BURLINGTON, Vt. – Burlington City Council is scheduled to vote next week on a citywide mask mandate ordered by Mayor Miro Weinberger on Tuesday.
Weinberger’s proposal would require masks in indoor public settings unless every employee and customer has proof of vaccination. Other exceptions would include places of worship, schools (which are under local school board authority) and vaccinated employees who do not interact with members of the public.
Weinberger believes a local mandate would strike a balance between public health and support for local businesses.
“We have reached a confusing and uncertain moment in our long battle against the global COVID-19 pandemic,” 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.”
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.
Governor Phil Scott signed legislation Tuesday allowing local mandates after it was approved by the Vermont legislature in Monday’s special session. At his weekly briefing, Scott, who called for the session, said he was frustrated that lawmakers forced him to take an action that no other state has.
“Legislative leaders believe we need to return to a state of emergency, impose a statewide mask mandate and a host of other restrictions,” he said.
Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson said her city will also consider 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.”
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.”
The bill signed by Scott expires at the end of April. Local mandates must be voted on again every 45 days.