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Scott further loosens business restrictions

Manufacturing, distribution and construction can resume full operations starting May 11

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MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has announced a third loosening of COVID-19-related business restrictions in as many weeks, in a move that he said will put thousands of Vermonters back to work.

Effective Monday, crews of no more than 10 people per location/job will be allowed to perform outdoor work and construction work in unoccupied job sites, and manufacturing and distribution operations may have up to 10 employees in any location, if they are low-density and ensure employees are at least 6 feet apart at all times.

Effective May 11, this will be further expanded, with manufacturing, construction and distribution operations permitted to restart with "as few employees as necessary to permit full operations," subject to health and safety and enhanced training requirements.

The measure, outlined in an addendum to a prior executive order and announced at a regularly scheduled press conference Friday, expands on prior loosening of restrictions.

Scott added that if the numbers keep tracking in a good direction, Vermonters can expect additional steps toward reopening the state's economy early next week.

He cautioned that the state has to take a measured approach to reopening, as the surrounding states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York are still dealing with "massive outbreaks" of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

"And it only takes one spark to re-ignite this fire," he said.

Under the new order, an unoccupied job site may be a single unit in a commercial or residential structure, and may include sites vacated for the duration of the construction work.

The focus on manufacturing and construction comes from the fact that these are businesses that work in controlled environments with sufficient open space, and they are accustomed to following strict rules at work sites, Scott said.

Employers operating with 10 or more employees must also now adopt a health and safety training program - which can be developed independently, or through industries, trade associations, chambers of commerce or other representative organizations - and must be made available upon request, according to a media release from Scott's office.

The addendum also requires further health and safety protocols, including temperature checks prior to each work shift for all entities that are operating, or will be operating.

Scott said at the press conference that he recognizes that thermometers are in short supply, but businesses are required to make good-faith efforts to get them.

In response to a question, Agency of Commerce and Community Development Secretary Lindsay Kurrle advised those with concerns about health and safety at their workplace to confidentially report this to her agency or to the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Agency (VOSHA).

"We'll follow up and try to help people get educated," she said.

This addendum also requires the public to wear face coverings when using public transportation and when in a mass transportation station or terminal, including airports.

"We appreciate Vermonters' willingness to do the right thing," Scott said. "It helps us continue to ease other restrictions."

The ACCD, with the support of the state's Economic Mitigation & Recovery Task Force, is working with employers, industry groups, trade associations and chambers of commerce to help restart Vermont, Kurrle said.

And, she said, it's important to note that for all businesses in Vermont, a return to operations will not be a "flip of the switch."

"...Business operations will be anything but usual in the coming days, weeks and months," she said.

Scott also confirmed in response to a question at Friday's press conference that he plans to talk more about child care next week, and that issue is being worked on "as we speak."

"We know that as more people go back to work, child care is an issue," he said.

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Scott previously ordered child care facilities to close to the general public as part of attempting to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

As the state begins to put more people back to work and increase testing, "we could very well see an uptick in cases," Scott said.

Instead of focusing on total numbers, it'll be important to track the trend lines, he said.

"The important thing to know is, we'll be watching this closely, either helping us to expand more, or telling us to slow down a bit," he said.

`SUSTAINED AND SPEEDY DECLINE'

Vermont continues to perform better than forecasts predicted in terms of COVID-19, said Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation who is leading the state's modeling efforts, at the press conference.

"We continue to attribute these better than expected outcomes to Vermonters' adherence to social distancing, and hygiene guidance," Pieciak said.

Mobility data shows that Vermonters are continuing to limit their movements and activities outside their homes.

The number of days it takes for cases of COVID-19 in Vermont to double has also continued to lengthen; cases are not estimated to double for 84 days. Initially, cases were doubling every three days.

The state's three-day average growth rate in COVID-19 cases continues to trend below 1 percent.

Recent projections have also continued to show the state is not on track to exceed staffed beds for COVID-19 patients, staffed ICU capacity or available ventilators, under low-, mid- or high-need scenarios.

Officials have discussed three peaks for COVID-19 in Vermont: hospital demand, case growth and total active cases.

"We still have a significant number of active cases in our state," Pieciak said. "However, we expect a sustained and speedy decline of active cases in the days ahead."

It is safe to conclude, he said, that Vermont has passed the peak on this measurement as well.

To keep this up, Pieciak said, it's important to continue social distancing.

"As we continue on this positive track here in Vermont, it's really due to the sacrifices of each and every Vermonter," he said. "It's really important to remember, again, that our individual actions will continue to determine our collective outcome."

Modeling has indicated that deaths in Vermont from COVID-19 could have reached 2,000 by the end of April, if mitigation measures hadn't been imposed, Pieciak has said. As of Friday morning, 50 Vermonters have died of COVID-19.

EXPANDED SYMPTOMS

There is also now a broader definition of COVID-19 symptoms, meaning more people are eligible to be tested as part of Vermont's expanded testing, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said at the press conference.

Besides the "traditional triad" of the fever, cough and shortness of breath, COVID-19 symptoms also include: loss of smell or taste, headache, muscle pain, sore throat, chills and shaking, Levine said.

"Knowing this is all the more important at a time when we as individuals and employers need to be aware of illness," he said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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