What ‘stay home, stay safe’ means to Vermonters’ freedom to buy groceries, worship

By Guy Page

Vermonters are eager to learn how Gov. Phil Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Covid-19 policy applies to their lives. Are they still permitted to walk into a supermarket and shop? What are their options?

And what does “Stay Home, Stay Safe” means to church-goers? Can they still legally attend church services in person?

The short answer is that according to the federal, advisory-only list (see link and graphic) used to establish Vermont’s binding emergency regulations, grocery stores are a “critical business” and must stay open. Yes, Vermonters can and will continue to shop the aisles of their favorite grocery stores. However, according to the Vermont “Stay Home, Stay Safe” announcement, stores must provide “social distancing” options: “all exempt entities conducting retail operations should also facilitate curbside pick-up or delivery to the extent possible.”

Guy Page

This morning, I saw this policy in action when I went to Shaw’s in Montpelier to buy my wife her weekly bouquet of flowers. (Note to other husbands: you, too, can easily score beaucoup love points this way. All it takes is $5-$10 and most stores even provide a free card and envelope. It works. I don’t need to understand why and neither do you. Word.)

The electronic doors swung open as usual. I walked in. No-one stopped me. I picked out the bouquet, handed over the cash, and asked the cashier how “Stay Home, Stay Safe” is working out. She said foot traffic is still permitted but that many regular customers are opting for home delivery by an app called “Instacart.”

Instacart promises $20 off the first online order and two-hour or less delivery (the latter not happening due to high volume, the cashier said). It’s sort of like Uber for groceries. Delivery drivers collect a number of orders, grab the groceries, and then deliver them to Instacart customers.

Delivery services may help cut down on hoarding — which has become enough of a problem for the supply chain that the Vermont Retail Association will discuss it before a Senate committee Thursday. And at Shaw’s, anyway, there’s another Covid-19 necessity: the store will no longer allow reusable shopping bags. Whether Gov. Scott follows the lead of New Hampshire Chris Sununu and requires single-use plastic bags only remains to be seen. The state’s ban on single-use plastic bags is scheduled to take effect July 1.

For churches, though, there’s no more walk-in option. Per the federal advisory list, religious organizations are not deemed critical during the state of emergency. The list (emailed to Vermont Daily by a Scott administration official in answer to our question about churches) says that “in person service is not allowed, but online services encouraged.” Indeed, almost all Vermont churches are meeting online. Colette and I worship at Crossroads Christian Church in East Montpelier – except that the location 9:30 a.m. this Sunday will be Barre, home of tech-savvy Pastor Thorsten Evans and his worship-leading wife Rene. They will live-stream on Facebook.

For some church leaders, this ban on in-person religious gatherings raises serious questions about state infringement on religious freedom role. Can a state, by declaring a state of emergency, pre-empt the right to free assembly and freedom of religion? Even the state of Vermont statute empowering the declaration of a state of emergency prevents the state from seizing buildings belonging to churches or the press — an obvious nod to the First Amendment.

Is “Stay Home, Stay Safe” even constitutional? Adrian Otterman, a Barre lawyer and grandson of longtime Vermont legislator, lawyer and state’s attorney Harvey “Bud” Otterman, is skeptical. See his thoughtful Letter to the Editor published today.

Church-state concerns aside, most (if not all) churches accept online worship as a way to “love thy neighbor” while rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.

Easter, though, is just 17 days away, long before the state of emergency expires. Will Vermont churches stay in their virtual catacombs to celebrate Resurrection Sunday? Or will some, like many in the warm South, hold “drive-in church” where the preacher and music leaders minister to families and single people sittin in their four-wheeled, socially-distanced pews? Maybe departing worshippers will pull over, roll down their window, and drop their money in an offering bucket. Time and the weather forecast will tell.

