Vermont officials gave updates on the COVID-19 outbreak on Monday. The governor says progress is being made as the state reopens, but cautions that everyone must remain on guard to prevent a spike in infections.
Republican Governor Phil Scott is slowly allowing different sectors of Vermont’s economy to reopen with caveats. On Monday retail businesses started opening their doors, but all employees must wear face coverings and stay 6 feet from customers and other staff. Occupancy cannot exceed 25% of capacity. “If things go well we'll announce some additional openings like hair salons and barbershops, limited outdoor seating at restaurants and hopefully more services in the healthcare field. I know this has been incredibly difficult for everyone. And in some ways the restart process is even more challenging than the closings were. But your sacrifices and cooperation have made a huge difference.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the state’s budget but Governor Scott insists the legislature must not use taxes as a solution. “You know, I'm very concerned about the potential deficit, the looming maybe three-to-five-hundred million dollar deficit in just the regular budget, as well as the 176 million in the Education Fund as well. We can't obviously tax our way out of this. We have to find ways to live within our means.”
Scott says he will release an economic package on Wednesday to move the state toward recovery. He revealed few details. “I’m not going to get ahead of the package or the announcement on Wednesday.”
Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said Tuesday morning that the Senate Economic Development Committee has been discussing using about one-third of the $1.25 billion the state is receiving in CARES Act funds for business support. He thinks that may be part of the governor’s planned package. “I believe envisions cash grants to qualifying businesses. And then I believe they're looking at some kind of technical assistance setup. That's about the level of specificity we've heard. In general I think a substantial economic recovery package along the lines of what I've just described is very sensible.”
Vermont is expanding its testing, and asymptomatic individuals can now make appointments at so-called pop-up testing sites. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine reported that the state continues to flatten the curve. Hundreds of tests were conducted Sunday, with no new cases of COVID-19. He cautioned that despite the positive trends, people should remain vigilant. “We spend a lot of time talking about all of the things we need to do. Are these things still important? Well, let me tell you about Clinton County, New York. They've had a total of 46 people that they've been following. Well they almost doubled that number in one day, all related to parties that occurred in the city of Plattsburgh.”
Again Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe: “We saw what just happened in Plattsburgh. Maybe that's a good cautionary tale for Vermonters to stay focused.”
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s Monday briefing focused on food insecurity. He wants to make sure no one goes hungry in the city during the pandemic and offered a review of available programs in the city. “All of our systems are being strained by this emergency. The suddenness with which the economic conditions changed put a lot of stress on an already frayed fragile safety net. So we've been doing a number of things to try to fill in the gaps. The idea with this briefing is to make sure that we're spreading the word on all the new programs that are happening out there so that people can access them.”