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COVID-19: Vermont retailers can expand to 50% capacity as mask mandate starts

Associated Press
Published: 7/31/2020 10:10:58 PM
Modified: 7/31/2020 10:10:54 PM

Vermont retail businesses may expand capacity from 25% to 50% starting Saturday at the same time that Vermont’s statewide mask mandate goes into effect, Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday.

The state will also start giving out up to 200,000 free cloth masks. The masks will be distributed through emergency management factions of communities, at community action organizations and by the Vermont National Guard at food distribution sites, said Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith.

“The fact is we’ll continue to fight back against this virus until a vaccine has been developed and distributed, which is in all reality several months away,” Scott said. “So it’s up to us to protect the gains we’ve made and take steps forward when it makes sense to do so. If we all do our part to suppress this virus we can get our kids back to school and keep our businesses open.”

The mask mandate requires people to wear facial coverings in public, including in stores, but stores won’t be required to enforce the mandate, Scott said. All public and private businesses must display signs saying masks are required for anyone over age 2. There are a number of exemptions, including people who are eating or drinking, who are engaged in strenuous exercise, or who have a medical exemption.

Meanwhile, Vermont officials are keeping a close eye on surges in other parts of the country and a rise in cases in the Northeast.

“For example, this past week Rhode Island and New Hampshire reported their highest daily case count since early June, Massachusetts saw a similar case growth that they have not seen since the middle part of June, and even in Quebec, where the virus has been in retreat for a very long time, it is seeing a new uptick in new cases,” said Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, who is managing Vermont’s COVID-19 data during the pandemic.

Although the case growth in the Northeast is slight compared with other parts of the country, the region has seen four weeks of case growth, with new cases about 25% higher this week than they were at the end of June, he said.

Some New Hampshire teachers can skip post-travel quarantine this fall

Some New Hampshire teachers who squeeze in last-minute vacations or other trips just before school starts this fall would be able to bypass quarantine restrictions under public health guidance discussed Friday.

The state’s general travel guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus say that New Hampshire residents should quarantine at home for 14 days after traveling anywhere outside New England.

“We have heard that this is potentially prohibitory for starting of schools because many teachers and staff may be traveling outside of New England to, for example, bring their own children to college,” state epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan said during a weekly call with school nurses.

In light of those concerns, the state is recommending that for the start of the school year, teachers who have traveled be allowed to work if they traveled by private car, had no close contact with anyone with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 and wear a face covering at work for at least 14 days.

Chan and deputy state epidemiologist Dr. Elizabeth Talbot answered dozens of questions from nurses, including whether siblings of students being tested for the virus need to quarantine (in general, no) and whether students should be required to wear face masks outside (yes).

“I myself feel a tremendous relief when I take my mask off at the end of a very long day, when I’m outside in the sunshine, but I only do it if I can be 100% sure no one is going to come into my downwind space or within 6 feet, and I don’t think that’s the precedent we want to set in school settings,” Talbot said.

“We’re facing together as a culture a new normal of wearing masks and whatever we can do to facilitate that, and look for ways to reward it and encourage it and enable it, is going to put us in a better place,” she said. “We have been thoughtful and conservative about this guidance, and I’m afraid this is one I’m just gonna say, yeah, that’s the ideal. That’s what we want to accomplish — people becoming used to and familiar with wearing their masks.”

The state isn’t mandating masks in school, but rather leaving such decisions to individual districts.

More returning Vermont inmates tested for virus

After six inmates who returned to Vermont from a Mississippi prison tested positive for COVID-19, the Vermont Department of Corrections instructed the remaining inmates at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, miss., to be tested.

The inmates, who had arrived at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland on July 28 by van transport, were immediately placed in medical quarantine and tested, the Corrections Department said. They are now in medical isolation.

Another Vermont inmate at the Mississippi prison also has tested positive. The remaining Vermont inmates were tested on Thursday night and Friday, Smith said. The state was expected to get the results on Saturday.

New Hampshire camps seek cash

Overnight summer camps in New Hampshire that together have lost nearly $160 million because of the pandemic are seeking additional federal aid.

According to information submitted to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Relief and Recovery, many camps have struggled to obtain funding through the various programs the state has set up to distribute federal money.

Some weren’t eligible because they are affiliated with hospitals, schools or out-of-state parent organizations, said Ken Robbins, president of the New Hampshire Camp Directors Association. Day camps were directed to a child care relief fund but couldn’t apply unless they opened. In other cases, applications had passed before camps ultimately decided not to open because officials were waiting for final state guidance.

While camps “chose” not to open, “the realities of state action and COVID-related regulations and guidance have essentially compelled that choice for most camps,” he wrote to the recovery office’s legislative advisory board.

According to the office, 19 of 26 camps that applied to the state’s Main Street relief fund were approved for grants totaling $3 million.

New Hampshire numbers

As of Friday, 6,583 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 42 from the previous day. The number of deaths stood at 415. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire has risen over the past two weeks from 23 new cases per day on July 16 to 31 new cases per day on July 30.

Vermont numbers

Vermont reported eight new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, for a statewide total to date of 1,414. The number of deaths remained at 57, after the state reported its first death from COVID-19 in 43 days on Thursday. Two people were hospitalized with the illness, the Health Department said.

The state has the lowest rate of positive tests and the lowest number of cases in the country, Scott said.

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