MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said the state’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic is the “envy of the nation.”
Also, the governor announced details would be coming Wednesday about an economic package to help those businesses shut down by the virus that causes COVID-19 and the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources laid out how state parks would function over the summer.
At his regular news conference Monday, the governor said the state continues to move in the right direction and the data shows he can continue to slowly reopen the state and the economy. Scott cautioning the state still has a long way to go and state officials will be on the lookout for outbreaks in the months ahead.
According to the Department of Health, there were no new cases of the virus to report Monday even though the state conducted around 700 tests Sunday. The number of confirmed cases in the state remains 940 and the death toll also has not changed with that number staying 54. For days in a row, the reported deaths stayed at 53.
The governor said the state only had 15 new cases to report last week. But neighboring states aren’t in as good shape. Scott said New Hampshire saw 400 new cases over that same time, Massachusetts had 6,678 new cases and New York had about 14,500.
“So we know we can’t only look at Vermont numbers. Which is why I feel it is necessary to move a little more cautiously than just our numbers would suggest,” he said.
Scott said state officials will be providing regional data and modeling at Friday’s news conference.
The governor said he will be presenting at Wednesday’s news conference details for a “major economic package” for businesses impacted by his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order put in place to help stop the spread of the virus. Scott didn’t give any details Monday, but he said it would provide “relief, hope and initiatives to get us moving toward recovery.”
He said if the data continues to show good results, he will likely take another “turn of the spigot” and relax restrictions further.
Speaking to the lack of new cases in the state from Sunday’s tests, the governor said, “I’m not sure how much lower we can go than zero. So we’ll continue to monitor the data. And I’m not arrogant about this. If we see that the data isn’t supporting what we’re doing, we’ll take action. We’ll drop the ego, drop the politics and do what’s best for Vermonters. … But the numbers are showing that we’re moving in the right direction. Again, when you look at last week, we’re the envy of the nation, in some respects. I’ve had governors texting me and saying, ‘You give us hope.’ So what we’re doing is working,” he said.
Scott said this latest round of relaxing restrictions would be focused on close-contact businesses, such as hair salons, barber shops and limited outdoor seating at restaurants.
“I know this has been incredibly difficult for everyone. And in some ways, the restart process is even more challenging than the closings were. But your sacrifices and cooperation have made a huge difference and my team is committed to helping our businesses and families recover from this once-in-century crisis,” he said.
Julie Moore, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, said residents are using state parks, town forests, trail heads, fishing access areas and bike paths to get out and enjoy the warmer weather the state is now seeing. Moore said people are using these outdoor areas to help cope with the pandemic.
Memorial Day is May 25, and she said the weather is looking good this weekend so people getting outside “is sure to help things feel a little more normal, maybe even be a little more normal.”
But she said there will be some restrictions at state parks, some for a few weeks, others for the whole summer. Over the spring the parks have remained open, but not staffed.
Moore said agency staff are getting parks ready for the summer, including making necessary health and hygiene improvements to limit the spread of the virus.
“We are working hard to have as many of our parks fully operational as possible as soon as possible,” she said.
Moore said visitors will be asked to physically distance themselves from those they didn’t travel with, to wear a mask when encountering other visitors or staff and bringing hand sanitizer to use during the visit. She said visitors will also have to bring their own equipment because the loaning of play equipment, fishing and camping gear, boat and bicycle rentals and sales of merchandise and concessions aren’t likely to take place this summer.
The secretary said capacity will be monitored on a park-by-park basis to make sure there is enough room for visitors to physically distance themselves. She asked visitors to bring a blanket or folding chair with them because the majority of picnic tables, movable benches and chairs have been removed from “day use” areas.
She said gatherings of groups and use of picnic shelters will only be allowed under the current restrictions at that time. People are currently only allowed to gather in groups of 10 or fewer.
Moore said the swimming pool at Button Bay State Park in Vergennes will not open this summer. She said camping facilities at state parks should be ready for use by June 26 if not sooner. But she said cabin and cottage rentals will not be available.