The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that even fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor spaces where community transmission of the virus is “substantial or high.” Currently, roughly 85 percent of U.S. counties meet that threshold, which is defined as at least 50 new cases weekly per 100,000 residents. This includes every county in Vermont. Vermont has the seventh-highest case rate in the nation, up 70 percent over the last 14 days. Our hospitals and ICU units are at capacity, and our schools, students and families continue to suffer from the negative impact of ongoing quarantines. While our state once led the nation for its COVID response, we’re now breaking all the wrong records.
A data driven and nimble mask mandate is clearly the best public health path (link to a longer conversation about this below.) However the governor has made it clear that he will veto the type of flexible mask mandate that public health experts recommend. Unfortunately, we do not have the votes, nor the procedural flexibility when we are out of session, to override a veto.
Vermont communities are asking for additional mitigation measures. We have heard similar pleas from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. Though the Governor will not act on a statewide basis, he has called us back into session so the Legislature can take a small step towards greater health and safety for Vermonters by granting towns the authority to implement indoor masking requirements to protect their residents.
The governor has the power to enact this and other public health measures right now. When Brattleboro passed our own local mask mandate a few months ago, in the face of rising case rates, we were shocked that the governor prevented us from enacting this common sense public health measure. The shock came not just because of the preemption of local control, or the disregard of public safety, but also because most legal interpretations hold that communities have the right to enact public health measures without the Governor's approval, and certainly without the legislature's approval.
And so I'm heading to Montpelier tomorrow to vote to reaffirm the authority of our communities to protect themselves. Even though this move is not as much as we need, it is better than the nothing that we have now. The legislature is by design, not well equipped for emergency work. I'm hoping when we reconvene in January that we can take the procedural time needed to enact more responsive, responsible, and widespread measures.
I've had two informative conversations with public health expert, Anne Sosin, on the Montpelier Happy Hour over the last few months. You can find links to them here and here and you can find a statement from the Speaker of the House and the Senate Pro Tempore here.
I have so much more work to share with you and plans for weekly policy forums in December, that I’ll send out later this week.
Take good care of each other,