AP NEWS

Vermont reduces size of public gatherings to 50

March 16, 2020 GMT

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott ordered Monday the closing of all the bars and restaurants in the state effective at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

In the order that lasts through April 6, although it can be extended, establishments can continue to offer takeout and delivery service. The closure order came hours after Scott reduced the size of public gatherings allowed in the state to 50, or 50% of an establishment’s capacity.

The moves are all part of Vermont’s efforts to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus. The state’s pre-k-12 schools must also close Tuesday. On Friday, when Scott declared an emergency to cope with the virus, he had said schools could stay open.

“It’s important for Vermonters to know that additional measures are inevitable,” Scott said during a Monday briefing in Montpelier.

During the Monday briefing, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the number of cases in Vermont is continuing to increase and there is now evidence the virus is being spread by person-to-person contact rather than just through known sources of transmission such as foreign travel or contact with a sick individual.

“Even these small numbers indicate that community (transmission) is occurring,” Levine said.

For most people, the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, results in only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover.

EDUCATION

Current plans call for keeping Vermont schools closed through April 6, although that date could change depending on the circumstances.

State officials are working to limit the challenges posed by school closures and balance the needs of the students and the hardships it could pose to parents or other caregivers, but Levine said the state is at “precisely the time” when school closure has been shown to be an effective public health strategy.

“We are painfully aware of the disruption and social isolation that will result from this,” Levine said. “These are extremely difficult times for everyone and they will not soon be over.”

——-

BARS, RESTAURANTS

The mayor of Vermont’s largest city on Monday ordered that all Burlington bars close and in-person restaurants cease operations for 24 hours starting on Tuesday morning, St. Patrick’s Day, and said the closings could last longer. Restaurants can still offer take-out and delivery. Mayor Miro Weinberger also declared a state of emergency in Burlington and said the city will close or restrict access to all city buildings and curtail many city services starting Wednesday. “Our expectation is that these closings and curtailments will be in effect until at least April 6 and possibly longer,” he said.

It was quiet Monday in Stowe, where restaurants and bars were packed as recently as Saturday. The Bench was open Monday afternoon, but the only people there were staff. Co-owner Mark Frier, speaking before the governor’s restaurant closure order was made public, said he expected they would close soon.

Frier said he was trying to learn from state officials how the unemployment system would work after his restaurant closes. He said he didn’t feel the state did enough to let him and other restaurant owners know what to expect or how long to stay open.

“We would have appreciated way more guidance than that and not making us have to make moral decisions surrounding something that I’m sure they have way more understanding of the risks that we might be taking,” Frier said.

STATE POLICE RESPONSE

The Vermont State Police has modified its procedures to cope with the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Police barracks are staffed and troopers will respond to calls, but in some cases, the agency will change the way it handles those calls.

Troopers will physically respond to major case investigations such as homicide, and to calls regarding crimes in progress, motor vehicle crashes with injuries, missing persons cases and domestic assault.

In other cases, such as minor motor vehicles crashes, vandalisms and thefts, the state police may take reports from the public over the phone.

SKI AREAS

The Vermont Ski Areas Association says that all of the state’s ski areas have closed for the season or shut down operations, either indefinitely or for a period of time, to reassess their operating plans.

___

The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.