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Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell, seen here during a November 2020 site visit for the new Hinsdale-Brattleboro bridge, said on May 14 that the town would maintain its mask ordinance enacted last year.

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Brattleboro to maintain mask mandate

Changes in state, federal guidance for masks come along with an accelerated schedule for reopening Vermont; governor credits vaccination policy

To view the full Vermont Forward Plan, visit vermont.gov/vermont-forward.

BRATTLEBORO—While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the state of Vermont say it is OK to take off your face mask if you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the town says you still need leave your mask on.

According to CDC guidance issued on May 13, masking and physical distancing for fully vaccinated Vermonters — except in limited circumstances such as in schools, on public transportation, health care settings, long-term care facilities, prisons, etc. — is no longer required.

On May 14, Gov. Phil Scott eased the state’s mandates for mask wearing, except for those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, including children who are not yet eligible for a vaccine. He also that businesses and municipalities can implement stricter guidance if they choose.

Brattleboro is choosing to maintain that stricter guidance.

Town Manager Peter Elwell said May 14 that, despite the changes to state and federal policy, Brattleboro will maintain the mask mandate it adopted last May, requiring masks inside establishments where business is conducted or services are provided.

“The town of Brattleboro’s face covering order remains in effect at this time,” he wrote in the town’s weekly COVID-19 update. “Moreover, it is important to remember that many people are not yet fully vaccinated, so individual businesses may choose to continue to require face coverings on their premises even after government-issued face covering orders have been rescinded.”

Clarifiying Elwell’s statement, Selectboard member Tim Wessel posted on Facebook on May 16 that “our order remains in place until either we, your Selectboard, lift the order or the governor declares an end to the State of Emergency.”

While the State of Emergency order that has been in effect in Vermont since March 2020 has been extended until June 15, several changes now apply, Scott said on May 14.

Testing and quarantines will no longer be needed for travel, and capacity limits will be increased to 300 people inside and 900 outside.

At press time, the Selectboard was expected to discuss the face mask ordinance in its May 18 meeting, but no action was expected to be taken.

Wessel said in his Facebook post that he believes outdoor masking is “unnecessary and has been for a while, but indoor masking [...] still feels like a reasonable precaution, given that some Vermonters are still waiting to be fully vaccinated.”

Elwell also reiterated Friday that public access to the town’s administrative offices in the Municipal Center will remain limited.

Town officials “will continue to closely monitor that data and public health experts’ advice,” Elwell said. “We intend to be cautious in reopening Town facilities to ensure that we do not move too quickly and endanger town employees or the public we serve.”

The town continues to provide weekly updates at brattleboro.org regarding decisions, actions, and changes as Covid-related restrictions are eased.

But Elwell stressed that “based on local conditions and expert advice, we may decide not to move as fast as was indicated in the Governor’s plan.”

State officials confident

While there is debate over whether Vermont is moving too fast or too slow in easing COVID-19 restrictions, state officials say that all the data and science indicate it is safe to move to the next step of the Vermont Forward reopening plan.

Scott said at the latest news briefing that the state met the June 1 goal under Step 3 of the plan, more than two weeks ahead of schedule.

“Today marks a major step forward in our efforts to end this pandemic and get back to doing more of the things we’ve missed over the past 14 months,” he said.

“Vermont has led the nation in many ways throughout the pandemic, including our vaccination efforts,” he added. “This puts us in the best position in the nation to safely take these steps based on the CDC guidance.”

Scott credited the accelerated schedule to the state’s vaccination efforts.

As of May 15, more than 71 percent of Vermonters over the age of 16 have now received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Step 3 of the reopening plan removes the testing requirement for travel and increases event and gathering capacity restrictions.

The new rule changes do not apply to schools for now, but Education Secretary Dan French said on May 14 that schools should prepare for the resumption of full in-person learning this fall.

State websites are currently being updated to reflect the updated guidance and acceleration of Step 3.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that those fully vaccinated face little risk by being out in most public settings without a mask.

“We have been eagerly awaiting this, and know that it is based on current science, research and data,” said Levine. “This guidance makes sense for Vermont, because as thousands more Vermonters become fully vaccinated each day, life can, and should, begin to look normal again.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #613 (Wednesday, May 19, 2021). This story appeared on page A3.

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