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Scott Says Indoor Restaurant Seating To Resume Soon

Gov. Phil Scott at a podium.
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ORCA Media
Gov. Phil Scott, seen here at his media briefing Wednesday, said he plans to announce new measures Friday that will boost revenues for Vermont's tourism industry.

In a bid to reinvigorate a tourism economy that’s been largely sidelined by the executive orders he issued in March, Gov. Phil Scott said he plans to ease travel restrictions on some out-of-state visitors, and allow restaurants to resume limited indoor dining.

Scott said during a press briefing Wednesday that many restaurants and lodging businesses are on the verge of becoming permanent casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. He said he plans to announce new guidance Friday that would allow restaurants to resume indoor seating, and also create a stream of tourists to ensure demand is there to fill them.

“I want to be up front: We still have a very long way to go to help our restaurants get back on their feet,” Scott said Wednesday. “But we’ve got to start somewhere, and that’s what we intend to announce on Friday.”

More travel, lodging allowed?

Scott said the easing of travel restrictions will likely involve a targeted approach that allows people from select regions of certain states to come to Vermont without having to self-quarantine.

He said the Department of Health, Department of Public Safety and Agency of Commerce and Community Development are working on a phased-in plan to reopening the state’s borders.

“It’s focused on setting a threshold for what we’re seeing for active cases in Vermont, in the Northeast region, so we have a data-driven, scientific way of looking at the health risk,” Scott said.

He added his “Restart Team” is also looking at the possibility of easing limitations on lodging businesses, which currently capped at 25% of total operating capacity.

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Winooski cluster grows

The governor noted news of a COVID-19 “cluster” in Winooski underscores the need to tread carefully as Vermont reopens more sectors of the economy.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced the discovery of a cluster of fewer than five cases in Winooski at a media briefing last week. He said Wednesday that more than 200 additional tests this week have revealed any additional 10 to 20 cases in the city.

“Our contact tracers are working to see who’s at risk, and reach out to them to slow the spread of disease. We are prepared for this,” Levine said. “We will expect to find more cases. But with contact tracing, coordination with the community, careful isolation and quarantine, this outbreak can and will be managed.”

Call for economic aid package

Scott said the epidemiological realities thwarting a more robust economic reopening require immediate financial assistance for businesses reeling from the downturn. And he called on lawmakers to act “as quickly as possible” on the $400 million economic aid package his administration submitted to the Legislature last week.

“We can’t just simply flip the switch on the economy, which is why those funds are so desperately needed, especially by small business owners and the hospitality sector in particular,” Scott said. “These are extraordinary times that require extraordinary steps, and those on the edge of losing their businesses need economic relief, and they need it right now.”

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