Now Past Coronavirus Peak, Vermont Announces Plan to Reopen Some Businesses

Construction workers, manufacturers and distribution companies are affected under the latest phase of Vermont's cautious reopening plan following coronavirus closures

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Vermont will begin reopening some businesses on Monday following the stunning shutdowns forced by the coronavirus as the state continues to see promising signs that the worst of the pandemic is over, Gov. Phil Scott said Friday.

The governor said that the coronavirus peak has now passed and that he has signed an order allowing manufacturing, construction and distribution businesses to operate with 10 or fewer employees effective May 4 -- if they meet stringent safety requirements. Workers must keep their distance, wear masks and be screened for coronavirus symptoms before each shift.

Employers in those sectors can then resume full operations a week later, as long as they comply with state training and hygiene orders. Still, companies are encouraged to reduce in-person business by using remote working, the Scott administration noted.

Friday's announcement is the first phase in a three-phase process to reopen Vermont's economy. If all goes well, the second phase could begin on May 11.

"We can't declare victory yet because we have to look regionally here," Scott said, pointing out that neighboring states like Massachusetts and New York are still dealing with massive outbreaks. "It only takes one spark to ignite the fire. We all need to stay smart, be cautious and stay disciplined."

The Vermont Health Department on Friday reported 13 new cases of people infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and one more death. That brings the death toll to 50, with a total of 879 Vermonters testing positive for the virus.

Scott said he also signed an order Friday requiring all public transit employees and customers to wear face masks.

In Vermont's largest city, certain streets will now look different as a new plan to promote exercise while keeping social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The governor said he’ll keep a close eye on the data regarding infection rates and sickness spread in Vermont and use that to guide future decisions. If the positive trends continue, he expects to announce additional social and outdoor recommendations next week, potentially including the reopening of golf courses.

Bill Shouldice, the CEO of Vermont Teddy Bear and its sister brand, PajamaGram, will be able to welcome more workers back to his Shelburne facilities just in time for an expected Mother’s Day rush, he said.

“I’m proud of my team,” Shouldice told NECN & NBC10 Boston, referring to how many workplace changes his employees will be adapting to.

The executive said there will be new workflows and added shifts to spread those workers out, along with face masks, deep-cleaning and temperature checks for everyone.

The state wants continued attention on health and safety measures at the center of any return to work plans, to try to minimize the chances of coronavirus outbreaks in the fall.

“We’ve got to put this thing in our rear-view mirror because if this comes back, we’re going to have a major setback and it’s not going to be good for anybody,” Shouldice warned, “including hardworking Vermonters who want to get back to work.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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