Vermonters Urged to Keep Masks Handy, as Many Places Continue Requiring Them

While the CDC eased rules around mask-wearing, some communities and businesses are keeping them in place for now

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Some Vermonters have raised concerns that confusion could be swirling around the use of face and nose coverings, following a flurry of policy changes announced as COVID-19 vaccination rates increase and infections decrease.

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, quickly followed the CDC's lead, announcing late last week fully vaccinated people don't need masks anymore — indoors or out.

The Burlington City Council, though, broke with the governor and the wishes of Mayor Miro Weinberger, choosing to keep a local mask rule in effect.

"I just think we're rushing this," argued Zoraya Hightower, a Progressive who serves on the Burlington City Council.

Monday night, Hightower asked her fellow councilors to press pause on lifting a mask mandate for all stores and certain other locations in Burlington until at least June 7.

That motion passed on a 9-2 vote, with one councilor absent.

Outdoor Gear Exchange, a store on Burlington's Church Street Marketplace, said it was going to require masks on shoppers no matter how the council voted — out of concern for the health of workers who haven't yet hit full vaccination.

"Our staff is getting vaccinated, and we want them to feel comfortable before we let people maskless in our store," explained Sam Brady, a safety officer for the retailer.

Brady said by the time the council reconsiders the issue next month, more workers at the store — many of whom are in their 20s — will have reached full vaccination status.

Vermont, and the Burlington area specifically, have some of the nation's strongest vaccination rates, according to data shared Tuesday by Mike Pieciak, who leads COVID-19 data modeling for the Scott administration.

That has helped hospitalization rates fall significantly, along with daily counts of new COVID infections in Vermont, Pieciak said.

Still, with municipalities and businesses in Vermont allowed to keep mask rules in place if they want, shopper Kevin Martin said he is finding the messaging all a bit hard to follow.

"If [Gov. Scott] said 'Lift the mask mandate for the state of Vermont,' that includes Burlington," Martin argued. "Burlington's in Vermont, it makes no sense. Makes no logical sense."

Chris Hurd, who was shopping on Church Street Tuesday, said he is glad to stay patient and keep wearing a mask in stores or other places choosing to still require them.

"It's a process," Hurd said. "This is a process for all of us. We'll all get there in time."

Employers are discovering yet another wrinkle, the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association said of the need to wait for updates to federal workplace safety expectations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"When you have different guidelines, it really puts the employer in a very tough position," observed Erin Sigrist, the president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association.

Sigrist said she has received a steady stream of questions from members about differing policies, and has encouraged them to base all decisions around store policies on health and safety factors.

Scott said he is sticking with the CDC guidance to allow fully vaccinated people not to worry about masking in most settings aside from mass transit, hospitals, congregate care facilities and other higher-risk spots.

"Most people, most everyone, across Vermont has believed in the science until it conflicts with their fear or their ideology or their politics," Scott observed Tuesday. "And then they don't believe the science. But our team is going to continue to believe in the science and the data."

Masks are still a must if you're unvaccinated, Scott reminded Vermonters.

The Scott administration is asking everyone to stay respectful of others' choices around masking, and keep a mask handy for a while — for the places still requiring them.

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