Gov. Phil Scott on Saturday placed additional strain on the economy by ordering a shutdown of “close-contact” businesses in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The unprecedented move in Vermont, part of the Scott administration’s response to fears about COVID-19, requires that all “gymnasiums, fitness centers and similar exercise facilities, hair salons and barbers, nail salons, spas and tattoo parlors” must close by 8 p.m. Monday.
“In consultation with the Department of Health, the Governor has determined it is necessary to prohibit in-person operations at close-contact businesses, meaning those unable to comply with guidelines for social distancing,” a statement from the governor’s office says.
Another restriction announced Saturday is public gatherings are now limited to 10 people, a change from the limit of 50 imposed last week by the administration.
The reasoning behind the shutdown has been that extreme “social distancing” is necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a pandemic illness that has caused 402 deaths in the United States and 14,376 deaths worldwide.
“As I’ve said throughout this crisis, I will continue to act to slow the spread of this virus in Vermont because we must protect those at greatest risk of serious illness and ensure they can get the care they need, when they need it,” Scott said. “We will continue to make decisions based on science and guidance from our experts. I don’t make these decisions lightly and my heart goes out to these workers and small business owners who are feeling the negative effects.”
As of Sunday, Vermont is reporting 52 positive cases of coronavirus and two deaths this year. By comparison, the three-week period ending March 7 saw 24 Vermonters die of pneumonia and three by the flu, according to the National Center for Health Statistics Mortality Surveillance System.
In the same three-week period about 8,335 Americans died of pneumonia and 1,289 died of the flu.
In contrast to public officials putting America in lockdown, some members of the media are calling for an end to the shutdown, saying the restrictions on work and business will cause an economic catastrophe within weeks.
A Wall Street Journal editorial published Thursday argues that the country must lift restrictions within a month to avoid mass job losses and business closings.
“The costs of this national shutdown are growing by the hour, and we don’t mean federal spending. We mean a tsunami of economic destruction that will cause tens of millions to lose their jobs as commerce and production simply cease,” the WSJ editorial board wrote. “Many large companies can withstand a few weeks without revenue but that isn’t true of millions of small and mid-sized firms.”
Fox News personality Greg Gutfeld said Friday that “we must consider the devastating consequences if we expand this shutdown beyond what’s tolerable.”
Vermont businesses — even ones not yet forced to close — are feeling the pinch. Rich Christiansen, owner of Plainfield Hardware in Plainfield, says his profitable eat-in deli section is struggling.
“Certain parts are not so good,” he said. “The deli is open for takeout only and the sit-down is not allowed. We’re looking at possibly reducing our hours right now just because we’re trying to keep our help limited.”
He added there’s an uneasy feeling among the customers.
“People are worried — there’s a lot of people that are very concerned,” he said. “I get it, and until things change, that’s what it is.”
The new restrictions on public gatherings are going to test certain parts of the nation, and especially young people, including college students who have been throwing “corona parties” on spring break and acting out against authorities when told to stop.
The governor on Saturday offered some words of encouragement for Vermonters worried about their lives and livelihoods.
“There is no doubt these are difficult times, and my administration — with the help of the legislature and Vermont’s Congressional delegation — will do all we can to help those impacted by this virus or these measures,” he said. “I’m proud of the people of our state and how they’ve pull together.
More information on Vermont’s COVID-19 response can be found at healthvermont.gov/covid19.