Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday issued a “stay home, stay safe” order and directed the closure of in-person operations for all non-essential businesses.

The order will be in effect until April 15, though it may be extended or shortened as needed.

“I want to be very clear about this: We need everyone to limit activities outside of the home and to practice social distancing at all times to slow the spread of this highly contagious and potentially deadly virus,” said Scott in a statement. “We all must do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 to minimize infections, particularly for those who are elderly or have underlying chronic health conditions, and prevent it from overwhelming our healthcare facilities. The more Vermonters who take this seriously and stay home, the faster we can return to normal.”

A news release from Scott’s office said the “restrictive measures” were implemented in consultation with Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, and Levine’s evaluation of the latest data.

On Tuesday, the Vermont Department of Health reported 20 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and two new deaths.

As of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, all businesses and not-for-profit entities not expressly exempted in the order must suspend all in-person business operations. Operations that can be conducted online or by phone, or sales that can be facilitated with curbside pickup or delivery only, can continue.

The order provides exemptions for businesses and entities providing services or functions deemed critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security including health care operations; retail serving essential human needs, like grocery stores, pharmacies and hardware stores; fuel products and supply; maintenance of critical infrastructure; news media; and transportation and critical manufacturing sectors.

“I fully recognize the emotional, financial and economic impact of these decisions, but based on the best science we have available, these measures are necessary,” said Scott. “I need all Vermonters to understand that the more quickly and closely we follow these stay-at-home measures, the faster and safer we can get through this and get our daily lives, and our economy, moving again. I have tremendous faith in Vermonters and our ability to follow these guidelines, to save lives and support each other throughout – even as we are physical separated.”

The latest total from Tuesday afternoon was 95 confirmed case of COVID based on 1,535 tests. The total number of deaths in Vermont was listed as seven.

Scott’s order directs Vermonters to stay at home, leaving only for essential reasons, critical to health and safety. If leaving the home, Vermonters should adhere to social distancing policies, including remaining six feet from others, except for those with whom they share a home, and thoroughly and regularly washing hands, the release said.

No information was provided about the two deaths reported Tuesday. On Monday, the health department listed three new deaths, all of them residents of Burlington Health and Rehabilitation. Another death reported on March 19 also was a resident of BHR.

The final death, also announced March 18, was a man from Windsor County, who was being treated at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in White River Junction.

An update was provided about BHR on Tuesday. According to the health department, about 10 asymptomatic and short-term patients of BHR were scheduled to be moved to the DoubleTree by Hilton in Burlington. The rooms used have been adapted to meet the new use.

“This is a cooperative effort by the state, the UVM Medical Center and Burlington Health and Rehabilitation Center to ensure the center’s patients can receive the care they need, in comfort, and isolated from further possible exposure to COVID-19. These patients will receive care by UVMMC clinicians and be discharged directly to their home after they are clinically determined to be well enough,” the health department’s update stated.

The health department update on Monday stated that information about each patient’s gender, age and home county would no longer be provided daily because of the increasing numbers.

The update stated that as Vermont sees community spread of COVID-19, public health epidemiologists will investigate cases, provide education on isolation actions the patients should take, and guide the patients on information they should provide to their close contacts.

Epidemiologists also will follow up when vulnerable populations may have been exposed to COVID.

All specimens submitted by health care providers to the UVM Medical Center will be tested, according to the state.

However, testing resources in Vermont and in the U.S. are currently limited. For now, Vermont testing will prioritize samples from health care workers who are symptomatic, patients who are hospitalized, residents of long-term care facility, incarcerated inmates and other high-priority groups. All other specimens will be tested as quickly as resources allow.

For the most up-to-date information and guidance about COVID-19, including from the CDC, visit healthvermont.gov/covid19

Correction: A headline in Tuesday’s editions gave was incorrect in giving the number of new COVID-19 deaths in Vermont as of Monday. It was three.

patrick.mcardle @rutlandherald.com

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