County takes stock of return to ‘normal’

ADDISON COUNTY — People who live and run businesses in Addison County are thrilled about the end of COVID-19 restrictions, which Gov. Phil Scott rescinded this week as the 15-month pandemic winds down.

“(I’m) really just happy,” said Ian Huizenga, co-owner of Hired Hand Brewing and Bar Antidote in Vergennes. “It’s like a breath of fresh air.”

Restaurants and bars were hit particularly hard by the social-distancing rules imposed by the state’s emergency health orders, because they either couldn’t serve customers inside or faced limits on occupancy and hours of operation.

Huizenga said he missed his customers during the year and a half of COVID restrictions. Now that patrons are returning to Hired Hand and Bar Antidote, Huizenga sees opportunities for his businesses to return to the convivial spots they once were before the pandemic hit in March 2020. Spacing restrictions at his restaurants during the pandemic seemed like a “nonviable option” for Huizenga.

“It wasn’t economically feasible to run our business (during the pandemic),” he said.

Huizenga looks forward to serving pints to Bar Antidote’s loyal customers, many of whom are just now returning to the restaurant and bar.

“There’s certain people who have been regulars in our restaurant for 12 years,” he said.

The brewer says that he has already been greeting these customers with relief, often saying: “Hey, how you doing? It’s been a long time.”

Helena Van Voorst, executive director of United Way of Addison County, said she was relieved about the relaxing of regulations. But she regrets that now the pandemic is coming to a close in Vermont, many of the people the Middlebury-based organization assists with housing will probably be left homeless.

“I think right now the biggest challenge is the housing challenge,” she said. “The fact (is) that we have many people who will be exiting the hotels and motels because the state of emergency is ending, so these folks won’t have a shelter to go to.”

Van Voorst also wants to ensure coworkers who still choose to wear a mask at the office feel that they are welcome to do so.

“We have been following state guidelines all the way along,” she said. “We joke, ‘Even if it’s a bad day, you can wear a mask!’”

Just south of Addison County in Pittsford, Town Manager John Haverstock’s office has already changed significantly because of the lifting of restrictions. Signs requiring masks and social distancing were replaced with notices encouraging social distancing protocols for non-vaccinated people.

As the Vermont population edged closer to the 80% vaccination rate, Haverstock expected the governor would eventually lift COVID restrictions. But he still was overjoyed with the news.

“It was definitely an excitement and relief to know the state did such a wonderful job to get vaccines to people,” he said.

Bristol Town Administrator Valerie Capels is eager to return to working at a fully staffed, in-person office. She described the challenges she experienced at her job during the pandemic’s beginning.

“The governor’s ‘Stay Home Stay Safe’ order was awkward and I needed to get some kinks worked out at first,” she said. “My personal computer wasn’t up to the task so I needed a new one. Also, the workload did not decrease but was compounded.”

It felt like she couldn’t leave work, in some ways.

“My husband often said that I was not working from home but living in my office,” Capels said.

But there were some silver linings to working remotely for Capels.

“I still work remotely one day a week because I now have a very good setup for it,” she said. “Many of the adaptations from these past many months are still in place, so it does not feel that much different.”

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