Gov. Extends Vermont's State Of Emergency Until July 15
Gov. Phil Scott has extended Vermont's state of emergency for another month, even as he eases more restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At his thrice-weekly press briefing on Monday, the governor allowed outdoor campgrounds to fully open. Scott said the state has made great progress to combat the spread of the disease.
But he noted the state of emergency is still needed to give him the legal mechanism to respond if needed. It is now scheduled to last until July 15.
“We have to remember, Vermont is not an island, and this isn't over,” Scott said. “We still have about 130,000 active cases within a five hour drive of us. That's about 20% of our population. This is why I have taken a cautious approach.”
"We have to remember, Vermont is not an island, and this isn't over." — Gov. Phil Scott
In recent weeks, Vermont has allowed businesses, including hotels and inns, to re-open. The governor has also lifted quarantine requirements on out-of-state visitors from counties with low case numbers. Later this week, Scott said he will allow people to visit nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
But Scott and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the state needs to watch very carefully to see if these steps cause a flare up of COVID-19. So far, Levine said, the relaxing of the rules has not caused the disease to spread.
A recent outbreak in Winooski and Burlington has reached 83 positive cases, Levine said. But that outbreak is not the result of the state reopening, as has happened in other states.
“We get asked the question all the time: ‘Did this outbreak that’s in Chittenden County occur because of the reopening process?’ And really nothing could be farther from the truth,” he said. “And I think we would see that all through the state if that were true.”
"We get asked the question all the time: 'Did this outbreak that's in Chittenden County occur because of the reopening process?' And really nothing could be farther from the truth. — Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine
Levine added that health officials are seeing signs that the Chittenden County outbreak could be contained.
“We do think we are actually doing a nice job with containment,” he said. “But I would like to see the results of targeted testing this week, where people have the opportunity to walk in with an appointment to get tested in Burlington and Winooski, before I put closure to the outbreak, if you will.”
Besides the 83 people who have tested positive, Levine says the state has begun contract tracing on 78 others.
The health commissioner shared Powerpoint slides that showed the state has seen 1,128 cases of COVID-19; 912 people have recovered and 55 have died. The number of fatalities has held steady for two weeks.
If not for the recent Winooski-Burlington outbreak, the trend would be even better, Levine said.
“We’re averaging 1,364 tests per day over the past week, so there have been plenty of opportunities for testing related to that outbreak and across the state,” he said. “The percent positivity is continuing to be very, very low, well below 2%.”
Scott denounces vandalism
Scott decried the weekend vandalism of a Black Lives Matter mural painted on the street in front of the Statehouse.
The governor said the vandalism shows that Vermont has more work to do to combat racism.
He added the recent police killings of black men should spur the country to come together, just like it did after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing.
“We should look at this the same way,” Scott said. “This has been an attack on black lives for far too long. And we need to address it now, in this moment, and take the opportunity to do so, take action. Of course all lives matter, but black lives matter right now. And we need to address it.”
"This has been an attack on black lives for far too long. And we need to address it now, in this moment, and take the opportunity to do so, take action." — Gov. Phil Scott
While some activists have called for defunding police, Scott says he doesn't want to cut the Vermont State Police budget. Instead, he says, the state needs to increase funding for police training and for mental health workers to assist police.
Scott said he does want to end the practice of Vermont sending prisoners to out-of-state correctional facilities because of a lack of capacity in Vermont institutions. He noted that since March, the state has released 300 to 400 nonviolent offenders.
“So we've reduced [the prison population] dramatically over the last three months. I think what we need to do, to be quite honest, is make sure we stay there,” Scott said. “And then we can try to bring … the offender population in from out of state, and try to get them here within our borders.”
As of Monday, the Department of Corrections says 235 Vermont inmates are being held at a private prison in Mississippi, out of a total prison population of 1,398.