Top Vermont officials won't push for another mask mandate despite growing numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
During the administration's weekly press conference Tuesday, both Gov. Phil Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Levine said they didn't think it would make a difference if the state were to require people to wear masks in indoor public places. Currently, the state recommends people do so.
“Look at who would abide by a mandate,” Levine said. People who believe that masks and vaccinations are important in controlling the pandemic would follow the rules, he said. Others probably wouldn’t.
“So it’s very challenging,” said Levine. “We know that masks are effective. There’s no question about that, even though people seem to be newly raising that question again.”
“I don't think my saying it or us mandating that is going to get one single person to wear a mask that doesn't want to wear a mask,” he said. A mandate, he said, would distract people from focusing on managing the pandemic response.
“It would just create one more controversy,” he said.
Vermonters alarmed by the case numbers and deaths this month are pressing the governor’s office to require masks in indoor settings. Others are organizing to oppose mandates, saying the individuals should decide whether to wear a mask — or get vaccinated.
The weekly briefing reflected the current uncertainty about Vermont’s COVID-19 response. Three months after the Delta variant spread across the country, Vermont is the only New England state in which cases are still rising. The state’s case numbers rose 26 percent over the last seven days.
Case numbers are particularly high in the northeastern county of Orleans, home to Derby and Newport.
The state’s overall positivity rate is 3.1 percent, slightly lower than it was in mid-September and about the same as in early January.
The climb in case numbers reported Tuesday is a disappointing setback for the state after numbers dipped earlier this month. Officials thought then that Vermont was finally following a trend in other U.S. states, where numbers climbed for about nine to 10 weeks, and then declined.
Courtesy Department of Financial Regulation
Vermont's positivity rate
Fourteen people have died in Vermont so far this month of COVID-19 — about half of them vaccinated. In July, the figure was two.
Scott was asked why numbers aren't dropping in Vermont. “I wish I had the answer," he said. "I think we all wish we had the answer."
But it has nothing to do with tourism, the governor said. Travel to Vermont rebounded strongly this summer and fall, with dozens of tour buses plying the popular routes, and heavy traffic in popular fall destinations such as Stowe. Hotel stays are almost back up to pre-pandemic levels, state officials say.
About 10 percent of the people who have tested positive since July 6 — around the time the Delta wave was detected in Vermont — have had an out-of-state address, said Finance Commissioner Mike Pieciak. They include people from New York and New Hampshire who traveled to Vermont for a test, college students with out-of-state addresses, second homeowners and tourists.
Many of the Vermont outbreaks since early July have been traced to gatherings such as weddings. Almost all the fatalities involved people who had other health conditions, Levine said.