Gov. Announces Expanded Capacity For Restaurants, Lodging, Defends Creemees
Gov. Phil Scott is allowing restaurants and hotels to expand their operations as the fall foliage season gets underway. His administration also spent a not-insignificant amount of time during Friday's press briefing on the finer points of what a creemee is.
Here are five takeways from Gov. Phil Scott's twice-weekly presser:
1. Changes to restaurant and lodging operations
The governor announced Friday restaurants and hotels can expand operations, citing the low prevalence of the coronavirus in Vermont.
The easing of restrictions comes as tourism for fall foliage is expected to pick up.
Starting Friday, hotels can now rent all their rooms, and Scott said restaurants can now seat people at the bar. The capacity limit of 50 percent for restaurants and bars remains in place.
“Meaning food and drink service can take place at the counter if the restaurant has one,” he said. “But there needs to be a minimum of 6 feet between parties and a lexan barrier between the customers and the staff behind the counter.”
But Scott said even with the easing of restrictions, the hospitality sector won’t be able to make all its lost revenue. He says his administration is launching a new program to help business find ways to navigate the pandemic.
2. Officials urge Vermonters to follow prevention practices, despite low case numbers
Vermont continues to see low-numbers of COVID-19, but state officials are urging residents to continue to follow mitigation measures.
The health department reported two new cases of the disease Friday, bringing the total number of new cases this week to 46. But state officials say even with the increase, the percent positivity and overall prevalence of COVID-19 is low.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine says the state is doing well because Vermonters are following public health guidelines, like social distancing and wearing cloth masks.
“With changes in the season and the onset of colder weather, we will be moving indoors, and that will have an impact on our cases,” Levine said. “This makes it imperative that we keep up our core prevention practices to avoid illness.”
Three people are currently hospitalized with the disease, and 58 people have died. More than 1,530 people have recovered from COVID-19 in the state.
3. Coronavirus outbreak among out-of-state inmates over, according to state
Vermont state officials say a massive outbreak of COVID-19 among Vermont inmates held at a private prison in Mississippi is now over after 185 inmates, more than 80% of the 219 Vermont prisoners held at Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, were infected with the coronavirus.
Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith says now almost all of the Vermont inmates are in recovery, meaning they aren’t displaying symptoms.
Smith added the Mississippi inmates will be tested again on Sept. 28 as part of the state’s strategy to conduct regular mass testing at all corrections facilities.
He said the state is also working with CoreCivic, the company that runs the prisons, to make sure coronavirus mitigation measures are being followed.
“We are still in discussions with CoreCivic to make sure we don’t have spread from other parts of that facility,” he said. The state will have access to prison’s internal cameras to monitor compliance, according to Smith.
4. Federal unemployment numbers don't tell the whole story
According to the U.S. government, Vermont now has an unemployment rate of 4.8%, but state officials say this number doesn't reflect reality.
Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said that during the pandemic, the state has lifted the requirement that an unemployed person actively seek another job.
But Harrington said the federal government doesn't count this group of people as being unemployed and Vermont’s true unemployment rate is closer to 10%.
“For the first time in a long time or in recent history, the number of people receiving unemployment insurance benefits is actually higher than the number of people who are detached from the labor force,” Harrington said.
Vermont's tourism and service industry continue to have the largest number of people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
5. Creemee Controversy
Members of Gov. Phil Scott’s administration, in a light-hearted detour during Friday’s COVID-19 update, assured Vermonters that creemees are indeed dairy products.
This is the second time soft-serve ice cream has made an appearance at a gubernatorial brief this week. On Tuesday, Scott invited Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on COVID-19, to visit Vermont and sample a maple creemee.
During that press conference, a reporter claimed the creemees were not actually dairy products, leading Scott to call Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts to the stage Friday to set the record straight.
“Headline — it’s dairy,” Tebbetts said with gusto. “Our extensive modeling shows Vermont creemees are made with a base of milk, cream, sugar and natural stabilizers.”
Creemees, according to Tebbetts, can be bought throughout the state. (His agency has more than 670 frozen dessert licenese on file). And Tebbetts ended his pitch with a reassurance — and a rather vivid image.
“You can have confidence a Vermont creemee is made with cream from Vermont cows,” Tebbetts said. “Creemees run in Vermonters' veins.”
“Thank you very much Sec. Tebbetts,” Scott said. “That will put everyone at ease, I’m sure.”
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Clarification: Sept. 19, 4:50pm: This post has been updated to reflect that capacity limits in restaurants remain the same.