MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has expanded the list of states for those looking to come to Vermont without having to quarantine to a sizable chunk of the eastern part of the country.
The change goes into effect July 1, and those coming to the state would need to come from a county in their home state that meets a specific threshold.
At his Friday news conference, the governor said he was ready to ease another restriction in response to the state’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the state Department of Health, there were seven new cases of COVID-19 to report Friday, bringing the total confirmed cases to 1,198. The death toll remains 56.
After shutting down nonessential businesses in mid-March, Scott said he’s allowed hospitality and lodging businesses to open back up at 50% capacity.
He has also allowed some people from out-of-state to come to Vermont without having to quarantine themselves for 14 days. Those people have been from counties in all of the New England states and New York. But the counties they came from had to have fewer than 400 cases per million people. That’s the threshold the state has picked for allowing people to come into Vermont without quarantining.
But the governor said hospitality and lodging businesses aren’t bringing in enough customers to make ends meet. He said the issue isn’t just about struggling businesses and the tax revenue they generate, but it’s also about the employees that work for them. Scott said state data shows at least 10,000 hospitality workers remain out of work, which is about a quarter of those in the state receiving unemployment as result of the pandemic.
In an effort to bring more people to Vermont to help fill those businesses to the currently allowed capacity, the governor said he was ready to expand the map of approved states where visitors don’t have to quarantine. They would still need to live in a county with fewer than 400 cases per million people.
The map can be found at accd.vermont.gov/
It now goes as far west as Ohio and as far south as Virginia and covers every state in between. Scott said this map covers about a day’s worth of driving for those looking to come to Vermont, and it’s not likely to get expanded farther. He said in the future he may allow some from farther states to come to Vermont without quarantining, but they would need to take special precautions like driving a recreational vehicle and only stopping somewhere in between to sleep before heading straight to Vermont. He said those flying into the state or who take a bus will still need to quarantine.
“By welcoming people from low-risk counties, we can help support our hospitality sector and the thousands of jobs it provides Vermonters. This is an important step to make, as our data shows our low community spread and, most importantly, very few and often zero hospitalizations or deaths,” the governor said.
Michael S. Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, has been analyzing data that informed the governor’s decision to ease restrictions. Pieciak said the regional data shows the Northeast continues to see improvement in combating the virus. He said over the past week the region has seen an 18% reduction in cases. There was also a 13% decrease in active cases within a five-hour driving radius of the state.
As for expanding capacity at restaurants and other similar businesses, the governor said he’d like to be able to expand to 75% by July 1, but he will continue to watch the data.
Although Vermont has slowed the spread of COVID-19, and hot weather has made wearing a mask a sweaty, uncomfortable experience, now is not the time for Vermonters to be lax in wearing a mask for community safety, said Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health.
Levine, who pointed out that health officials are encouraging the use of masks or facial coverings, when using the term “masks,” said one reason people should persist is self-interest.
Levine said he expects new guidance in the near future from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that will further support the importance of wearing a mask while slowing a disease that’s transmitted by the respiratory root for the most part.
“Some of the things that are coming out now are indicating that indeed the masks are, as we have thought, effective at preventing respiratory droplets, those larger droplets that have virus in them, from infecting other people,” he said. “So it is an altruistic thing to do, to wear a mask, because you are potentially not going to spread your own respiratory droplets to other people.”
Levine said he couldn’t declare that CDC guidance official yet but said he believed the direction would be announced soon.
The risk from aerosol is different because they are smaller and lighter particles that can be suspended in the air longer than droplets.
“The theory there is maybe you’re also protecting yourself by wearing the mask because someone else’s aerosol won’t get to you because you won’t breathe it in because the mask will stop it,” Levine said.
Levine called the long-term challenges of complying with COVID-related recommendations “virus fatigue.”
“It’s only natural when you’ve been through a winter in Vermont or anywhere in this country and you’ve been through a long period of ‘stay-at-home’ where you weren’t even supposed to get out of the house,” Levine said. “Now, in most states, you can get out of the house, and in some states, you can even start doing a lot of the things you want to do that might have formerly been prohibited because other people are in your vicinity.”
Levine noted that many Vermonters are going back to some of their old habits, but that familiarity may be complicated because those people are also being asked to continue to wear a mask in public spaces.
