Gov. Phil Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Levine at a previous briefing
Gov. Phil Scott on Friday extended Vermont's state of emergency order another month, though he vowed to loosen more business restrictions in the near future if the state continues to avoid major outbreaks.
The move marks the sixth time Scott has re-upped the state of emergency designation since March. The order, which is now set to expire on October 15, allows him to enact broad measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, such as closing down certain business sectors and limiting gathering sizes.
"While our numbers have been low in Vermont, the measures in place have helped keep it that way," Scott said at a regular press briefing on Friday. "This is a vehicle that allows us to manage and continue to suppress this virus and make sure that supports for workers and families remain available."
Scott said he planned to focus the next turn of his economic spigot on the hospitality sector, which he said has been most affected by the pandemic and "most at risk" heading into the winter. He said he hoped to announce additional steps at the end of next week and confirmed that his goal was to loosen restrictions prior to peak foliage season.
State officials also used Friday's press conference to take a victory lap after what they say has been a massively successful reopening of Vermont colleges. As of Friday, there have been only 38 cases associated with colleges out of 42,109 campus tests so far. Officials said there are currently no students in isolation or quarantine.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine said it was too early to declare a similar victory in the reopening of the state's K-12 education system. Those schools only started up on Tuesday — most in a hybrid fashion that involves in-person and remote learning — and have not been conducting widespread testing in the same way.
"We'll have to wait a little bit longer for that to see what ensues," Levine said. He then stepped away from the microphone before returning to add, "But it's all going really well!"
Scott opened Friday's press conference by recognizing the 19th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. He invoked imagery of the tragic day and recalled how Americans "watched in real time as our world was changed forever."
"But today, in the face of a once-in-a-century crisis that has taken the lives of almost 200,000 Americans, it is also important to remember the determination and resolve we found in those days, weeks and months following September 11, because our country desperately needs to find that unity again," Scott said.
"It’s so important for us to be united," he later said, "because this [virus] is going to be with us until there's a safe vaccine in place and it's been widely distributed. At that point, we should be able to manage this like we do the flu rather than with the drastic steps we had to take over the last six months."
The topic of vaccines came up again later in the press conference as Levine discussed work being done to ensure that Vermont is prepared to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine once one is available.
That work has taken on an added complexity in recent weeks due to recent assurances from the Trump administration that a vaccine could be ready for distribution as soon as late October. Levine acknowledged that the health department has heard "fears that are expressed by many that political pressure is being applied to rush approval of a vaccine before it's been properly tested."
Levine noted that a state task force has been wading through vaccine-related questions for weeks. He said that his department is keeping a close tab on the vaccine development process to ensure that "politics do not trump science."
"When a safe and effective vaccine is available," he said, "we'll be ready to deliver it to Vermonters quickly and equitably."