After promoting a “Stay to Stay” program for the last two years and creating other incentives to get people to come to Vermont and relocate, this week Governor Phil Scott issued an executive order in response to the spread of coronavirus calling for visitors to, essentially, stay put.
“I want to be very clear about this: We need everyone to limit activities outside of the home and to practice social distancing at all times to slow the spread of this highly contagious and potentially deadly virus,” said Governor Scott. “We all must do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 to minimize infections – particularly for those who are elderly or have underlying chronic health conditions – and prevent it from overwhelming our healthcare facilities. The more Vermonters who take this seriously and stay home, the faster we can return to normal.”
While the original executive order loosely defined what businesses and operations are deemed “essential,” an FAQ and newsletter from the Department of Tourism underscored the fact that the only lodging rooms that should be rented out right now are those for people working on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 epidemic.
This directive includes private rentals as well as licensed lodging establishments. No new arrivals or reservations for immediate extension of stay are permitted after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25 through April 15. “
While the original FAQ stated that “Existing guests should be asked to depart unless they meet the criteria of being essential to support COVID-19 response, critical infrastructure and national security,” that clause was later amended. “We have since clarified that if visitors are already here, they should stay put for now but not extend their stays,” said Heather Pelham, the Commissioner of Tourism.
Many hotels and other lodging establishments had already shut down, preemptively. “We closed the Woodstock Inn in mid-March and are not planning on opening until May 1,” said Courtney Lowe, the marketing director for the tony inn that was once a Rockefeller property.
However, for many Airbnb hosts and smaller establishments, the order came as a surprise.
“I wasn’t really aware of this,” said one Stowe property owner who asked not to be identified. “We got an inquiry from a couple from New York wanting to rent for two months. It’s come at a time when we needed the money as our business is closed and the people who clean ours and other rental properties really need the income now too — this is their only way to make money.” The New York couple had booked, paid and had planned to spend the months of April and May in Stowe. “Once we heard about the executive order, we had to ask them to cancel and refund their money,” the homeowner said.
These restrictive measures are in place to minimize all unnecessary activities outside the home to slow the spread of this virus and protect the public. These actions were implemented in consultation with the Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health and his evaluation of the latest data.
The Governor’s order directs Vermonters to stay at home, leaving only for essential reasons, critical to health and safety. If leaving the home, Vermonters should adhere to social distancing policies, including remaining 6 feet from others (except for those with whom they share a home) and thoroughly and regularly washing hands.
Effective March 25, 2020 at 5 p.m., all businesses and not-for-profit entities not expressly exempted in the order must suspend all in-person business operations. Operations that can be conducted online or by phone, or sales that can be facilitated with curbside pickup or delivery only, can continue.
The Order provides exemptions for businesses and entities providing services or functions deemed critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security. This includes – but is not limited to – health care operations; retail serving essential human needs, like grocery stores, pharmacies and hardware stores; fuel products and supply; news media; maintenance of critical infrastructure; and transportation and critical manufacturing sectors. For a full list, please review the Executive Order and FAQs.
All exempt entities must still strictly adhere to CDC and Vermont Department of Health guidance to ensure social distancing and proper hygiene and disinfecting is occurring. All exempt entities conducting retail operations should also facilitate curbside pick-up or delivery to the extent possible.
Prior to the order, around the state a number of outdoor retailers were offering curbside pickup and taking online and phone orders. It wasn’t clear if they would still be able to operate as such.
“I fully recognize the emotional, financial and economic impact of these decisions, but based on the best science we have available, these measures are necessary,” said Governor Scott. “I need all Vermonters to understand that the more quickly and closely we follow these stay-at-home measures, the faster and safer we can get through this and get our daily lives, and our economy, moving again. I have tremendous faith in Vermonters and our ability to follow these guidelines, to save lives and support each other throughout – even as we are physical separated.”
At a press conference Wednesday, March 25, Scott said outdoor activities( like dog walking or cross-country skiing) are fine, but that it is critical people keep a social distancing of six-feet apart, minimum.
How will the order be enforced? Officials say that while they are stepping up visibility of law enforcement, the new order will operate primarily on a model of “encouragement and education.”