Gov. Phil Scott at the Statehouse earlier this year
At a press conference on Friday, Gov. Phil Scott announced his "first small step forward" in reopening Vermont's economy amid continued signs that the spread of the coronavirus has slowed.
Certain outdoor businesses, such as property management services and small construction crews, will be allowed to return to work starting Monday, April 20, Scott said. So will some low-contact services, such as appraisers, real estate agents and attorneys.
The governor also issued new guidance for retail operations, which he said could allow businesses that meet “strict safety measurements” — such as remote ordering and curbside pickup or delivery only — to reopen.
Farmers markets will also be permitted to open starting May 1, Scott said, with the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets now preparing guidelines. The announcement comes a week after the Scott administration deemed markets to be nonessential under his stay-at-home order.
The Agency of Commerce and Community Development issued a memo Friday detailing further specifics. Businesses can submit questions through the ACCD’s contact form.
"This won't be business as usual, because social distancing is still necessary," Scott said. "So operations are limited to a maximum of two workers per location who must maintain a six-foot distance and wear a cloth mask." He added that remote working guidelines will also likely continue for the “foreseeable future."
The number of new coronavirus cases has plummeted over the last week or so, leading state officials to declare that Vermont is beyond the peak surge. And only half as many hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients as state modeling had projected would be needed, said the state's modeling chief, Department of Financial Regulation commissioner Michael Pieciak.
The total number of active infections continues to increase. The state reported nine new cases Friday, giving Vermont a total of 779 cases and 35 deaths.
"Relaxing our social distancing measures too quickly," Pieciak said, "has the potential to quickly jolt us to a much more severe scenario."
Friday's announcement marks the first turn of Scott's metaphorical economic “spigot" aimed at helping the state to slowly reopen.
At the press conference, the governor outlined five guiding principles that he said will aid his decision-making process. Three focus on the health care system — tracking the latest data, keeping hospitals prepared, and increasing testing and tracing efforts. The last two seek to help businesses work “smarter” and “safer" so that more can open in the coming weeks.
A task force known as the RestartVT Team has been working to develop those operational plans, and Scott said he will likely announce additional steps to loosen regulations next Friday.
“These steps will take time, and public safety will come first,” Scott said. “But we have to begin planning for what is possible.”
The governor later acknowledged that — like many times during the crisis — there will be those who accuse him of moving too quickly and those who believe he's dragging his feet. He said he believes his latest decisions strike the correct balance.
“The reality is, we could have lost hundreds, maybe thousands of Vermonters had we done nothing and caused unthinkable long-term harm to our economy and our way of life,” Scott said. “That's why I believe the measures we've taken not only mean better health outcomes, but also result in a less severe economic impact in the long run.”
“This is all the result of hard work and sacrifice by everyone across the state,” he added. “I can't thank you enough.”