Slightly more than 80 percent of all eligible Vermonters have now received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to Gov. Phil Scott, who celebrated the milestone by making good on his promise to lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions.
At a press conference on Monday, Scott said that he was moving Vermont into the final phase of its reopening plan. Capacity restrictions and gathering limits are now lifted, mask wearing is no longer required and most businesses are now under recommended guidance instead of the stringent health mandates that have governed their daily operations for much of the last 15 months.
The announcement comes 464 days after the state identified its first case of COVID-19 and marks a major step toward normalcy, signaling what many hope will be an end to the pandemic in Vermont.
"There are no longer any state COVID-19 restrictions," Scott said. "None. So unless there is a federal requirement in place — like [for] public transportation or long-term care facilities — employers, municipalities and individuals can operate under the same conditions as before the pandemic."
Still in effect will be Vermont’s “universal guidance,” which encourages but does not require social distancing and masking for unvaccinated people. Businesses and municipalities can also set their own stricter guidelines, Scott said, equating it to a “no shirt, no shoes, no service" policy.
The full reopening arrives several weeks ahead of schedule: State officials had initially anticipated lifting all restrictions by July 4, but Scott accelerated the timeline once it became clear that Vermont's nation-leading vaccination effort was on pace to surpass even the most optimistic projections.
Vermont is the first state in the nation to have vaccinated four out of every five eligible people. Those 12 and older are now able to get vaccinated, though younger people may become eligible later this year.
Scott also announced Monday that he would allow his state of emergency declaration to expire at midnight Tuesday, given the vaccination progress.
The order, first issued in March 2020, has allowed Scott to enact broad measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, such as closing down certain business sectors and limiting gathering sizes. It has also helped the state more swiftly respond to the needs of its most vulnerable residents, allowing for the expansion of vital meal delivery systems and enacting a temporary ban on most evictions.
Some 130 businesses and organizations recently urged Scott to delay lifting the order with these protections in mind. Scott said on Monday that he would sign an executive order to “fill in the gaps” left in the declaration's wake.
He cited a desire to continue the food programs but appears unlikely to continue the eviction moratorium, stating last week that he believes some people are taking advantage of it. A federal eviction moratorium is set to end this month, while Vermont's would expire 30 days after the state of emergency ends.
Scott said he would further outline his new executive order at a press conference on Tuesday.
When Scott set the new reopening threshold in mid-May, more than 75 percent of Vermonters over the age of 12 had received at least one dose. He provided daily updates on the state's progress via Twitter, counting down the number of vaccinations needed to reach his goal with the same amount of energy one might expect from an aerobics instructor.
"After yesterday’s totals, we’re just 2,385 vaccinated Vermonters away," he wrote on Wednesday. "Let’s get this done this week!" State leaders received word late Sunday night that Vermont had finally crossed the threshold.
Officials took a brief victory lap on Monday, heaping praise on their colleagues and the broader population for helping Vermont stay relatively healthy, with fewer deaths and cases per capita than almost every other state, plus a robust vaccination campaign.
Scott himself recalled some of the more challenging moments of the last year, such as when “we thought we were going to need refrigerated trailers, because hospital morgues might not be able to handle what was coming.”
The state avoided those worst outcomes, the governor said, thanks to Vermonters' sacrifices. "Our state has shown the world what’s possible when you have a group of people with the right attitude, following the data and trusting medical science," Scott said.
Both Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Levine urged Vermonters to show compassion for those who might be anxious about returning to normal life. They also urged continued vigilance, noting that many people remain unvaccinated.
“Even as we celebrate this milestone, our work isn't done,” Scott said. “Every shot, given today, tomorrow and in the weeks to come, is just as important as the ones we administered yesterday.”