Burlington Will Allow Indoor Mask Mandate to Expire Next Month | Off Message

Burlington Will Allow Indoor Mask Mandate to Expire Next Month


  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger
Burlington will allow its indoor mask mandate to expire next month as coronavirus cases continue to decline.

Starting March 3, people will no longer have to mask up when entering public buildings in the Queen City. City councilors voted unanimously Tuesday night to discontinue the mandate, which has been in place since early December.

State lawmakers passed legislation late last year that allows municipalities to adopt mask mandates for 30-day periods through April 30. Burlington twice extended its mandate during the Omicron surge.
Since the variant’s peak in early January, however, case counts in Vermont have dropped by 84 percent; hospitalizations have also decreased. The city’s wastewater monitoring program has also seen a “drastic decrease” in concentrations of the virus at all three treatment plants, a memo from city officials said.

These trends justify letting the masking rule lapse, Mayor Miro Weinberger said Tuesday, though he didn’t discount the possibility of future restrictions if another variant rears its head.

“This is a decision that we're making based on the science, the data and the state of the pandemic now,” Weinberger said. “We will continue to watch very closely … and [will] be able to make changes as necessary.”

Many U.S. cities and states have lifted mask mandates, even though the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still considers them areas of high transmission. CDC guidance is based on test positivity rates, a metric that Burlington officials said is less reliable as rapid tests have become more widely available.

The CDC has also signaled that it may issue new masking guidelines soon based on hospital capacity instead of case counts.

Burlington planning director Meagan Tuttle, the city’s COVID-19 response leader, said the city will encourage people to take other protective measures such as getting booster shots, taking rapid tests before attending gatherings and, when using facial coverings, to choose KN95 or N95 masks. The city is also working to obtain its own supply of KN95 masks to distribute to residents, she said.

“[It’s] an appropriate time for us to lift that mandate and focus on the promotion and greater uptake of individual actions that we have been talking about for many months now,” Tuttle said.

Burlington businesses can still require masking even when the citywide mandate expires. The council’s decision also has no bearing on the Burlington School District, which currently has its own mask mandate.

Earlier in Tuesday's meeting, councilors reacted to the resignation of Tyeastia Green, the director of the city’s Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.

Seven Days broke the news of Green’s impending departure last week. Green hasn’t publicly addressed her decision to leave, but several people who have spoken with her said that Green felt unsupported in her role. Mayor Weinberger has not commented on any alleged conflicts with Green, whose job it is to confront systemic racism in Burlington. Her last day is March 10.
On Tuesday, City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) said that the administration obstructed Green’s work during her two-year tenure. Weinberger notably removed Green from overseeing a major policing study last summer, suggesting that she couldn't be "neutral" in discussions about police staffing. The mayor reversed the decision after public outcry.

Tracy has also accused Weinberger of threatening to cut Green’s budget and to move her department’s management of the Juneteenth celebration to Burlington City Arts.

Weinberger’s office, in a statement last week, called the allegations “pure fiction.”

Tracy alluded to this discrepancy during Monday's meeting and called on the mayor to take responsibility for Green's resignation.

“I find it deeply disappointing that we find ourselves in this place and that we have not heard acknowledgement or an examination, thoughtfully, of what went wrong in this relationship,” he said. “I think it's incredibly important that we … not just pledge to do better but actually do better. We haven't seen that happen here.”

Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) has also cast blame on Weinberger, saying in a press release last week that the mayor has been unwilling to “support Black leaders, professionals and elected officials in our city nor the work they are doing.”

Dieng re-upped his criticism on Tuesday night, saying that Weinberger hasn’t made good on promises he made in last year's State of the City address, which was wholly focused on racial justice. Dieng called the city’s declaration of racism as a public health emergency in 2020 a “political move.”

“We should not use another Black leader in the city for political purposes,” Dieng said, calling Green’s exit a loss for Burlington and people of color. “We hope that this will be a lesson.”

Weinberger didn't directly address the criticism Tuesday night, noting instead that he will miss Green's "perspective and candor."

“Racial equity work is challenging, and it will be even harder without Tyeastia here,” he said.