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Vermont Allows Some Businesses To Reopen While Social Distancing


Several states say they are ready to start reopening businesses and inviting residents to resume some regular aspects of daily life. Vermont is one of them. The governor there, Republican Phil Scott, says he is doing this carefully.


PHIL SCOTT: I want to be clear. We're not declaring victory because we're not out of the woods yet.

GREENE: We have Vermont's health commissioner, Dr. Mark Levine, on the line with us this morning. Dr. Levine, thanks for being here.

MARK LEVINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So the federal guidelines to take this step and start to reopen is a downward trajectory in overall COVID cases for 14 days. Have you seen that in Vermont?

LEVINE: We actually have. We're in that 14-day range, and we've seen our incidence of new cases go drastically down to just a few cases per day, actually, across the state. And we've seen our syndromic surveillance data, which is really measuring how often Vermonters are presenting to urgent care facilities or emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms - we've seen that dramatically decrease from about 6% of visits early in March to about 1 or 2% of visits now.

GREENE: What about testing? Are you confident you have enough testing in place to go forward with this?

LEVINE: We're confident we have enough testing in place right now. We're always concerned about testing and always want to make sure we have - Vermonters have access to sufficient testing. But we're - at this point in time, we are not in trouble with regard to testing like most states were early in the epidemic.

GREENE: So you're going to begin allowing low-contact businesses to reopen with limited staff. Can you talk about what exactly that means? What kind of businesses are we talking about, and what are the limitations that are going to be in place still?

LEVINE: Yeah. We're talking about I think what are termed microcrews - so crews of two people - working on outdoor work, working in low-intensity construction, some commercial retail operations, especially those in the outdoor setting, especially if they can do things like taking orders by phone, not having transactions in the store, doing curbside or other delivery, and then some low- or no-contact single-worker professional services, things like property managers, appraisers, realtors.

GREENE: It sounds like this is not going to be a dramatic change. I mean, some people have been doing takeout food for a while now. It sounds like this is a very gradual thing, and it's not like life is going to come back to normal immediately.

LEVINE: Absolutely not. We are very deliberately taking a very, very gradual and progressive course. Our governor likens it to opening a spigot a small turn by small turn as opposed to turning on the whole faucet. We're certainly not relaxing the stay-home, stay-safe policy that really contributed so substantially to getting us to where we are. So we're really following a very phased approach.

If you look at where we've come in the last six weeks, we've basically gone, in a very graduated fashion, through various degrees of prohibitions on mass gatherings and visitations to long-term care facilities, to school closures, to restaurant closures, to closures of gyms and salons, to telework, to the stay-home, stay-safe posture that we're in now. And it took us a while to get to all those places, although it seems like it's happened so rapidly, and we clearly don't want to just turn on - open the spigot completely at this point in time. We want to be very deliberate, and we want to monitor all of our data on an ongoing basis.

GREENE: As a physician who's the health commissioner, I mean, it's your job to obviously focus on health, as opposed to necessarily, you know, making sure that businesses aren't struggling and so forth. Health is your focus. Are you worried that this could be too soon, that you could be taking a step that'll put Vermonters at a health risk?

LEVINE: No. I think the timing is actually very good. I mean, I do worry for sure because, you know, we're dealing still with a virus that hasn't really been affecting mankind previously, and we need to be very careful and respect the virus. But at the same time, it's at a degree of suppression now in the population that makes this timing right, and we have a very strong team philosophy across state government and a governor who's very aligned with health and safety as his primary considerations. And so even if there were some pressure to go too fast, as you played in your little clip, the governor is very committed to this very gradual and progressive approach, this phased approach.

GREENE: We've been speaking with Dr. Mark Levine. He is a physician. He's the health commissioner for the state of Vermont, which is planning to begin easing its restrictions very soon. Dr. Levine, thank you so much.

LEVINE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.