“So I think people have sort of just gotten fed up with the virus and because, at least up here (in Vermont, the incidence of COVID) is at a lower rate than much of the South and West part of the country, there may be some more tendency to be lax with, not just masks, but let’s say anything,” he said. “So whether it’s not (avoiding) a mass gathering, not being six feet apart, washing your hands less often or putting a facial covering on, there’s probably a little more fatigue about all those things with the perception being, ‘Well, we’re allowed to do more so maybe I don’t need to worry so much,’”
A little less observance of safety guidelines is something Levine called “human nature” and “understandable” because restrictive behavior change is challenging.
Levine said he understood some compliance was “erratic,” but urged Vermonters not to forget the efficacy of masks in slowing the spread of COVID.
However, with several hot and muggy days recently, he believes “heat is a special circumstance especially if you’re outdoors in the heat.” The problem could be greater if someone is participating in sports in the heat, he added.
If someone is outside doing an activity that still allows for social distancing, like running, Levine said “most (public health officials) would consider that acceptable that you would take the mask off.”
“What’s really not acceptable is that you would go out without it in the first place so that if the need to put it on presented itself, you wouldn’t even be able to do it because you don’t have it with you,” he said.
Levine said he knows what it’s like to go for a run while wearing a mask.
“If I want to get anything out of that run, it’s challenging, and if it’s hot, forget it,” he said. “I wouldn’t choose to run in a location or at a time when I would be conflicted about it because I should have the mask on. But I know that I’m going to be OK at the times I’m (running) and wouldn’t want to not have that option to take it off.”
Levine said he wants Vermonters to have their masks available in hot weather but said he wouldn’t object to taking the mask off because of the weather if someone is in a situation where he or she can avoid close contact with others.
“I think we can all be reasonable human beings and still arrive at a mutual understanding of how we can protect one another,” Levine said.
The Community College of Vermont will be open for the fall semester, but many classes will be online or have a “strong online component,” according to Tapp Barnhill, dean of academic center administration
Barnhill said administration for the Community College of Vermont (CCV) met last week to develop plans for September.
“Basically, in the interest of insuring the well-being and safety of all of our learning communities throughout the state, but also, I think this is important, to bring clarity and certainty to our students, and to our faculty, we really have chosen to expand our virtual presence,” she said.
Barnhill broke down the classes into three types.
In hybrid classes, students will have online instruction but may come to the campus to do a science lab project or a studio art piece as part of a blended model of learning.
In synchronous and asynchronous classes, there will be online-only classes. A student can participate at any time if enrolled in asynchronous classes. Synchronous class take place during specific days and specific times.
The instructor and students take part in the class live, so they can interact with the instructor and each other, but they do so using a computer and a program like Zoom to get a live experience but from a remote site.
For the flex classes, students are working with the faculty independently.
“These are all classes that have a really big digital footprint,” Barnhill added.
Barnhill said one of CCV’s special strengths is offering online education, which the college has been doing for more than 20 years.
“As our students return, they’re going to be working at mostly remote-type of learning modality that’s going to provide some flexibility, some certainty, some value,” she said. “Most importantly, still we’ll be able to incorporate that small interactive experience that is expected in a CCV classroom.”
Barnhill said she was part of a Return to Campus committee, with more than 15 colleges and universities represented. The committee discussed the best way to resume classes and bring students back to campus.
The conversations and ideas shared allowed the committee to make recommendations to Gov. Phil Scott.
Barnhill said the committee started by acknowledging the uncertainties and disruptions around higher education at a time when Vermont is still in a state of emergency in order to flatten the curve COVID-19.
Planning for CCV’s fall semester, Barnhill said staff expected changes, would be needed for students, faculty and staff to return to campus.
The various schools would need to implement policies for recently-needed steps such as social distancing, wearing masks, checking on-campus wellness and increasing sanitation because “profound” behavioral changes would be needed to keep everyone as safe as possible, she added.
“What we had to do was balance the perceived risk of the situation, and not just our perceived risk but that of what our faculty’s opinions might be — and that of our students as well — and we had to balance that against our ability to return to normal,” Barnhill said.
“When I say, ‘return to normal,’ that’s in one of those little air quotes up there, because we know that on-ground classes will be far from normal. We’re just not in a normal time.”
