Burlington City Council members say it is too soon ditch the masks.
The city’s order was put in place in May 2020, but after Gov. Phil Scott rescinded the mandate for vaccinated people last week, the council had to decide what to do.
“From the very beginning of this pandemic, the city has led on a simple belief: ‘that in a global pandemic, local actions matter,” said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.
Weinberger had hoped to follow the state’s lead. “It’s one of the top performing counties, in the top performing state in getting vaccines out and into the arms of Chittenden County residents,” said Weinberger.
But councilors voted to keep the mask mandate in place until more 18 to 29-year-olds become fully vaccinated. According to the state health department, only 49 percent of residents in that age group in Chittenden County have received at least one dose, compared to 77 percent overall.
“We have a sizable chunk of retail workers and folks on the front line, restaurants, and retail establishments that haven’t been fully vaccinated,” said City Councilor Brian Pine.
Another council member says she feels more comfortable waiting until 80 percent of the population is vaccinated.
“We’re not there yet and so I don’t understand why we’re exposing people who haven’t had the chance to be fully vaccinated yet,” said City Councilor Zoraya Hightower.
Burlington’s Chief Innovation Officer Brian Lowe says there’s very little risk of transmission with most residents getting the shot.
“The first dose is the critical dose. It’s the dose that really makes a huge difference in health outcomes,” said Lowe.
He added, the city counted cases in the single digits Monday and saw a steep decline in viral prevalence in waste water.
“Despite the fact that in April, we had the highest caseloads we had as a county and community, we did not see a corresponding rise in hospitalizations that mirrored what happened in February. The reason for that is the vaccine was more widely distributed based on age band that the state devised,” said Lowe.
He says lifting the mask mandate would help incentivize more people to get vaccinated. If cases suddenly increased, Lowe assured the council they would change course. Mayor Weinberger says it’s important for the city to follow and support the guidance from the CDC and the state.
“We think the route to doing that is to continue to deserve the trust of residents, organizations, and businesses by issuing public health guidance firmly grounded in science,” said Weinberger.
However, the council voted in favor of waiting until June 7.
To reduce barriers for those wanting to get the shot, there will be two walk-in clinics this week at North Beach Thursday, May 20 (1 – 5 p.m.) and Friday, May 21 (12 – 2:30). People can also get vaccinated on Church Street outside City Hall from 6 – 10 p.m. Saturday.