Mask mandates

Lynn Valente, from Marlboro, Vt., walks down Main Street, in Brattleboro, Vt., while wearing a mask.

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MONTPELIER — After being urged to take more action against COVID-19, Gov. Phil Scott will allow municipalities to adopt mask mandates again if lawmakers come up with legislation in a special session.

“I don’t think a statewide mask mandate is necessary at this point in time,” Scott said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “I’m just looking for some kind of compromise.”

In a statement issued after a meeting Monday, House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Chittenden 6-3, and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, D-Windham, said Scott told them “he would support the passage of legislation, similar to a proposal made by the League of Cities and Towns last week, granting limited authority to municipalities to mandate masks in their communities.”

“While we appreciate this step toward giving Vermonters more tools to promote public health, we are deeply disappointed that there is not a broader approach to keeping Vermonters safe and our health care system afloat,” Krowinski and Balint stated. “Under current law, the governor has the authority to approve local public health measures without the need for the legislature to reconvene, but at this point, we believe that taking any action is better than continuing down the path that we are currently on when it comes to preventing the spread of disease. The governor has the authority to act now and he has also made it very clear that if the legislature attempted to pass any legislation other than what he has proposed during this special session, he would veto it.”

Scott said being under a “perpetual state of emergency,” which is where he would have authority to mandate masks, “is not healthy for our democracy or our people.” He said he doesn’t expect local mask mandates to result in “a substantial change;” his administration is focused on vaccinating as many Vermonters as possible and educating those who are hesitant.

In August, Brattleboro attempted to re-adopt a mask mandate for indoor establishments. But at the time, Scott said the town lacked authority to do so because Vermont was no longer in a state of emergency.

On Tuesday, Brattleboro Select Board Chairwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin said she will see what fellow board members think about bringing back a mandate.

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“With the COVID numbers as high as they are, I’m in favor,” she said.

COVID-19 cases in Vermont increased by 16 percent last week and 64 percent over the last two weeks, according to state data. The virus has claimed the lives of 19 Vermonters this month and 395 since the beginning of the pandemic.

The state is tracking 15 outbreaks at long-term care facilities, with a total of 218 cases including 60 at Crescent Manor Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Bennington and 12 at Vermont Veterans’ Home in Bennington.

“A significant number appear to be among staff,” said Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation.

Bennington is continuing to experience higher COVID-19 case counts than elsewhere in the state, Pieciak said. And cases are not expected to decrease over the next four weeks in Vermont, according to a slide from his presentation.

“Impact of Thanksgiving gatherings brings uncertainty,” a slide states.