Vermont will relax its guidance on mask-wearing outside on Saturday while also moving to the second phase of reopening that will allow larger gatherings, lift industry-specific guidance for most businesses and require them to all follow the same rules about wearing masks, distancing and staying home when sick, Gov. Phil Scott said Friday.
Starting Saturday, vaccinated and unvaccinated Vermonters will no longer be required to wear masks outdoors if they are able to physically distance themselves. The new rules follow updated guidance this week from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Scott said during his twice-weekly virus briefing.
Masks will only be required in crowds or with multiple households when distancing isn’t possible, said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.
“The science and data show that outdoor transmission is rare, it poses little risk if you follow our guidance,” the Republican governor said. Municipalities and businesses can have stricter policies if they want, Scott said.
Over 60 percent of Vermont adults are vaccinated, meeting the state’s goal to move to the second phase of reopening, Scott said. If the state reaches 70 percent of adults vaccinated by June 1, the state will be able to take its final step to turn mandates into recommendations in July, he said.
“We’re getting closer and closer to getting back to normal again. Why? Because vaccines work,” he said. “If you need proof, just look at our declining hospitalizations, our death rate and our seven-day case count average, which is the lowest its been since November.”
Over 90 percent of Vermonters 65 and older are now vaccinated. But officials are concerned about the lag in people aged 18 to 29 getting shots.
Scott urged Vermonters to step up and do the right thing as a public service, especially younger people.
The only thing “we’re asking of this group, this 18- to 29-year-old grouping, is to have one shot. Do one thing. Step up to help everyone else. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask,” Scott said.
There are plenty of opportunities to get vaccinated in the upcoming weeks, said Human Services Secretary Mike Smith.
The next phase of reopening starting Saturday moves universal guidance to wear masks, distance and stay home when sick to the following businesses: manufacturing, construction and distribution operations; restaurants, catering food service and bars; religious facilities and places of worship; close-contact businesses including gyms and fitness centers; organized sports including youth and adult leagues; hair salons and barber shops; indoors arts culture and entertainment; and meetings of public bodies, said Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling.
He stressed that the distancing requirement under universal guidance, as opposed to specific guidance by industry, still remains, meaning that “safe distancing and crowd limitations are still important mitigation measures in most setting.”
Health care, education, child care and summer camps continue to have specialized guidance, Schirling said.
Also on Saturday, indoor gatherings and events may include one unvaccinated person per 100 square feet for up to 150 unvaccinated people, in addition to any number of vaccinated individuals. Outdoor gatherings may include up to 300 unvaccinated people and any number of vaccinated people, he said.
“Again, physical distancing and masking remain important safety measures for gathering both indoors and outside,” Schirling said.
Lisa Rathke, The Associated Press