MONTPELIER — Officials say they are ready to ease some restrictions on travel and gatherings at long-term care facilities as more people in the state get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

At his Friday news conference, Gov. Phil Scott said the state has seen a significant decrease in deaths and hospitalizations since January. The state has prioritized older Vermonters for the vaccine and is currently vaccinating those aged 70 to 74 after those 75 years old and older have received their shots.

“Fortunately, we’re making great progress,” Scott said. “Since we opened registration to those 70 and older on Tuesday, over 21,000 in that age band have already signed up which means we’ll be able to begin the next phase very soon.”

The state has estimated there are around 33,000 Vermonters aged 70 to 74. The next group slated for vaccinations are those aged 65 to 69, with registrations scheduled for the first week of March, and then those with high-risk health conditions.

The two vaccines available from Pfizer and Moderna require two inoculations, weeks apart, for maximum efficacy. The governor said starting Tuesday, people who have been fully vaccinated, meaning two weeks after they’ve received their second dose, will not need to quarantine after traveling outside Vermont. Travelers had been asked to quarantine for two weeks upon returning to the state.

“This also means those who come to Vermont from other states will not need to quarantine if they can prove they have been fully vaccinated. Of course, they will still need to comply with all our other health guidance like masking and distancing,” he said.

Scott said this change was done after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a quarantine was not necessary for fully-vaccinated residents.

The governor said state officials are looking at how vaccinations will impact multi-household gatherings and a possible return of the trusted household policy where residents last year were allowed to gather with one other household. He said an announcement is expected next week.

“I hope you see this as I do. Because it’s incredibly encouraging news as it means the light at the end of the tunnel is getting bigger and brighter,” Scott said.

The first group to receive the vaccine in Vermont included older residents at long-term care facilities. Of the 193 deaths attributed to the virus in Vermont, 125 were residents of those facilities.

Now that most of those residents have been vaccinated and deaths have declined, Mike Smith, secretary of the state Agency of Human Services, said some restrictions at those facilities can be eased.

Smith said starting Feb. 26, residents living in a facility where there is no current outbreak and the county positivity rate is low, can congregate for activities and eat together.

He said contact between residents can be allowed on a case-by-case basis and the residents will need to be fully vaccinated.

Smith said visitors will again be allowed, but it will be up to the facility to allow those visitations. He said visitors may not need to be vaccinated themselves if the person they are visiting has been vaccinated.

eric.blaisdell

@timesargus.com

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