vermont will be allowed to “restart full operations” on May 11, but Gov. Phil Scott says companies will have to adhere to “stringent requirements” to protect workers and customers from COVID-19.
The growth rate in new COVID-19 cases in Vermont is now among the slowest in the nation, according to data compiled by the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation. Scott said during a press briefing Friday that the latest coronavirus trend lines triggered his decision to begin sending more Vermonters back to work.
“I mean, these two sectors alone make up about 50,000 to 60,000 … employees through construction and manufacturing, so it’s a huge industry for us,” Scott said.
Those two sectors had already been cleared to return to work, but Scott had limited operations to crews of five or fewer workers. Starting Monday, May 4, the limit will increase to crews of no more than 10 employees at any facility or work site.
Assuming Vermont doesn’t see a spike in COVID-19 cases as a result of that decision, Scott said, construction and manufacturing businesses will be permitted to return to full capacity on May 11.
Scott said businesses ability to reopen hinges on compliance with new safety protocols now being developed by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
He added those requirements will include daily temperature checks for workers, though that mandate will not apply to businesses that are unable to source thermometers.
Bill Shouldice, CEO of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company and a member of Scott’s “Reopen Vermont Taskforce," said the Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center will begin offering online training sessions “that are focused on COVID-19 best practices.”
“It’s our hope we’ll use the coming week to do the training so we can have an opening that is complete and started on May 11,” Shouldice said Friday. “Our sector is not returning to normal today. We understand that how we do business will determine if we can continue to do business.”
Case growth continues to slow
Scott’s decision to reopen the manufacturing and construction sectors comes as Vermont continues to see a decline in its COVID-19 growth rate. Last week, Vermont was on pace to see a doubling of total confirmed cases every 37 days.
As of Friday, according to Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak, the estimated doubling time is now 84 days. Vermont’s COVID-19 growth rate is now slower than all but two states: Montana and Hawaii.
“We are continuing to see a very low active case count, and we are continuing to see a very low three-day rolling average of case growth, all below 1%,” Pieciak said.
The Vermont Department of Health reported 13 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Friday, and one additional death.
Earlier this week, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Vermont would soon triple the number COVID tests it’s performing. On Friday, he outlined a list of new symptoms that would make people eligible for testing.
“Besides the traditional of triad of fever, cough and shortness of breath, additional symptoms now include loss of smell or taste, headache, muscle pain, sore throat, chills or shaking,” Levine said.
"Stay Home" changes coming
The governor hinted Friday that he’ll announce an additional easing of his “Stay Home” order next week.
Scott said he plans to change guidance Monday that could allow for increased “family connections and outdoor recreation.”
He said he’s also reviewing an order that required most child care facilities in the state to close their doors.
“We know that as more people go back to work, that child care is an issue," Scott said. "So we have our team working on that as we speak, so we’ll be talking about that a little bit more next week."