Whether it’s worshippers, shoppers or others crossing the freshly-painted line between compliance and non-compliance, the State of Vermont clearly hopes the state of emergency will pass without any need for enforcement. But if enforcement is necessary, the first – and perhaps only? – step taken will be a reminder, according to a press release issued yesterday entitled “Vermont Department of Public Safety issues guidance on enforcement of ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ executive order”: “In instances where police officers observe or are made aware of people operating in violation of Gov. Scott’s ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ order, law enforcement is encouraged to speak with the proprietor, staff, or group, provide a reminder of the new requirements, and assess voluntary compliance …. Again, officials expect the vast majority of compliance to be self-regulating.”

But what if it’s not?

Read more of Guy Page’s reports.

Image courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR

8 thoughts on “What ‘stay home, stay safe’ means to Vermonters’ freedom to buy groceries, worship

  1. You won’t believe this. Windham County:

    Windham peeps…Can it be true?
    I heard through the grapevine that while all Vermonters have been ordered to shelter in place and homeschool our children through the end of the school year, that our own little Meadows Bee Farm is bringing interns in from overseas (recently traveled by planes, through international airports) and out state (states that have higher COVID19 infected rates than VT), into our little community within the next few weeks during the predicted peak of disease in the US. Could they possibly have really decided that was ok on behalf of or despite the rest of us in the community? I am very surprised to hear that they don’t care that it WILL affect us? We have an elderly community, lots of folks in the high risk group. We also have few resources to deal with it if our town turns into an epi center for the disease. Even if they quarantine themselves at the farm, it is highly likely that at least one will get sick during that quarantine time then everyone will have already been exposed and exposed others. The domino affect is substantial.

    It’s bad enough that we can’t keep the 2nd home owners from flocking to VT to shelter bringing their germs from surrounding states to ours, but now we’re allowing non-homeowners & immigrants in to expose us to germs from overseas and urban areas. Not just to live and work in our town but to utilize our local healthcare system, grocery stores etc

    Someone please tell me this isn’t true! Please tell me they’ve decided to wait until June to bring them in! The Governor has extended an order to keep our children out if school until June but Meadows Bee farm can bring interns in from NY & overseas?

  2. Distancing is the concern we must take precautions, you can stay in a bubble
    but there are “NO” guarantees !!

    Go to your place of worship, go grocery shopping, stay clear of the greenies with
    there dirty non-recycled cloth bags, that haven’t been washed in years they’re just
    a walking petri-dish…………………………….

  3. The legislature has proven they do not care about Vermonters freedom or liberties or their oath, it’s beyond time to gut most of the current crop.

    Think before you cast your vote,get out to vote and vote those who would infringe on your freedom and liberty out on their keisters.

  4. The information I’ve seen mentioned the virus lasts 17 weeks and was verified by the New England Journal of Medicine, two verifiable sources (video seen from a doctor stating the same).

    Politicians want to eliminate plastic bags. Foolish. Paper products have many minute holes that can trap the small virus and can have repeated use. Observe Walmart, the plastic bags are barely touched and has smooth surfaces making it harder for any virus attachment, not porous. The video stated cardboard is a problem, paper items are the same from my point of view. Politicians cause more problems because they are illiterate to all this via their actions. They run around in circles not knowing what to do—-just have to do something. It’s a universal mental impairment.

    I have a personal experience. My brother usually gets bad colds (or virus?) each year (not this year, yet) meeting the public in his business. The bug goes thru the whole family and hits them hard. Never saw colds like that, he was bed ridden a week or more.

    About a month later after they recovered, I went to visit them. No kidding about a week later I got the damn thing. That bug stayed around in their house after a month. The virus must have survived on any furniture or anywhere in their house. Being in the winter months, it was a closed environment in the house, meaning no open anything. This “bug” was never known. You wonder how many unknown similar situations have existed, from any source or individuals to get it.

    So when the reports say the bug can last 17 weeks, I believe it.

  5. My take is shop infrequently, stock up, wear protective gloves and use common sense. The fewer times you mingle with strangers while shopping, the better..

    • You’re the advocate for everyone staying home, so how do you propose paying for necessities without money? Perhaps there should be legalized theft, as in California and Massachusetts…and in Congress and the state legislature.

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