An advantage for CCV is generally smaller class sized than in some other Vermont colleges. Most of the classes have 16 or fewer students and the duration of a class is usually about 2 hours and 45 minutes.
But Barnhill said having class sizes wouldn’t make CCV immune from changes.
“One of the important components of CCV is really that interactive experience that people have in a classroom,” she said. “But when you’re talking about a face-to-face classroom, even things like breaks during that time, small groups, hands-on activities, other core teaching methods that people rely on and are important will have to change. They’re going to have to evolve in a different way.”
Barnhill said she “would be surprised” if the CCV buildings, like those in downtown Rutland, were open to the general public. She said there was an expectation that faculty and staff would work on-campus and said plans were being made that would allow students who needed to use something like an art studio or computer lab to enter for those reasons and not just for the purposes of attending a class.
The Community College of Vermont did not have a commencement at the end of the 2019-20 academic year. Barnhill said college officials has instead invited graduates to the 2021 commencement.
The fall semester will start on Sept. 8.
KILLINGTON — The head of the Killington Pico Area Association will be leaving in the middle of July.
KPAA Executive Director Mike Coppinger said Friday that his last day at the organization will be July 17.
“I was approached by a business owner to be the general manager of his company up here,” said Coppinger, who has been with the KPAA as its executive director for three years. “It was a difficult decision, but one that I made thinking of my family. It’s an opportunity for me to grow professionally but still work in the community of Killington. I’m still working with a lot of the same people I’ve worked with here.”
Previously, Coppinger was executive director of the Downtown Rutland Partnership, a job he held for 10 years.
“It’s bittersweet, because in the three years’ time I really feel like we’ve done some awesome things here, and I would love to continue to do that and see things through, but I could do that in a different capacity moving forward,” he said.
Coppinger said he can’t yet reveal his new job.
A Rutland native, Coppinger graduated from Rutland High School, attended Castleton University, and finished his higher education at College of St. Joseph. His first gig out of school was recreation director for Pittsford. He was then the director of parks and recreation for Killington. He then went to work for a mortgage company before joining the Downtown Rutland Partnership.
He said he went to the KPAA because at the time Killington was becoming a more active and dynamic place with Killington Ski Resort working on becoming a year-round attraction.
“It was an organization that was going through some changes, I was their first full-time director they had ever hired, it had been part-time people up until then,” Coppinger said. “It was an opportunity for me to start with a blank canvas and really create something that hadn’t been there before; that was exciting for me, and a passion of mine is to do something like that.”
During his time at the KPAA, he said he’s most proud of the work done to purchase the Welcome Center building.
“That had been a plan that was put together by the board of directors over 7 years ago and it was something the organization was never in a position to be able to pull the trigger for a number of different reasons,” he said. As a full-time executive director, Coppinger said he had time to better organize the KPAA and get it in a position to purchase the building.
“The challenge of this community is there isn’t any real sense of arrival, because you have the main thoroughfare of Route 4 and you have the resort way at the top and then you have the town offices down in the valley, this was a real opportunity for Killington and the business community to have a sense of arrival with this building right here,” he said.
He said he’s pleased with improvements made to the organization’s two signature fundraising events, the Killington Wine Festival and the Vermont Holiday Festival.
“I was able to grow our membership by about 25% from the time I started here as well as a pretty extensive sponsorship package which hadn’t been in existence before, so those two things really put us on a good financial course,” he said.
The KPAA board of directors would like to have a new executive director before Coppinger leaves, but it isn’t going to rush things, said KPAA President Hannah Abrams.
“We would love to have somebody in place before he goes, but I don’t know how likely that is,” she said. “Our motto is ‘to select, not settle,’ so it may take us a little time. We don’t want to just stuff somebody into the position, we want somebody who is going to be a great fit and can continue on with the great work he’s done and put their own touch on the organization.”
Since the position was advertised last week, the KPAA has had many applicants, she said. The board plans to call some of them and start arranging interviews. It’s still taking applications at firstname.lastname@example.org
She said the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t appear to have affected people’s interest in the job.
She praised Coppinger for his work in securing the Welcome Center and increasing KPAA membership.
“He’s professionalized the organization,” she said. “He’s increased membership over his time here and he’s grown what was a small sponsorship program into something far more significant.”
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