Gov. Phil Scott watching Health Commissioner Mark Levine speak at Friday's briefing
Vermont officials on Friday announced further steps to reopen the state's economy and health care system as part of the ongoing coronavirus recovery efforts.
But the good news was tempered by Gov. Phil Scott's order that all fairs and festivals be canceled "until further notice." Shortly after the governor's announcement, the Champlain Valley Exposition said it would cancel its annual 10-day fair, held each August in Essex Junction.
"This will be the first time in the history of the Champlain Valley Exposition that the Champlain Valley Fair will not occur," the organization said in a statement.
Bars and restaurants can now reopen to outdoor dining as long as they follow several stipulations the state released Wednesday. The initial plan was to allow outdoor seating next week, but the governor said he accelerated the timeline so that eateries can take advantage of the nice weather expected over Memorial Day Weekend.
Scott said that if the state's positive trends continue over the next two weeks, he expects to allow restaurants to resume indoor dining on a "very limited basis."
"We understand it won't be possible for all restaurants to start today," Scott said. "For those who already have outdoor seating, who can work with their communities or neighbors to get creative, this lets them open up after a very long two months of sacrifice."
Starting on Saturday, churches will also be allowed to reopen to 25 percent of their normal capacity, Scott said. And salons and barber shops that follow certain health guidelines, which the Agency of Commerce and Community Development expected to release Friday afternoon, can reopen in limited fashion May 29.
Scott did not yet announce reopening dates for other close-contact businesses such as gyms and spas, explaining that the state's epidemiology team wants to "track the data a little longer." He said he expected to announce a timeframe for those businesses next Friday.
Hospitals can now also perform inpatient surgeries and procedures as long as they continue adhering to mitigation strategies such as screening patients for COVID-19 symptoms, said Health Commissioner Mark Levine.
Other health care providers — including substance use counselors, social workers, psychologists, chiropractors and acupuncturists — can resume outpatient services. And dentists can return to work in limited capacity this week, with the expectation that they will be able to offer additional services starting in June, Levine said.
Even with weeks of gradual business reopenings and an increased testing capacity, Vermont continues to report a small number of new coronavirus cases.
Officials have reported just three dozen new cases over the last 14 days, and new modeling data shows that the number of positive cases is not expected to double for 46 weeks — a figure that places Vermont only behind Hawaii, officials said.
"This means Vermont continues to perform better than forecasted, and continues to stand out, both regionally and nationally, as a state well-positioned to safely and strategically continue to reopen its economy," said Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak, who has overseen the state's modeling efforts.
But officials continue to strike a cautious tone, noting that some of Vermont's neighboring states are still experiencing significant coronavirus outbreaks. With that in mind, Scott announced that all Vermont fairs and festivals would be canceled indefinitely, and said the state expects to put out guidance for July 4 celebrations in the coming weeks.
Montpelier has already canceled its July 4 celebration, as has Middlebury and smaller towns such as Hinesburg. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said that he expected to announce a decision on the Queen City's July 3 event next week.
Scott said that he hoped the unfortunate news about fairs and festivals will remind Vermonters that they "cannot declare victory yet."
"We can't let up either," he said. "As more Vermonters get back to work and there are more places to visit and meetings with others, it's more important than ever to be smart about your health and the health of others."