Gov. Phil Scott on Friday announced a loosening of restrictions on businesses, but many will still not be able to operate as they did before the shutdown.
“We will allow manufacturing and distribution centers to open with a maximum of five employees in a space large enough to keep these workers at least six feet apart at all times,” the governor said during a media briefing.
Outdoor businesses, construction work, and recreation maintenance must also set a limit of five total workers per location.
Businesses previously restricted to curbside pickup can now let up to 10 people in the store. As of May 1, farmers markets may open if they “focus on food distribution and prevent congregating.” They are also encouraged to use a pre-order and pick-up model if possible.
Scott issued new protocols for outdoor retail.
“This latest order will allow for an outdoor retail facility such as a garden center or a greenhouse to allow in-person buying in these outdoor spaces,” the governor said. “But no more than 10 people including customers and staff will be permitted at any one time.”
There is also a special training on safety measures that employees must complete by May 4.
Scott insists that, despite these restrictions, he’s still anxious to see the economy open back up.
“No one wants to get back to work more than me, but as we do we must outsmart and beat this virus,” he said.
The governor’s office on Friday released a detailed explanation of the new order from the governor, which covers phased re-opening, an expansion of health and safety measures, and mandatory training.
The pressure to reopen is driven by increasing unemployment. Approximately 1 in 6 Americans are out of work due to the shutdown, and at least 80,000 Vermonters have lost their jobs since Scott issued a state of emergency.
Vermont Democratic Congressman Peter Welch weighs in
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., participated by phone at Friday’s press conference.
“The effect of social distancing is to shut down businesses for quite some time and we know we have to do it but it’s not without consequence,” he said. “I’m very pleased that in Washington there has been strong bipartisan support for economic measures.”
Rather than focus on reopening businesses faster in light of the falling projected U.S. deaths, Welch called for spending more federal money.
Some of the measures he listed include $1,200 stimulus checks, additional funds for unemployment support, the payroll protection plan, and the economic injury disaster loans. There’s also $100 billion going into the healthcare industry, $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for improved testing for the virus.
Welch acknowledged that in addition to businesses suffering, the state government will have its own financial woes.
“This economic situation has put immense pressure on state revenues, Vermont is not unique at all,” he said. “And we must have some focus in Congress going forward on providing aide to the states. … The federal government is really the only governmental entity that has the fiscal capacity to respond to this once-in-a-hundred-year event.”
The U.S. coronavirus death toll hit 53,922 on Monday, with 6,142 of those being attributed to the virus without a positive lab test result. Just over 60,000 Americans are projected to die from the virus according to projections used by the White House.
By comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 24,000 and 62,000 Americans have died of seasonal flu since Oct. 1.
Dr. Joshua White says Scott taking right approach
Joshua White, a doctor in emergency medicine at Gifford College, said Scott was wise to implement strong shutdown measures, including forcing restaurants to do takeout.
“Those things do make a difference,” he told True North on Friday. “The concern at that time was not replicating what occurred in northern Italy, where their health care systems were overwhelmed.”
He added that this economic shutdown cannot last indefinitely.
“A lot of the initial stuff we did is really not sustainable,” he said. “You can’t live like that forever. The easy example in medical care is most of the clinics were more or less closed down and very few patients were coming through. That’s a problem because a lot of folks need regular healthcare in order to function.”
Both federal and state guidelines allow medical professionals to record COVID-19 as the cause of death when the descendent never tested positive for the virus. The policy caused New York’s death toll to jump by more than half in one day last week.
White said there will be instances when someone dies from the virus and doesn’t get counted, and cases where someone dies without the virus but gets counted.
“There’s gonna be some degree of fudge-factor in there,” he said. “There’s some degree of inaccuracy in there. You even see that to some degree in deaths by car accident. You may have somebody who wrecks a car and dies but that guy actually had a heart attack, died, then the car wreck.”