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Vermont Gov. Phil Scott: 'I Need You To Stay Home'

A Ben & Jerry's sign with a red "closed" tile on it.
Amy Kolb Noyes
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VPR File
Gov. Phil Scott's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order goes into effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday, and directs Vermonters to stay home except for essential errands and all but "critical" businesses to close.

Gov. Phil Scott described his "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order as a needed step to slow the spread of the coronavirus and save lives, despite the significant economic harm it will cause.

"I need you to stay home," Scott said during a press conference Wednesday in Montpelier. "Doing so will save lives. It's just that simple ... Everyone should be erring on the side of public health."

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Calling the COVID-19 pandemic a "once-in-a-century challenge," Scott said his executive order issued Tuesday was based on by science and predictions that Vermont is beginning to see a significant acceleration in the number of coronavirus cases.

"This virus is spreading quickly," Scott said. "It may not have affected you yet, but all too soon, many of us will know someone personally, and then it will seem all too real."

The order, which goes into effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday, closes all in-person business and nonprofit work unless it's deemed critical to public health or national security. And it directs people to stay home for all but essential matters, though it still allows for visiting grocery stores and healthcare facilities, for example, and for going outside for things like exercise.

Click here for a comprehensive set of answers to FAQs about the Stay Home, Stay Safe order.

The governor said he could eventually order even more restrictive actions, referencing lockdowns in countries like Italy. But Scott stressed he is not actively contemplating such steps, and would wait to see if current measures help to "bend the curve" in the weeks to come.

"If we see there's no change or it's getting worse, then we have to take more measures," Scott said.

As has become customary, Scott's press conference included updates from an array of his cabinet members.

Health

Health Commissior Mark Levine reported the state had added 28 positive COVID-19 cases since Tuesday, bringing the tally to 123 people. Eight people have died, six from an outbreak at the Burlington Health & Rehab facility.

Vermont's deaths have come from people who were “very medically complex,” or were older and had "compromising conditions," Levine said. The health commissioner stressed he could not provide a timeline of when things will improve enough to lift restrictions.

Public safety

Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling said law enforcement agencies across the state have taken steps to be increasingly visible in recent days. But Schirling said enforement of Scott's "stay home" order will focus, at least initially, on educating and warning the public.

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"We think this is largely a self-regulating event," he said. For example, no one can be pulled over or questioned simply for driving or walking in public according to Schirling, who is a former Burlington police chief.

Schirling said more significant action could be taken against people and businesses, though he declined to provide details. He added that guidance on enforcing Scott's orders was being sent to law enforcement agencies and local governments soon.

Human services

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said the state has 575 beds, 163 ventilators, 78,000 and 88,000 surgical masks available.

Thse numbers, he said, "were not enough," and would need to at least be doubled to help with the predicted surge of patients in coming weeks.

Currenly, 19 people are hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and another 17 patients "under investigation" are also receiving in-patient care, Smith said.

Federal action

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) touted the $2 trillion relief package that President Trump and Congress have reportedly agreed to as both "extraordinary" and "necessary."

The bill will boost unemployment benefits, allow independent contractors and freelancers to access unemployment for the first time, help small businesses, and support hospitals whose finances have been devastated by having to cancel non-essential appointments.

"There are many details to be worked out, but the countours make me optimistic," Welch said.

Find a list of FAQs about the new coronavirus, plus resources, here.

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