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Vaccinations Clear The Way For Vermont To Lift COVID-19 Restrictions

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Restaurants, bars and concert halls are opening up in Vermont. Governor Phil Scott is lifting all of the state's COVID-19 restrictions after a successful vaccination campaign.

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PHIL SCOTT: Not only did we lead the United States, but Vermont is now a global leader in vaccinations to defeat COVID-19.

MCCAMMON: Eighty percent of the state's eligible population, those 12 and over, have received at least one dose. The White House has touted Vermont's success as it pushes to have the whole country reach 70% vaccination by July 4. Liam Elder-Connors from member station Vermont Public Radio joins us now. Good morning, Liam.

LIAM ELDER-CONNORS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MCCAMMON: What does it mean for Vermont to drop all COVID-19 restrictions?

ELDER-CONNORS: Well, things were already somewhat loosened here in the state. You know, the masking mandate had already been relaxed a little bit. But now there are no limits on gatherings or capacity caps for events and restaurants. And any masking and distancing requirements are now gone. This wasn't a completely unexpected change. These restrictions were going away by July 4. But when the states saw that the vaccination rate was going up so quickly, Governor Phil Scott said, once we hit that 80% mark, he would drop all restrictions. And so we hit that yesterday. And here's the governor dropping those restrictions at a press conference.

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SCOTT: I'm lifting all remaining state pandemic restrictions. The state of emergency will formally end at midnight, June 15, tomorrow. And here's why, because it's safe to do so. And it's safe because Vermonters have done their part to keep the virus from spreading and stepping up to get vaccinated.

ELDER-CONNORS: Should say, the only real exceptions are for some federal rules. Like, masking is still required on public transportation.

MCCAMMON: And as we heard there, Liam, the governor is also letting the state of emergency expire in Vermont. What is the effect of that change?

ELDER-CONNORS: Well, that's the order that's given the governor a lot of power during the crisis to enact these public health measures. And he's going to be signing some new order to help cover some funding gaps, which would be for things like emergency food distribution. But I think it's important to remember that while a lot of people are cheering the ending of restrictions here, the end of the emergency order also means things like the moratorium on evictions will be going away in the next month or so. The state has its own moratorium in addition to the federal moratorium, which is set to end in June. And so the state moratorium going away in about a month means some people are going to be trying to, you know, get rent assistance and might be in some more precarious situation. So some of the protections that have been really important to folks during the pandemic are going to be going away. And we're going have to figure out exactly kind of how to bridge some of those gaps.

MCCAMMON: Things are opening up because of Vermont's impressive vaccination rate, 80% of people who are eligible. How did the state get there?

ELDER-CONNORS: Well, officials are crediting the strategy that they've used since the vaccine came out. They really focused initially on getting older Vermonters vaccinated. And they've also touted their partnerships with a variety of community organizations that have helped close some of the racial disparities in vaccination rates. And then the countdown's really driven urgency as well.

MCCAMMON: Does this mean that Vermont is, in essence, declaring an end to the pandemic there?

ELDER-CONNORS: Not exactly. The state is still going to be pushing for people to get vaccinated. And they say they're preparing for if and when federal regulators approve vaccines for younger children. They want to be ready to get that out the door if that happens, which could be in the fall.

MCCAMMON: Vermont Public Radio's Liam Elder-Connors. Thank you.

ELDER-CONNORS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE END OF THE OCEAN'S "LIKE HONEY FROM THE BRANCH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.