After Vermont saw its highest daily number of coronavirus cases to date this week, Gov. Phil Scott announced new restrictions on social gatherings Friday, closing bars and clubs to in-person service and banning multiple-household gatherings, both inside and out.
He also announced a pause of recreational sports leagues, outside of the Vermont Principal’s Association sanctioned sports.
“I want to be clear: We’re in a new phase of this pandemic. The days of very low risk are over,” the Republican governor said.
Many of the state’s clusters and outbreaks are traced to private gatherings such as baby showers, tailgate parties, deer camps and barbecues “where multiple households are getting together and not wearing masks or staying physically separated for long periods of time,” he said.
The recent surge in cases has come 12 days after Halloween, when people gathered for parties. Such activities are still happening even though the state had been warning against them for weeks, Scott said.
“Since Oct. 1, 71% of the cases that are associated with an outbreak are associated with an outbreak from a private party or social gathering,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said.
The state now has a total of 19 outbreaks and over 80 situations, which he said usually affect a facility such as a school or long-term care setting, he said. An October outbreak stemming from sports teams at an ice rink in Montpelier has grown to 122 cases but is slowing down, Levine said.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 22 on Oct. 29 to 49.71 new cases per day on Thursday.
On Friday, 21 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, with three in intensive care, according to the Health Department.
Getting the virus under control is about making sure hospitals aren’t overwhelmed, saving lives, and keeping kids in school and workers working, Scott said.
Under the new restrictions effective at 10 p.m. Saturday, bars and social clubs will be closed to in-person service but may offer takeout. Restaurants may stay open but must close to in-person service by 10 p.m. each night.
The state is also requiring restaurants, gyms, museums and other establishments to keep a daily log of visitors and will direct Vermonters to comply with requests from the state’s contract tracing team.
Also to keep the virus at bay, returning college students are required to quarantine for 14 days or for seven days if they then get a negative test, and the state is encouraging those students to get tested, he said. The state is also requiring people who can work remotely to do so and is discouraging in-person meetings, he said.
The good news is, the state has proved that following the health guidance is effective, Scott said.
“I want to thank those Vermonters who’ve done their part, who wear their masks, who skipped the Halloween party, canceled travel and kept their social circle small. It’s this type of commitment that will get us through this sooner.”
Scott said he hopes youth sports will be one of the first things to reopen “because our kids are trying so hard,” Scott said.
“And I hope these adults out there who haven’t followed our guidance recognize the responsibility they have,” he said.
Associated Press writer Wilson Ring contributed to this report.