By MIKE DONOGHUE, Islander Staff Writer
MONTPELIER -- Gov. Phil Scott has authorized a gradual reopening of retail businesses with strict rules starting Monday, May 18.
Retailers will be mandated to limit customers and staff to up to only 25% of the maximum legal capacity at their shops and stores.
The rules are designed to address safety issues in the wake of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic in Vermont.
Other safety rules will be in place, including requiring all employees to wear masks, Scott said.
During his news conference, Scott declined to mandate customers wearing face coverings while inside a business.
Scott, under questioning, also was cool toward an idea about allowing businesses to impose a 10 percent surcharge for customers that refuse to wear masks in the stores. The money could be used directly for low-paid store clerks or to help pay hazardous duty pay that the state has proposed for certain front line workers.
Retail shops have to maintain the 6-foot social distancing rule and also conduct health and safety training for their employees, Scott said.
The Agency of Commerce and Community Development is working on developing health and safety guidelines.
Still unknown is the future for a large segment of the economy for the Grand Isle County region. There is no word on the full openings for restaurants, lodging facilities, campgrounds, entertainment venues, marinas, recreational sites and other commerce.
The region depends on the summer tourist trade, but may not see many people heading to the Champlain Islands in the coming months.
The state has given the green light for summer day camps to operate, but the futures for those sites remain unclear as organizers try to determine the best way to keep children safe.
Several overnight camps, which also help bring tourist dollars to the area, have announced plans to cancel in-person programs for this summer.
Dr. Mark Levine, state health commissioner, remained unable this week to provide any statistics on how many out-of-staters have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont.
These numbers could include tourists, employees from out of state firms on assignment to Vermont, college students, relatives visiting families for extended periods and others.
The Department of Financial Regulation, which makes projections about the Vermont pandemic based on Health Department statistics, also has been unable to provide the numbers it is using to make the modeling.
The state likewise has been unable to give the numbers of Vermonters that have tested positive out of state for COVID-19 in recent months. That would include winter snowbirds, college students, workers temporarily assigned out of state and others that may have returned home or are headed here.
Gov. Scott emphasized he wants to take a cautious approach. Scott said he does not want Vermont to have to backtrack.
In Colchester last weekend the Vermont Health Department collected 138 samples from childcare providers, first responders – police, fire and rescue – and health care workers.
However, during the Governor’s news conference on Monday, a Franklin County newspaper owner, who also is a volunteer firefighter, reported his hometown information was never collected – only a post office box number.
Greg Lamoureux of the County Courier said some Vermont towns like Georgia have no zip codes so any positives tests are likely showing up in St. Albans or Milton, which would provide a false report to the county. He said some towns, including Enosburg serve multiple towns so the local numbers remain suspicious.
Scott also agreed to allow childcare centers to reopen Monday June 1. They also must follow safety guidelines from the state.
Education Secretary Dan French also reported that there are still no large end-of-the-year in-person gatherings. Virtual gatherings online would be permitted.
Those would include sports banquets, senior proms, baccalaureate services and graduations.