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Gov. Phil Scott: Vermont's Retail Sector To Reopen On May 18

Gov. Phil Scott and an ASL interpreter at his thrice-weekly coronavirus press conference
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Orca Media
Gov. Phil Scott on Monday announced that retail operations will be allowed to reopen on May 18, with new guidelines to be announced this week.

Gov. Phil Scott on Monday announced that in-person retail businesses will be allowed to reopen on May 18.

All employees will be required to wear a facial covering, and everyone – customers and employees – must maintain a distance of six feet between others, Scott said during a press conference. Additionally, for the first phase of reopening on May 18, stores will have to adhere to an occupancy limit of no more than 25% of their maximum legal capacity. Masks will be recommended for customers.

For a timeline of Vermont’s response to COVID-19 so far, head here.

Operations with more than 10 employees will have to develop a detailed “COVID-19 health and safety training” prior to reopening. Those with fewer than 10 employees will need to have their staffs complete the Department of Labor’s VOSHA training for COVID-19.

Scott said the full guidance is still being developed, but will be released later this week. Scott eased restrictions around private gatherings, manufacturing and some health care procedures in the last two weeks, and said his administration wants to wait a week to see if those moves lead to a spike in new cases.

“We have the third-lowest rate of case growth in the country,” Scott said. “Yesterday, we had no positive tests or deaths reported.”

More from VPR: How To Read Vermont's COVID-19 Numbers

However, the governor cautioned that Vermonters must remain “cautious and vigilant, knowing how the virus has affected some of our neighboring states.”

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He said that there have been about 45,000 deaths associated with COVID-19 within a radius of about 350 miles of Vermont and urged Vermonters not to let up on measures like social distancing, hand washing, wearing masks, limiting travel and staying home when ill.
Vermont can now test 1,000 people per day

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the state continues to expand testing.

“We expect there are many more people infected than the 900-plus who have tested positive to-date,” Levine said.

Levine said the list of symptoms associated with COVID-19 has been expanded:

“In addition to the triad of fever, cough and shortness of breath, other symptoms can include chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.”

Have questions, comments, concerns or experiences around COVID-19? Share them with VPR in our brief survey.

Additionally, “we now have the ability to conduct 1,000 tests a day,” Levine said. He encouraged those with even the mildest of symptoms to call their healthcare provider for a referral for testing. Levine said those without a primary care doctor should call 2-1-1 to connect with a clinic.

"In addition to the triad of fever, cough and shortness of breath, other symptoms can include chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell." - Health Commissioner Mark Levine

The commissioner reiterated that all tests for COVID-19 in Vermont will be performed at no cost and will consist of a PCR nasal swab test. He said the working group he convened several weeks ago to identify a suitable serological test for Vermont will meet again this week.

The state is now testing all staff in all state correctional facilities, as well as every person in a prison, long-term care facility or other group setting where even one resident or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19.

More from VPR: Vermont Inmates Dispute Officials' Narratives About Hand Sanitizer

Over the weekend, the state offered the second of several pop-up testing events for asymptomatic frontline workers. The event, held in the Health Department lab parking lot in Colchester, drew 138 first responders, health care workers and childcare providers. Three more are scheduled for this week, on Tuesday at Bennington College, Thursday at Brattleboro Union High School and Saturday at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction.

Testing at these events is by appointment only, and runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Without a vaccine, testing is one of the keys to managing the virus over the long term, and getting life back to normal,” Gov. Scott said.

Snowbirds, college students must self-quarantine

“One of our top priorities,” Levine said, “Is making sure that those returning to Vermont from having spent the winter elsewhere, such as second homeowners or college students, quarantine themselves for 14 days.”

Levine said that those who are without symptoms of COVID-19 at day seven of their quarantine may now be tested at one of the new pop-up sites. If their test is negative, they will be allowed to end their quarantine period.

New guidance for reopening

Levine advised that people wear a mask or carry one with them any time they leave their home, even to spend time in non-crowded, open areas. Masks should be worn at all times in enclosed spaces with other people, and while socializing in groups of ten or fewer, as was allowed May 6.

More from VPR: Gov. Scott Allows Gatherings Of 10 Or Fewer

“Just like how we pull over to make room for emergency vehicles, if you’re out somewhere like a narrow trail or bike path, pull over and walk, jog or ride in single file when passing by others,” Levine said.

He reiterated that children under two and those who have trouble breathing should not wear masks.

“It is all the more important that the rest of us do so to protect them.”

He recommended that individuals start by choosing another household that is “taking social distancing seriously” to socialize with, and keep a daily log of their contacts in the event that they fall ill.

Gov. Scott said he expects to relax some aspects of the statewide stay-at-home order this week. The order, which was enacted in March, is set to expire on Friday, May 15.

However, Scott said certain restrictions will remain in place. 

"I think you should expect we [will] want people to [continue to] limit their travel, to limit their interactions, making sure we're social distancing and not getting into a congregate setting," he said.

Correction 5/12/2020 1:55 p.m.: An earlier version of this story quoted Health Commissioner Mark Levine as saying pregnant women shouldn't wear cloth face masks. State health officials have since said that is incorrect, and that pregnant women SHOULD wear face masks.

Correction 5/11/20 2:45 p.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Gov. Phil Scott said there have been 45,000 deaths associated with COVID-19 within a radius of 350,000 miles of Vermont. Scott said there have been 45,000 deaths associated with COVID-19 within 350 miles of Vermont.

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