Vermont Officials Scrutinize Neighboring States As Part Of Pandemic Response | WAMC

Vermont Officials Scrutinize Neighboring States As Part Of Pandemic Response

May 26, 2020

Vermont Governor Phil Scott says despite the state showing positive progress, he intends to continue a cautious reopening strategy from COVID-19-related shutdowns.

At his latest briefing, Vermont’s Republican governor noted that that it had been just over one month since he slowly began the state’s re-opening process.  “We’ve slowly opened up sectors with strict health and safety measures in place. We’ve also eased restrictions so people can see their family and friends in small groups. Over this time we’ve also expanded our testing and come close to hitting our goal of over 1,000 tests a day. And here’s the good news. Even with these re-openings and more testing we’re still seeing a very low number of cases and promising trends.”

Despite the positive trends, administration officials, including Governor Scott, cautioned that the state is not weathering the pandemic alone.  “We also need to be aware of what’s going on in other states around us. Some of our neighbors still have a significant number of new and active cases. This is why we’ve taken a very careful cautious approach. What’s important to understand we can’t look at our numbers in a vacuum. We have to consider other states and the ripple effect behind every reopening.”

Vermont Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak has been coordinating the state’s modeling team analyzing the impacts of state actions.  “With each turn of the dial that we have made the 10 to 14 day period that followed the viral growth rate remained stable and in some cases continued to trend down as well. This gives us confidence that even as we continue to reopen we are seeing the trends moving in the right direction. So as our trends continue to move in the right direction it has become clear to us that we really need to focus not just on Vermont but also on our neighboring states and Quebec to understand when and how it might be safe for Vermont to reopen its tourism and leisure travel industries without restrictions. As we know these industries are critical to Vermont’s economy.”

But fully opening the tourism sector may take considerable time.  Pieciak said they estimated the number of COVID-19 cases someone would encounter in five different driving scenarios to Vermont’s neighboring states.  “You can see just an hour’s drive from here it’s relatively safe with about a thousand confirmed cases and 300 active cases. Similarly with a two hour drive it’s a relative area of safety. However quickly when you drive about three hours you run into about 35,000 active cases that surround Vermont. A four hour drive that increases to about 60,000 active cases and a five hour drive you’re closer to 80,000 active cases. Again this is a good lesson for Vermonters about the challenges that our neighbors continue to experience with COVID-19 even as we have seen continued improved trends here in Vermont.”

Although administration officials are pleased with positive trends, Governor Scott noted the state is still far from being back to normal.  “We’re just not ready for large unstructured events with hundreds, if not thousands, of people coming into one area without control and the ability to physically separate. That’s why unfortunately this order also cancels all traditional fairs and festivals for this season. Now I hope this unfortunate news mixed in with some positive gains can serve as a reminder that we can’t declare victory yet.”

Governor Scott’s new order allowed bars and restaurants to open with outdoor seating only with strict guidelines one week earlier than planned.  Churches in Vermont are now allowed open at 25 percent capacity.  Salons and barbershops will be allowed to reopen with strict limitations on May 29th.