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Indoor dining & lodging are opening up, Gov. Scott says

Gov. Phil Scott answers questions on the state’s COVID-19 response at a press briefing on May 29, 2020. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Despite an outbreak of COVID-19 in Winooski that now numbers 34 cases, Gov. Phil Scott and other state officials outlined a series of orders on Friday that open the door to indoor restaurant dining, increased travel and more lodging opportunities including short-term rentals.
The Winooski outbreak has been identified and “boxed in,” Scott said at his regular COVID-19 press conference, and won’t affect plans announced earlier this week to increase business activity.
Effective June 8, inns, hotels and other lodging can book 50% of their rooms for guests or have 25 guests and staff on the property, whichever is larger, according to the new guidance from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. Long-term guests, such as essential workers, may exceed that occupancy threshold, the ACCD said, and the limits don’t apply to stand-alone cabins, cottages and short-term rentals.
Among many other restrictions, guests who appear to have symptoms of COVID-19 are not allowed to check in.
For restaurants, indoor dining will be allowed but limited to 25% of regular fire safety occupancy limits, or 10 customers and staff, whichever is greater, the ACCD said. The rules do not apply to bars, which cannot offer indoor drinking or dining.
Restaurant seating must allow 6 feet distance between parties. But outdoor dining will be allowed at maximum licensed seating capacity, up to 50 people. Only disposable or online menus are allowed.
The state also lifted its 14-day quarantine limit for out-of-staters who travel to Vermont, saying those who are coming from a county in the Northeast with less than 400 cases per million population do not have to quarantine. People from high-risk areas still must complete the 14-day quarantine when traveling to Vermont, but effective June 15, travelers can do a 7-day quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19, the guidance says.
All gatherings, indoor and outdoor, continue to be limited to 25 people.
Scott said he felt confident that expanding the use of restaurants and lodging and allowing more travel wouldn’t push Vermont’s infection rate above the levels set as acceptable.
“This is exactly what we have been preparing for over the last several weeks,” he said of the outbreak. “This has allowed us to build up our testing and tracing capacity so if we have new and better tools to deal with this virus we can use them. Having them means we don’t have to take the same extreme measures we did in March and April.”
Scott closed bars and restaurants March 17 as the COVID-19 infection rate rose around the country, including in Vermont. Although he opened restaurants to outdoor dining on May 22, many have remained closed or open only for takeout, saying that they can’t cover their costs if they can only serve customers at tables outdoors.
Scott said communities are allowed to take more restrictive steps on dining if they don’t feel it is safe.
“It should be determined by the communities themselves, as we did with masks,” he said.
The Agency of Commerce and Community Development’s new guidelines released Friday also loosen some restrictions on Outdoor Recreation Businesses, Facilities and Organizations; flea markets and pick-your-own agricultural producers, including berry farms and orchards, among other businesses.
As of Friday, 34 Winooski residents have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Health Commissioner Mark Levine. The outbreak marks the highest single-day increase in Vermont since April 9. The state has launched a pop-up testing site in the parking lot of O’Brien Community Center; thus far, Vermont has tested 436 people in the area and testing will continue through next week, Levine said.
Levine said the reopening measures could continue as planned, as long as people continue to wear masks and social distance.
“Each person is needed to keep this disease from spreading,” he said.

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