By Erin Petenko/VTDigger
At least 20 Vermont communities have repealed their local mask mandates or allowed them to expire in recent weeks.
Only a handful of communities — including Waitsfield, Williston and Winooski — still have mask mandates in effect, although they may not be in effect for much longer.
Waitsfield, for example, planned to discuss the matter at its Select Board meeting March 14.
The state law that allowed municipalities to set their own mask mandates also expires at the end of April, meaning that after that municipal officials may not be able to set mask mandates even if they want to.
Gov. Phil Scott coordinated with lawmakers to pass a bill in November that enabled local communities to set mask mandates after Scott had blocked Brattleboro’s attempt to adopt a mandate on its own. At the time, the state was experiencing a surge in Covid cases from the Delta variant and Scott issued a statewide mask recommendation, rather than a mandate (as Vermont was no longer in a state of emergency), for indoor public spaces, including schools.
But now, with Covid cases and hospitalizations declining, the state announced on March 3 that it would end its mask recommendation on March 14.
Pittsfield repealed its mask mandate on Feb. 17 and Killington Resort ended its mask mandate on Feb. 12. Rutland town and Woodstock both ended their mask requirements on Feb. 28.
Brattleboro had planned to repealed its local mask mandate the second week of March, even before the state’s announcement.
Some communities, such as Burlington, have not specifically repealed their mask mandate but instead allowed it to expire, since the law required it to be renewed each month.
At a Montpelier City Council meeting on March 9, one council member brought up the option of allowing the existing mandate to expire on March 11. But the council opted to repeal the mandate effective immediately, citing support from the business community for ending the rule as soon as possible.
Councilor Conor Casey said the state “shirked its responsibility” in November by not passing a statewide mask order, so Montpelier city was forced to step up.
But he believes it’s best now to listen to the community and acknowledge that retail workers in the city are spending too much time enforcing the order. He said repealing it now would foster trust in the public.
“I’m voting to end it, not because I don’t believe in mask mandates, but because I do,”
One councilor, Lauren Hierl, said she’d like to keep mandates “in the toolbox” to use again if Covid cases rise, although state law currently would not permit Montpelier to do so.
“We’ve been trying to follow the science,” including information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “as best we can,” Hierl said, and the CDC currently places Montpelier in the “medium” risk category that does not require masking.
As of Thursday, March 10, the CDC reported that only Rutland county was “high” risk for Covid-19 in Vermont, and the rest of the state was “low” to “medium” risk.
Tiffany Tan/VTDigger contributed to this story.