October 4, 2023

State lifts travel quarantine for vaccinated people; hospitality sector, travelers, applaud

Since November, anyone traveling in or out of Vermont has been subject to a strict,…

State lifts travel quarantine for vaccinated people; hospitality sector, travelers, applaud

Since November, anyone traveling in or out of Vermont has been subject to a strict, state-mandated quarantine. Travelers must isolate for two weeks upon entering or preparing to leave the state, or for a week if they receive a negative Covid-19 test result.

Those rules are changing for people who have received the Covid-19 vaccine. Beginning Tuesday, travelers who have been vaccinated may freely come or go without isolating.

“I want to be very clear: We’re going to do this carefully and methodically like we have throughout the pandemic,” Gov. Phil Scott said at his semiweekly press conference last Friday when the state announced the change. “I’m asking for your patience as we work our way through this.”

The rule change applies to people who have received both doses of the vaccine and got their second shot at least 14 days earlier, said Lindsay Kurrle, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, in a letter to Vermont hotel owners last week. In the months ahead, the state hopes to loosen its rules for large gatherings as well. 

For planning purposes, Kurrle said, Vermonters can expect that by late spring or early summer, Vermont will return to the rules that were put in place last August — when events of up to 75 people indoors and 150 people outdoors were allowed.

While the state can’t guarantee that timeline, that is the agency’s best guess right now, Kurrle told VTDigger.

The change in travel restrictions offers a glimmer of hope to travelers and to businesses in Vermont’s hospitality sector that have struggled under one of the nation’s strictest set of pandemic travel guidelines. Hotel owners are beginning to picture a summer when vaccinated guests can reschedule postponed events like weddings, after the state’s cautious approach left some event planners frustrated.

Lifting the quarantine requirement for vaccinated travelers is a “step in the right direction” for the state’s hotels, said Darren Drevik, a board member of the Vermont Lodging Association and innkeeper at the Phineas Swann Inn and Spa in Montgomery.

“I was very pleased to hear the governor say that the rules have changed and that those people who had received their second vaccine, and have waited a couple of weeks after that, were eligible to come and spend their dollars here,” Drevik said.

VTDigger is underwritten by:

Drevik recalled having to tell an-out-of-state health care worker — who called his inn last month to reserve a room that same weekend and had already received the second dose of the vaccine — that they would not be able to visit. At that point, the state’s rules still required the worker to quarantine before traveling, vaccine or no vaccine.

The Phineas Swann Inn and Spa in Montgomery, where innkeeper Darren Drevik hopes to welcome more vaccinated guests in the months ahead. Photo courtesy of Darren Drevik

Drevik said he’s glad not to have to turn away people like that any longer. 

“Needless to say, it was real hard for me to try and explain that to them other than to say, ‘Hey, it’s the rules,’” Drevik said. “Now that [the quarantine for vaccinated travelers] has disappeared, it makes it a lot easier.”

Wrinkles to navigate

There are still wrinkles to be worked out. For example, the state does not have a mechanism to track whether people who enter or leave Vermont without quarantining have received both vaccine shots and waited to travel until at least two weeks after the second shot.

The quarantine guidelines’ success will continue to hinge on an honor system, as it has at ski resorts and other getaway destinations since the quarantine was implemented.

“If somebody intentionally lies about it, it’s really difficult to prove that they didn’t carry out a quarantine before they came. We’ve had to put a lot of faith and trust in people,” Kurrle said. 

Scott stressed at his press conference Tuesday that working out those details will require patience, and urged anyone traveling who is fully vaccinated to carry their vaccination card with them. A vaccine card is an easy way for travelers to show a hotel or restaurant owner they’ve received the shots, Kurrle said. 

Drevik worries, too, about policing vaccinated guests who might eschew safety measures because of a false sense of security.

“We’re going to have to continue to ask guests to wear masks and socially distance, and they’re going to probably think, ‘Why do I need to?’ And the answer is, one, because the governor and Dr. Levine say so,” Drevik said. “But also because we can’t sit here and be the traffic cops to say, OK, that’s the guy who said he had a shot, and that’s the person who hasn’t had a shot.”

Those are difficult questions that businesses and people in general will have to navigate for the foreseeable future, Kurrle said, considering the vaccine “is not even offered” for much of the population at this point. 

“I think that we all imagine that we are not aiming to get to zero cases before we start allowing people to move around more freely, and we need to be cognizant of what policies we put in place right now, that they make sense as we continue to open up,” Kurrle said. 

Unvaccinated people in families where some members have been vaccinated are still expected to quarantine before travel, Kurrle said. For example, children whose parents have gotten the vaccine but have not received the vaccine themselves must still quarantine under the new rules.

Would-be travelers adjust

Navigating the quarantine protocol has prompted frustration and hope for families seeking to travel for work and reunite with loved ones.

Shauna Hill of Burlington, a single parent and behavioral health program administrator for Planned Parenthood, had planned to travel extensively to other parts of New England for work this year. Now that she’s received both vaccine doses, she said she would feel safe moving freely between states this spring without quarantining. But she is still reluctant to do so over the possibility of exposing people to the virus via contact with her children, who regularly interact with other children while attending in-person school.

“Until the vaccine becomes available to the general population, I would appreciate more guidance from the state” for parents with young children trying to navigate the new rules, Hill said. 

For Greg Pask of Middlebury, who said his 3-year-old son hardly remembers pre-pandemic time spent with Pask’s parents, lifting the travel quarantine for vaccinated people has made a reunion between his children and parents a more convenient possibility. His parents live in New Jersey and recently got their second vaccine doses.

Pask said he and his family still might worry about catching the virus if his parents visit since it’s unclear whether vaccines fully eliminate the possibility of Covid-19 transmission. But travel planning has become easier, as they won’t have to worry about the logistics of quarantining upon entering Vermont.

“It would be really nice to give my parents a hug, and to have them read to my kids with a real, live book in front of them would be great,” he said.

Tourism promotion?

Drevik said he and other hotel owners are “extremely grateful” for the early steps toward making travel to Vermont easier as the vaccine rolls out. But he would like to see the state put money toward advertising tourism as vaccines become more available. Saving the state’s travel industry might well depend on it, he said. 

“A year ago, we closed Vermont for three months. Well, there’s a lot of people that still think we’re closed,” he said. “If the state wants to salvage a large part of its tourism industry, then it’s going to have to spend some money [on advertising] and let people in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire know that Vermont is open, it’s safe. 

“People should know that, if you’ve done the right things, we want you here,” Drevik said.

In total, about 91,000 Vermonters — just over 14{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} of the state’s population — have been vaccinated so far, according to a presentation at Scott’s press conference Tuesday. Beginning next Monday, any person 65 or older will be eligible to get the vaccine.

Along with lifting the mandatory quarantine for vaccinated people, Scott’s office announced Tuesday that people who are two weeks out from their second vaccine dose may join two-household gatherings — the first loosening of gathering restrictions since the holidays.

Don’t miss a thing. Sign up here to get VTDigger’s weekly email on Vermont hospitals, health care trends, insurance and state health care policy.