Burlington to vote on local mask mandate, other towns soon to follow

Coronavirus

BURLINGTON, Vt. – On Tuesday, Mayor Miro Weinberger announced a citywide mask mandate that will be voted on by city council in a special meeting next week.

It would require masking in indoor public settings unless every employee and customer has proof of vaccination. Other exemptions include places of worship, schools (which are under school boards’ authority), and vaccinated employees who do not interact with members of the public.

“We have reached a confusing and uncertain moment in our long battle against the global COVID-19 pandemic,” Mayor Weinberger said. “On the one hand, vaccinations have made the great majority of us far safer than we were at the beginning of 2021. On the other hand, we have repeatedly seen record numbers of cases here in Vermont in recent weeks, bucking the national trends in a concerning way.”

Weinberger believes the mandate strikes a balance between public health and supporting local businesses.

Meagan Tuttle, Burlington’s COVID response leader, said masking indoors during periods of high transmission “adds an important layer of protection,.

“We all want to see the risk of community transmission diminish as quickly as possible to protect our most vulnerable from serious illness, and so  we can return to fully and confidently to community life,” she said.

Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson said her city is also taking steps toward a mask mandate.

“Montpelier is very likely to implement an indoor mask mandate now that we have that authority,” Watson said. “We will be looking at regional case rates as a part of our data.”

Bennington Select Board Chair Jeannie Jenkins said the board will be discussing a possible mask mandate early next month.

“The Vermont COVID numbers are alarming, and we do want to send the message that vaccination and masks are important,” Jenkins said. “We have a lot to weigh and as you can imagine, many are already sharing their thoughts on the issue.”

Governor Phil Scott signed legislation allowing local mandates one day after it was approved in Monday’s special session of the Vermont Legislature. At his weekly briefing, Governor Scott explained his frustration with the Senate for passing a resolution that called on him to take further action.

“17 senators think we should go back to mandates that almost no other states have in place,” Governor Scott said. “Legislative leaders believe we need to return to a state of emergency, impose a statewide mask mandate and a host of other restrictions.”

Meanwhile, some lawmakers continued to criticize Governor Scott’s decision to bring them in for a special session, feeling there were other options.

“It is unfair because the Governor’s proposal was delivered with the threat of a veto if we were to do our jobs as legislators,” said Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak. “It was also unfair because the Governor could take the necessary action to protect Vermonters from the surge of COVID cases on his own.”

Rep. Mulvaney-Stanak made those comments on the House floor Monday, and shared them on Twitter the following day.

The bill signed by Scitt expires at the end of April. Local mandates must be voted on again every 45 days.

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