Coronavirus: Gov. Scott allows indoor restaurant dining, lifts some travel restrictions

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Travel and dining in Vermont will look noticeably different next week.

Beginning June 8, restaurants can open for limited indoor dining and restrictions on travel to and from low-risk areas of the Northeast will be lifted, Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday morning.

In addition, Scott’s administration will allow lodging operations and campgrounds to book up to 50% capacity with certain precautions.

“Each of these steps is done with the guidance of health experts,” Scott said. “We can restart our economy while also keeping people safe.”  

Scott’s announcement comes on the heels of an increase in coronavirus infections this week — Wednesday’s jump in cases, centered on an outbreak among several families in Winooski, was the largest daily increase since April 9.

“We can and are boxing in this outbreak,” Scott said.

By Thursday, the state recorded only one new case, reported in Franklin County.

Spikes like this week’s in Winooski can be expected as the state works to manage the disease, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Thursday. Increased testing and contact tracing are in place in Winooski to prevent a wider outbreak, he added.

EARLIER: Vermont’s coronavirus cases pass the 1,000 mark

When can restaurants re-open?

As of June 8, Vermont restaurants will be restricted to 25% capacity or 10 total customers, whichever is greater, with several other safety measures in place. Reservations or call-ahead seating is required — reservations should be staggered to avoid congested waiting areas.

“It won’t be dining as usual with this first step,” Scott said.

Traditional bar seating and standing will not be allowed. Seating must be available for all patrons and allow at least 6 feet between tables. Customers are encouraged to wear face coverings when not eating. Buffet-style service, self-serve beverage stations and self-serve utensils are prohibited.

More: Vermont restaurants can offer outdoor dining starting May 22

Reservations and customer logs are not required for takeout or fast-food service. Without logs, however, a public announcement of possible exposure may be required if a case is identified, according to the guidelines.

The new restrictions also apply to licensed caterers, who must adhere to the customer restrictions for indoor operations or the maximum social gathering size (currently 25 people or fewer), whichever is greater.

More: Coronavirus hit Vermont restaurants. Could to-go alcohol law help stabilize the industry?

Scott also noted that municipalities can keep restaurants closed or adhere to tighter restrictions “if there is a local health reason to do so.”

When can I travel in and out of Vermont without having to quarantine?

The updated regulations allow travel to and from 55 low-risk counties across New York and New England without a quarantine period. This applies to both Vermonters and visitors.

These “trusted travel areas” that meet the criteria are counties reporting fewer than 400 active cases of COVID-19 per 1 million residents. The Agency of Commerce and Community Development will publish an updated map and list each Monday by 5 p.m. “identifying quarantine and non-quarantine counties throughout New England and New York,” the agency’s website states.

“We can see that there are many places across the Northeast with a low active case count and which travel to and from would pose a low risk of infections,” said Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation.

The 55 counties included in the initial phase of loosened travel restrictions are home to about 3.6 million people, or roughly 11% of the regional population. Non-quarantine travel to and from these areas must be completed in a personal vehicle and cannot include non-essential stops en route.

More: Traveling to Vermont? Here’s what you should know during the coronavirus pandemic

Individuals traveling by air must continue to quarantine upon arrival. All travelers are required to register with Sara Alert upon arriving in Vermont, and will receive two weeks of daily reminders to check for common symptoms of COVID-19. 

Under previous rules, visitors to Vermont or state residents who spent more than one day traveling outside its borders had to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Those quarantines prohibited outside walks, hikes and bike rides, as well as shopping for groceries or other essential items.

People who have been in quarantine for at least seven days and have not experienced any symptoms can end quarantine early with a negative result from a COVID-19 test.

More: Neighboring state’s guidelines curtail Vermont road trip plans

Visitors seeking lodging in Vermont still must be prepared to show a local driver’s license — or a signed document attesting that they have met the quarantine requirement.

Lodging operators are required to maintain a log of customers and their contact information for 30 days in case the Health Department needs to contact the guests for contact tracing.

Non-essential (i.e. tourist) travel in and out of Quebec will have to wait until at least June 22, the Department of Homeland Security announced May 19.

More booking capacity for lodging, campgrounds

Changes to guidelines for lodging operations and campgrounds allow for booking 50% of rooms for non-residential purposes — double the current limit — or have a total of 25 guests and staff on the property, whichever is greater.  

These business must alter normal operations to maximize social distancing of guests, according to the state. Standalone cabins, cottages and short-term rentals are exempted from occupancy limits.

With the easing of travel restrictions, this means lodging and short-term rental operations, campgrounds and marinas may accept overnight reservations from Vermont residents, individuals from the low-risk “trusted travel areas” and individuals from high-risk regions who have completed quarantine before arriving at a lodging property.

Beginning June 15, travelers from high-risk areas can enter Vermont if they drive directly via their personal vehicle.and have completed a 14-day quarantine or a 7-day quarantine followed by a negative test in their home state.

They may also fulfill those quarantine restrictions in a Vermont lodging establishment — regardless the manner of travel — as long as they stay in their quarantine location for the duration other than to travel to and from a test site.

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 802-660-1843 or joelbaird@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @VTgoingUp.

Contact Austin Danforth at 651-4851 or edanforth@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @eadanforth.

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