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Vermont Administration Officials Discuss Changes To Mask Requirements

Free masks and hand sanitizer were also given to people
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Masks and hand sanitizer (file)

On Thursday the CDC eased mask rules for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. A focus of Vermont Governor Phil Scott’s latest briefing on Friday morning was the state’s response to the announcement.

Republican Phil Scott announced that he is extending the state’s emergency order for another month but revising it to match the new CDC guidance.  

“This will mean those who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks indoors or outdoors," Scott said. "Nor do they need to be concerned with physical distancing. Now I understand that there might be some who are still uncomfortable, a little hesitant, and that’s okay. That’s their choice and I sincerely hope Vermonters can show understanding. But the fact is if you’re fully vaccinated the health experts at the CDC have determined there is very little risk and it’s time to reward all of the hard work you’ve done over the past 14 months.”

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the easing of mask restrictions highlights the benefits of getting vaccinated.

“We have been eagerly awaiting this and know that it is based on current science, research and data," Levine said. "And studies increasingly are showing three big things. First our vaccines are working in the real world. Second our vaccines have proven to be effective against the virus variants now circulating in the U.S. And third if you are vaccinated you are less likely to spread the virus.”

Vermont Education Secretary Dan French noted that the removal of mask restrictions does not apply in schools conducting in-person instruction. 

“Basically we still have a large number of people in the school buildings, namely the students themselves, that are not vaccinated," French said. "So we have to keep that at the forefront of our planning as we’re thinking about the future.”

Governor Scott says while the CDC announcement was a surprise, Vermont officials had already been considering easing the state’s mask guidance. 

“We ourselves have been talking about this for two or three weeks and wondering when the right time was," Scott said. "So regardless of whether they had come out with this yesterday I believe in the next few days we would have announced something similar anyways.”

The Vermont Forward plan includes a goal of fully reopening by July 4th that sets imcremental vaccine targets. Governor Scott reported that the state has already met the June 1st vaccination goal and is moving to the next step two weeks ahead of schedule. 

“What Step 3 means there will no longer be a testing requirement for travel and capacity limits will increase both indoors and outdoors," said Scott.

But Scott added he is concerned that lower vaccination rates for those between 18 and 30 could become a stumbling block. 

“The longer that underperforms the least likely we are to remove all restrictions before the Fourth of July," the governor said. "The sooner the vaccination rate increases is a higher likelihood that we could get there before the Fourth of July.”

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker says the mask guidance in Massachusetts will be updated. In a statement Thursday night, Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said state officials were reviewing the CDC guidance along with experts in neighboring states. Democratic Governor Ned Lamont says Connecticut’s indoor mask requirement will end May 19 for those fully vaccinated.

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