The Vermont Senate passed a bill in a special session Monday that would allow municipalities to adopt temporary indoor mask mandates amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and after the governor has declined to reimpose a state of emergency.
The House was also meeting to consider a similar proposal.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott has said Vermonters must do their part to get vaccinated, receive boosters and protect the elderly and that he will continue to encourage the use of masks indoors, but is opposed to statewide mandates and restrictions at this time.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns asked for the option of allowing municipalities to put in place masking requirements.
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"We are in the midst of a pandemic and our transmission rate is rising and it affects ... different communities in different ways," said Sen. Jeanette White of Windham County. "This bill is very, very narrowly designed to allow towns to address the pandemic as it affects their jurisdiction by requiring masks in public places."
Some senators who voted against the measure said it was heavy handed and burdened towns that might not have the resources to enforce it.
The state Senate also passed a resolution urging the governor "to use all possible public health measures to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases and associated deaths and maximize vaccination rates among all eligible population groups," including declaring a state of emergency, followed by a statewide mask mandate.
The resolution states that while Vermont consistently has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, it now has one of the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its masking guidelines this fall to areas of substantial or high transmission and last week identified the whole state as an area of high transmission, the resolution stated.