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Scott Hopes To Ease Restrictions On Lodging Industry

Gov. Phil Scott said during a media briefing Friday that low COVID-19 case counts at colleges and universities could allow for a more robust reopening of the Vermont economy.
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Gov. Phil Scott said during a media briefing Friday that low COVID-19 case counts at colleges and universities could allow for a more robust reopening of the Vermont economy.

Gov. Phil Scott said Friday that low COVID-19 cases counts on college campuses and in public schools could enable a more robust reopening of the lodging sector in advance of the fall foliage season.

An executive order issued by Scott earlier this summer limited operating capacity at hotels, inns and other lodging businesses to no more than 50% of total rooms.

Scott said he’s been waiting to lift that cap until state health officials are able to gauge the effect of school reopenings  on COVID-19 infection rates.

More from VPR: State Officials Hope Schools Can Expand In-Person Learning If COVID Cases Remain Low

With fewer than 40 college students testing positive for the disease so far, and no reports of cases in public schools, Scott said more permissive allowances for the hospitality sector could be coming as soon as next week.

“If our numbers remain good once we get through school opening and college return, we’ll continue to open that spigot a bit more,” Scott said.

Chart showing the ratio of positive tests to tests overall among Vermont college students
Credit Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, courtesy
According to a report from the Department of Financial Regulation, 42,109 tests have so far been administered to college students, and 38 students have tested positive.

Over the past week, the state conducted 15,000 tests of students attending college or university in Vermont.

Former Norwich University President Richard Schneider, who’s overseeing Vermont’s college reopening task force, said those tests yielded five positive results.

That brings the total number of college students who have tested positive for the disease to 38, well below the threshold, Schneider said, that would trigger concerns about community spread.

“We are the safest place to go to school in America, and also the safest place for our communities that are hosting colleges, in America,” Schneider said.

More from VPR: 'An Incredibly Stressful Time': Vt. Secretary Of Education On Reopening Schools

Schneider said all students that tested positive for COVID-19 have recovered, are out of quarantine and are no longer contagious.

He credited the state’s success with the college reopening process to high-volume testing, rigorous quarantining protocols and students’ compliance with guidelines that prohibit large social gatherings.

"We are the safest place to go to school in America, and also the safest place for our communities that are hosting colleges, in America." — Richard Schneider, Vermont college reopening task force

All students attending colleges and universities in Vermont were required to sign a contract pledging compliance with public health guidelines.

Schneider said nine students have been expelled from campuses so far for violating that pledge.

“I’m not prepared and I’m not going to speak about individual cases,” he said.

Update on a COVID-19 vaccine

Commissioner of Health Mark Levine sought to reassure Vermonters Friday that his department won’t distribute a COVID-19 vaccine in the state unless it’s proven to be safe and effective.

New polling indicates that Americans are losing faith in the federal Centers for Disease Control. Those findings came after the CDC sent a letter to states last month indicating a COVID-19 vaccine could be ready for distribution as soon as October.

More from VPR: Vermont Prepares For Projected Increase In COVID-19 Cases As Public Schools, Colleges Reopen

“We clearly hear the fears that are expressed by many that political pressure is being applied to rush approval of a vaccine before it’s tested,” Levine said during a media briefing Friday. “I want to make it quite clear that the Vermont Health Department is keeping a close watch on the vaccine development process to be sure that we can trust that politics do not trump science.”

Earlier this summer, Levine launched a COVID-19 vaccine planning group, which he said is “monitoring not only safety of vaccines, but devising a process for distribution once [one is] available.”

Levine said his department won’t allow for the distribution of a vaccine until the Advisory Center on Immunization Practices endorses its safety and efficacy.

More from VPR: 'Chronic Unpredictability': Vermont Teachers Union On Returning To The Classroom

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld @PeteHirschfeld.

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