MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has announced restaurants can open for outdoor seating, some medical procedures can resume and businesses such as salons and barbershops, can start back up May 29 in response to the state’s positive handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The governor said depending on data tracking the virus that causes COVID-19, he’s looking to increase the number of people allowed to group up from 10 to 25 starting June 1. He also announced churches can open at 25% capacity.
It wasn’t all good news because the governor announced that fairs and festivals have been canceled for the summer, including the Vermont State Fair in Rutland and the Champlain Valley Fair — two very popular summertime events. Events that take place in the fall may be able to go forward, but Scott said it would depend on where things stand in the coming months.
The numbers being reported from the Department of Health continue to be encouraging. The state has ramped up its testing ability and state officials expected that to mean an increase in positive tests. But the department reported only two new cases of the virus Friday, increasing the total confirmed cases in the state from 950 to 952. There also has not been another death from the virus. That total remains 54.
Scott said he’s taking a conservative approach to reopening the economy because of what’s going on regionally. New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts continue to be in worse shape than Vermont in combating the virus.
“Because we’re not on an island, and some of our neighbors still have a significant number of new and active cases,” he said.
The governor said businesses that can start back up will need to follow health and safety requirements from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
Restaurants must have their tables spaced at least 10 feet apart and no more than 50 people can be seated. They are required to use disposable menus and a total of 10 people from only two households are allowed to sit at the same table.
Salons and barbershops are only allowed to operate at 25% capacity, or one customer per 200 square feet, or 10 total customers and staff members combined, whichever is greater. Those businesses can only take appointments, so no more walk-ins.
Restaurants, bars, salons and barbershops, as well as lodging businesses, are required to keep a log of those they have served for 30 days in an effort to help contact tracing if needed.
Gyms and spas aren’t allowed to open yet, but Scott said he’s looking to announce a time frame for them in a week.
Scott said he’s tried not to get too far ahead of the data when making decisions, but “the reality is, we’re still far from being back to normal.” He said the Vermont Fairs and Field Days Association has asked him for guidance on whether this summer’s events should proceed. The governor said the state’s not ready for “large, unstructured events with hundreds, if not thousands, of people coming into one area without control and the ability to physically separate.”
Scott said all traditional fairs and festivals have been canceled for the season. He said this order does not close fairgrounds or prohibit operations that may meet the health and safety requirements put forth in the coming months.
Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the state Department of Health, said some medical procedures can move forward. They include inpatient surgeries and procedures; outpatient services, including clinic visits, diagnostic imaging and limited outpatient surgeries and procedures; and elective dental services.
Levine said health care providers will have to screen patients, staff and visitors for symptoms of the virus. They will also need to have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and procedures in place to test staff, as well as patients who will be having surgery.