Stay-home order relaxed; lodgings to reopen with limits
MARSHFIELD, Vt. (AP) — Gov. Phil Scott relaxed his order for Vermonters to stay home and announced Friday that lodging and campgrounds may open May 22 if they abide by safety guidelines, cleaning requirements and limit the number of people allowed in.
At the same time, the Republican governor extended a state of emergency until June 15 to continue to fight the spread — albeit at one of the slowest rates in the country — of the coronavirus pandemic in Vermont.
“Because of the success we’ve had, we’re now asking Vermonters to be smart and stay safe,” he said at a news briefing, adding that “staying close to home and limiting the number of people you’re in contact with is still really important.”
People over age 65 and with chronic conditions should still remain at home as much as possible, he said.
The order encourages face masks in public but doesn’t require them, Scott said. Municipalities may implement stricter requirements of their own, he said.
Vermont has the lowest average three-day growth rate of coronavirus cases in the country, officials said.
“While this has been difficult for all of us, I just want to say how proud I am to serve as your governor, seeing Vermonters step up time and time again,” he said. “From the beginning, you’ve followed our guidance, stayed home to stop the spread and kept our health care system from being overwhelmed. Your efforts have saved hundreds and hundreds of lives,” he said.
Starting May 22, lodging operations, short-term rentals, campgrounds and marinas may accept overnight reservations from people who have met a 14-day quarantine requirement, said commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurlee.
Out-of-state visitors and Vermonters must fill out a health questionnaire and certification confirming they quarantined properly and have no symptoms of COVID-19, she said.
If Vermont continues to see a low rate, Scott said, he anticipates the reopening of close-contact businesses like hair salons; indoor professional services, such as dentists; and outdoor dining in restaurants sometime between now and June 1, he said. And the size limit of gatherings would rise from 10 to 25.
Scott has proposed that school budgets be voted on again across the state so taxpayers can make decisions knowing the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on revenues.
The idea was presented in an online brainstorming session with lawmakers on Thursday, Scott said.
The budget gap in education is about $170 million, and raising taxes should be a last resort, he said.
“These are going to be difficult decisions to make as we move forward, but we’re going to have to look at the spending side,” Scott said. “We have to.”
But revoting could create more chaos than stabilization, said Democratic Rep. Kate Webb, of Shelburne, chair of the House Education Committee, according to Vermont Public Radio.
A gym in Rutland was told to close Friday for a second time in recent weeks after the attorney general sued it for staying open in violation of state rules and a judge hours later granted a temporary order barring it from operating.
Club Fitness of Vermont owner Sean Manovill temporarily stopped operating the gym after the attorney general sent a cease-and-desist letter May 5, but he reopened the gym Friday, the attorney general’s office said.
An officer saw people exercising without masks and not staying 6 feet apart, the office said. He also did not see any hand-sanitizing stations or signs advising people to wear masks, to maintain social distance or to clean equipment, the office said.
“The vast majority of Vermonters have done the right thing. It’s not fair to them or other businesses to let Mr. Manovill openly violate the order,” Attorney General T.J. Donovan said in a written statement.
Manovill said that he would disprove the allegations. He has a 4,000-square-foot gym that never has more than seven to 10 people in it, he said, arguing that people need a healthy escape.
“I’m really doing this for the mental health crisis that’s going on through the pandemic,” he said.
If liquor stores can be open, he argued, he should be able to open, too.
“This is big government in Vermont trying to put small business out of business,” he said.
The Vermont Health Department reported one more case of the coronavirus on Friday for a total of 933 cases. The state has not reported a death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in more than a week. A total of 53 people have died.