Governors across the country are considering how best to implement President Donald Trump’s new three-phase guidelines for reopening state economies.
In Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott has begun releasing details of how he plans to get Vermonters back to work while protecting citizens from the coronavirus pandemic. So far, it appears Scott’s plan may be less aggressive than what the president is proposing.
The White House’s “Opening Up America” plan takes a three-step approach that begins May 1 and stretches on for months.
In Phase 1 of the president’s plan, people who are at high-risk of being harmed by COVID-19 will continue to follow “stay home” protocols. Also, restaurants, sporting venues, gyms, and places of worship will open back up.
During Phase 2, schools and other organized activities will resume, bars will open, and people can travel for non-essential purposes. Gatherings will be limited to less than 50 people.
In Phase 3, employers can resume full staffing, vulnerable populations can stop social distancing, and visits to senior homes and hospitals can resume as before.
However, to begin reopening, states must experience a full 14 days of decreasing cases and hospitalizations. This means some states may be able to proceed while others might take longer.
“Some states will open smoother than others,” Trump said Thursday.
At his Friday media briefing, Vermont’s governor announced a loosening of restrictions on businesses.
“The ACCD [Agency of Commerce and Community Development] has developed a plan to allow certain businesses such as property management and one-to-two person crews in construction and similar trades, as well as low and no-contact professional services like appraisers, realtors, and municipal clerks and attorneys, to get back to work beginning April 20,” he said.
Scott’s first move, announced late last week, was to allow lodges to begin booking again for stays after June 15.
Scott warned that reopening Vermont “won’t be business as usual,” and that even while returning to work some social distancing practices — including spreading apart and wearing masks — may be necessary.
Scott said his administration is reviewing the newly released White House plan and will “take and glean any information that could be relevant and helpful.”
“I think we have a plan that works. We’ve been working at this from the very beginning, putting steps into place and mitigation efforts into place, and I think it’s been beneficial to Vermont,” he said Friday.
With more than 80,000 Vermonters having filed for unemployment since Scott declared a state of emergency last month, the Vermont Department of Labor is struggling to process unemployment claims and issue payments in a timely fashion.
“We have roughly 34,000 Vermonters who combined have over 50,000 issues associated with their claims,” acting Labor Department Commissioner Michael Harrington said at the Friday briefing. “These are people who are eligible for but were flagged for processing. It can occur for a variety of reasons, and under normal circumstances, it even happens a lot.”
He said the department is adding over 100 personnel to alleviate the backlogs. If there are any unpaid benefits remaining after Saturday night, the Vermont Treasury will begin issuing $1,200 checks on Sunday.
As projections for the deaths and hospitalizations from the coronavirus continue to be revised lower, there is a concern that the response to the virus has been more devastating than the pandemic itself.
Scott said he’s aware not everyone agrees with his response to the pandemic.
“I do realize there are some who feel the economic impacts have been too costly,” he said.
However, he added that he believes large numbers of lives were likely saved.
“The reality is we could’ve lost hundreds, maybe thousands of Vermonters had we done nothing, and caused unthinkable longterm harm to our economy and our way of life.”
As of Friday afternoon, the Vermont Health Department is reporting 35 people have died of COVID-19. More than 770 cases have been identified, and 32 people are currently hospitalized for the virus.