BURLINGTON, Vt. – At a special meeting called Wednesday by Mayor Miro Weinberger, the Burlington City Council unanimously approved a measure to require masks at retail stores and indoor entertainment venues starting Friday.

Weinberger said he hopes the new mandate will increase vaccination rates in Chittenden County.

“We are in a moment where the virus is still creating challenges that warrant action,” Weinberger said. “We see those challenges in the hospital, we see them in our schools, we see them in the general rising level of transmission.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, unvaccinated people are five times more likely to be infected with COVID-19, and 13 times more likely to die. As of Wednesday, 25 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 at UVM Medical Center, and 7 people were in intensive care.

Opponents of a mask mandate spoke out at the meetings’ public forum, saying they have been bad for retailers. Others said the fines could burden people who can least afford to pay. .

“The likelihood of people who are cited for this having either issues with alcohol or drugs or mental health issues and fail to comply simply because they have behavioral problems unrelated to COVID is very high.”

A crowd of anti-mandate onlookers interrupted councilors several times during debate on the resolution. At one point, Councilor Joan Shannon questioned whether a civil discussion was possible.

“I don’t know how we do that with members of the public interrupting us and yelling at us all night long,” Councilor Shannon said.

“I certainly would’ve been open to hearing real concerns, but the screams at me did not sound like real concerns,” added Councilor Zoraya Hightower.

Councilor Chip Mason described the situation in Vermont hospitals as “a very fragile system.”

“Just today, the hospital announced its shutting down its ICU other than cancer patients and the most intensive,” he said. “From my perspective, to ignore pleas like that, it’s not responsible.”

Exceptions include businesses with a vaccine mandate, schools (which are controlled by school districts), places of worship, anyone under 2, anyone with a medical condition that is complicated or irritated by a facial covering, and anyone with difficulty breathing.

The mandate will be reviewed every 30 days for reconsideration, and could be rescinded or extended.