Mike Smith (copy)

Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, speaks during a press conference in January updating the public on the state’s COVID-19 response.

MONTPELIER — Ahead of the one-year anniversary of the first recorded case of COVID-19 in Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott on Friday announced a further loosening of restrictions on household gatherings for vaccinated Vermonters.

“When we had that first case, nobody could have predicted 12 months later we’d have three safe and effective vaccines,” Scott said, adding that as of Thursday, 20% of the state’s population had received at least one vaccine dose.

The state will also begin the next phase of its vaccine rollout Monday, opening up eligibility to school teachers and staff, child care professionals, first responders including police, EMS, and fire department staff, and correctional facility staff, in addition to Vermonters of a certain age with certain high-risk conditions.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also announced more funding for Vermont as part of the federal COVID-19 relief bill being debated in the Senate, including funds for broadband infrastructure and vaccine distribution.

Here are three key takeaways from Friday’s press conference:

1. Gathering restrictions loosened

Scott announced Friday that, effective immediately, vaccinated Vermonters can hold gatherings of any size as long as everyone in that gathering is vaccinated. In addition, gatherings of vaccinated Vermonters can include one non-vaccinated household, Scott said.

The state’s restart team is working on updating the guidance as more Vermonters are vaccinated quicker due to an increased supply. Scott said he anticipates “turning the spigot” in other areas of the guidance in the next week.

“As we’ve done from the start of the pandemic, we’re taking a cautious, methodical and strategic approach,” Scott said. “With more and more Vermonters protected by the vaccine, I’m confident we’ll continue to make progress.”

2. More money for Vermont in relief bill

Leahy said he and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., worked together to add $400 million to the allocation from the bill that passed the house for the state in the latest COVID-19 relief bill, which was being debated in the Senate on Friday. Vermont received $1.2 billion in the previous relief bill.

“I realize these are numbers … but it’s the hundreds of Vermonters I’ve heard all over the state. They don’t care if it’s Republicans or Democrats or independents, they want this state to be the way it was,” Leahy said.

Leahy said the state would receive $27 million for vaccination efforts, $50 million for the all-state minimum homeowner assistance fund, and $100 million for infrastructure including broadband if the bill were to go through the Senate and be signed into law.

3. Signups for next phase to begin

Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said the call center for homebound individuals to schedule appointments is now active. The phone line for the call center is 833-722-0860, and is taking calls Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Starting Monday, school staff, first responders, corrections officials and those age 55 and older with certain high-risk conditions will new able to schedule vaccination appointments under Phase 5A.

Clinics will be held at individual school districts, and staff will be advised by their employers on how to register, Smith said. Appointments can also be scheduled at Walgreens, although Smith stressed that eligible individuals should not double book appointments.

Smith said the state is establishing clinics for seven school districts to start, and is finalizing details for an additional 28 clinics for the coming weeks. The initial districts are Harwood, Springfield, Barre, North Country, Rutland City, Mill River and Bennington County schools.

“We are starting small to make sure we have the right capacity and participants to maximize efficiency,” Smith said.

Then, on Monday, March 15, staff at regulated childcare programs and those age 16 and older who have those conditions will also be available under Phase 5B.

Smith said eligible Vermonters do not need to contact their health care provider or get documentation of their condition to make an appointment.

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