Gov. Phil Scott on Monday lifted all COVID-19 restrictions in Vermont, as the state became the first in the nation to vaccinate 80 percent of its eligible citizens against the novel coronavirus with at least a first dose.
Scott made the announcement in a Monday morning press conference, called on short notice Sunday night when it became clear the state had passed the 80 percent threshold. He had earlier pledged that as soon as the state passed the 80 percent mark, he would end the restrictions the very same day.
The governor thanked Vermonters for their leadership in fighting the pandemic, and asked that they remain tolerant of those who are not yet comfortable with ending the mask mandate, including businesses that still have unvaccinated employees.
“I hope all Vermonters show compassion and respect for each other,” he said of those who are not yet comfortable being unmasked in public.
Scott also said his executive order declaring a state of emergency, which he declared on March 13, 2020, will formally expire at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
“Here’s why: Because it’s safe to do so,” Scott said of the emergency order expiring. “Because Vermonters did their part. No state in the nation is in better position to do this than we are.”
Scott’s action applies statewide with the exception of cases governed by federal guidelines, such as public transportation and long-term care facilities.
Asked about the potential impact on Vermonters receiving emergency assistance such as food assistance or housing as a result of the order, Scott said the state is working to prevent a “benefits cliff” for those persons. He said more details would be provided Tuesday.
Scott thanked front-line and state health workers, the Vermont National Guard, state employees and everyday residents for their service and commitment.
“The ingenuity, creativity and dedication of all Vermonters to their friends and families, to their neighbors and to their communities, has been incredible and we should all be very proud. Through it all, we’ve shown the nation and much of the world how to respond when there is no playbook, and how to do it with civility and respect,” Scott said.
“When America needs to find its path forward to solve problems and help people; when, in dark times, our country needs a state to light the way, Vermonters will always step up and lead the charge,” he added.
The state had already been loosening many of its restrictions, allowing vaccinated persons to shop unmasked and dropping mask restrictions for all persons outdoors.
Other states in the region loosened restrictions at a lower rate of vaccination. New Hampshire (May 7), Connecticut (May 19) and Rhode Island (May 21) all had first-dose vaccination percentages below 60 percent when they lifted restrictions.
But Scott insisted on the 80 percent mark in the interest of maximizing protection for as many people for as long as possible, especially if there is another surge of infections this fall and winter.
While Scott and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine both thanked and congratulated Vermonters for their efforts, they stressed that the state’s work isn’t done. To that end, testing and vaccination efforts will continue, they said.
“This [vaccine] protection is what is allowing us to lift restrictions today – that is public health at work – but that work is far from over,” Levine said. “We will continue getting as many Vermonters vaccinated as possible to keep this protection as strong as we can.”
In opening remarks, Scott recounted how he learned about the state’s first case of COVID-19 while attending a Norwich University hockey game, which he then left.
“Never did I think I’d be the governor ordering businesses to close, sending kids home from school or telling people to stay home to stay safe,” Scott said. He recalled calls he made to then-Vice President Mike Pence because the state didn’t have enough test kits to get through a week, and to a personal protective equipment supplier he didn’t know at 10 p.m. on a Friday night.
And he remembered wondering if the state was going to need refrigerated trailers, “because hospital morgues might not be able to handle what was coming.”
Vermont made it through the pandemic with the lowest loss of life in the continental United States “because of the unity of Vermonters whose commitment to their neighbors and community never wavered,” Scott said. “I told you we would face, find and fight this virus together. That’s exactly what Vermonters have done and continue to do. And you’ve done it better than any other place in the country.”
Scott said he didn’t celebrate when he heard the news. “I didn’t even crack open a beer,” he said.
“We’ll have plenty of time for that. We still have plenty of work to do,” he added. “Our world is still under siege and we still have to pay attention and advocate and inspire others to do what we’ve done.”
In a prepared statement, Lieutenant Gov. Molly Gray cited President Calvin Coolidge’s ”brave little state” speech, in which he hailed his home state’s indomitable spirit for the way it had recovered from disastrous flooding. “Never have I felt these words to be more true,” she said of Coolidge’s tribute.
“It is the hard work of Vermonters, our essential frontline workers, steadfast state leadership, family, neighbors, and loved ones that have brought us to this moment,” Gray said. “Today, we celebrate the work accomplished. Tomorrow, there is more work to be done to ensure that Vermont not only recovers from this pandemic, but recovers stronger.”
House Speaker Jill Krowinski said Vermonters have “been truly exceptional” in addressing the challenge, and thanked front-line workers, non-profit organizations and state employees for their efforts . But she added that the battle isn’t over, especially for those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons.,
“It is important that we do not slip up and we keep up our guard up during this transition back to the Vermont way of life we know and love,” she said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on all of us, and we must ensure sure that Vermonters have access to mental health services, new educational and workforce opportunities, and resources to build our communities back stronger than ever such as expanding access to broadband internet.”
“It has been awe-inspiring to watch Vermonters come together to get us to where we are today,” she added
Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint commended Scott and the administration “for listening to science from day one and giving Vermonters the tools and guidance they needed to take care of themselves and each other.”
“ In the coming days, I hope we will get more details on what supports and guidance will continue for those still navigating economic recovery and those not yet protected by vaccination, including children in our schools. This will be a change for all of us, but I know Vermonters will continue to carefully navigate best practices,” Balint said. “We will continue to take care of one another as we enjoy our new freedom.”