Another week brought another turn of the proverbial "spigot" from Gov. Phil Scott, who announced Friday that he was further loosening some business restrictions amid continued signs that Vermont's coronavirus outbreak has plateaued.
"Because we have one of the strongest stay-home orders in the country, with more restrictions than most, we can open up the spigot a bit more to catch up and get more in line with our neighbor states," Scott said at a press conference. “But with these small steps, we have to make sure that we're being responsible. This comes down to each and every one of us.”
Certain outdoor businesses, which were allowed to return to work on Monday with crews of two or less, can now have five people working at a time outside or within unoccupied structures. Manufacturing and distribution operations can also open with a maximum of five employees — as long as they can work in spaces large enough to stay at least six feet apart, Scott said.
Outdoor retail facilities such as garden centers and greenhouses can also start providing in-person service, Scott said, though no more than 10 people, including staff, are permitted at one time. Businesses already open using curbside pickup or delivery must continue to operate with as few employees as possible.
Scott also said his administration continues to work on guidance that will allow farmers markets to open May 1 after they were shuttered under his stay-at-home order. But he cautioned that people should not expect the "traditional" market experience.
"I've asked the guidance focus on food distribution, not a social gathering," Scott said.
Scott's latest move comes a week after state officials declared Vermont's coronavirus spread had likely peaked. Those positive signs continued this week as the state reported only 17 new cases in the past five days, bringing Vermont's total to 827 cases and 44 deaths.
New modeling data now shows that the demand on hospital resources is also likely on the decline, and officials anticipate that the number of actively infected Vermonters should peak within the coming days, a "very important indicator" that the state is on track to contain the virus, said the state's modeling chief, Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak.
"Overall, the news continues to be good," Pieciak said, with Vermont's current trend still "better than even our best-case forecasts."
Far different from the gloomy press conferences of a month ago, Scott's public briefings have lately been more upbeat affairs, with the governor consistently noting that Vermonters' sacrifices have helped saved many lives.
He again stressed that point Friday when asked why he thought the state has been able to curb the virus so well. Singling out business owners who shut down for the sake of public health, Scott said, "I think it's just how we're built."
"When we're in trouble, we band together and try and do the right thing," he said.
Still, while Scott said he hopes to continue loosening restrictions each week moving forward if downward trends continue, he warned that any sense of normalcy is a long way off.
"We have to do this right, because we don't want to lose ground or change the trajectory we're on," Scott said. "It must be a constant, consistent, everyday battle to fight this virus."