Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger is recommending that people mask up in public indoor spaces in the city to stem the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Released Friday evening, the mayor's guidance comes just two months after city councilors rescinded a previous masking mandate in Burlington. The 12-member body unanimously agreed to lift the requirement in June after nearly 80 percent of eligible Vermonters had received at least one vaccination dose.
But while that number now exceeds 84 percent, the state has seen increased case counts and hospitalizations in recent weeks. The Vermont Department of Health on Friday reported 88 new COVID-19 cases and 12 hospitalizations — the highest number since May. Eight people are in intensive care.
"The contagiousness of the Delta variant means we cannot yet fully return to our pre-pandemic routines," Weinberger said in the announcement. "I am recommending that Burlingtonians and visitors wear masks in public indoor spaces regardless of their vaccination status until Chittenden County returns to a moderate risk of transmission per the CDC."
On Monday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed the county as a place of "substantial transmission," meaning there have been at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week. As of Friday, five other Vermont counties fit the bill: Orleans, Franklin, Grand Isle, Washington and Bennington, according to the CDC. The CDC recommends indoor masking in public settings for places that meet that threshold.
The University of Vermont also reinstated its indoor masking policy on Friday, citing CDC guidance, and earlier this week, state officials recommended that Vermont students wear masks when school starts up in a few weeks.
Gov. Phil Scott, however, doesn't intend to reintroduce a statewide masking order. If you're fully vaccinated, Scott told reporters last week, "we believe you are substantially protected."
Also Friday, Weinberger announced that he intends to introduce a policy requiring city staff to either be fully vaccinated by the end of September or submit to regular COVID testing. The University of Vermont Health Network on Friday said such a policy will become effective for all of its 15,000 employees on October 1, though workers can request medical or religious exemptions.
Clarification, August 8, 2021: The vaccination figures in this story are for eligible Vermonters, or those age 12 and above, not for all Vermonters.