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Following CDC, Vt. to drop mask mandate for fully-vaccinated

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 6:15 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Following the latest CDC guidance, Gov. Phil Scott Friday said that fully-vaccinated Vermonters no longer need to wear masks in most situations and the state is leap-frogging into Step 3 of its reopening plan.

“This is a monumental step forward in the pandemic,” Gov. Scott said. And he says it is directly linked to the state’s successful vaccination efforts, which continue to lead the country. Over 70% of eligible Vermonters have now received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, meeting the state’s June 1 goals under the Vermont Forward reopening plan. The change means that testing is no longer needed for travel, and capacity limits will increase to 300 people inside and 900 outside, and any number of vaccinated people in both settings.

The new rules do not apply to schools, and people will still have to wear masks in health care settings, prisons, homeless shelters, and public transit. Businesses will also still be able to require masks for employees and customers and check for proof of vaccinations. “Think about it in terms of, ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service,’” Scott said.

Some businesses we spoke with say it’s too soon to roll back restrictions and that there’s no way to tell if someone has the shot. At Capitol Grounds Cafe in Montpelier, they say they will continue to require masks for everyone. “I think that’s kind of a personal question, I’m not going to ask every person whether they’ve been vaccinated, that’s kind of a personal preference,” said Julia Watson, the Cafe’s owner.

The governor says they will not be checking on masks, and like all other guidance since the start of the pandemic, the state will operate under the honor system. “I think it worked well for Vermont. It fit us, and I think that we’re going to have to live with that in the process,” he said.

As some take off their masks, health officials acknowledge not everyone will be ready, and that people should do what feels right for them and be compassionate. “We shouldn’t judge or stigmatize those who do or don’t now wear a mask. It’s a transitional time. We all have our own reasons medical or otherwise,” said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

With the latest spigot turn, Scott believes he could lift all restrictions ahead of July 4, but that all depends on young people getting the shot -- they are still lagging behind.

Vermont health officials say about 7,300 appointments have been made for adolescents ages 12 to 15 since the age group became eligible Thursday. Vaccination clinics are being set up at nearly 70 schools and walk-ins are welcome. Education Secretary Dan French says schools should prepare for full in-person learning this fall. The state is organizing forums so parents can learn more about the vaccine. Details are on the health department’s website.

Walk-in vaccine clinics will also be available for tourism and hospitality workers starting Friday in various locations across Vermont.

Despite the loosening of mask restrictions, the governor said he is extending the emergency order for another month until June 15.

DR. LEVINE ADDRESSES UNMASKING CONCERNS

Some people are concerned about the state’s sudden shift in mask policy.

While vaccines are highly effective, they do not 100% guarantee that you won’t get the virus. But Levine says the vaccines will protect you from the worst outcomes, including hospitalization and death. And he says they have seen very, very few breakthrough cases, and most of those are mild. He says vaccines truly do equal protection.

When it comes to transmissibility, Levine says the data shows that people who are vaccinated don’t have a lot of viable virus that can actually infect people who surround them. “The bottom line is, we’re not finding that people who have been vaccinated are becoming superspreaders in some way that we wouldn’t have suspected otherwise, he said.

And when it comes to unvaccinated people not following masking guidance, Levine says that has already been a concern for 14 months now and is not really new. He said he hopes people will follow the rules but says if people don’t, they could transmit the virus. “They could potentially infect other unvaccinated people and we would see a modest amount of new cases. I don’t think it would be tremendous and I tend to have a little more faith in Vermonters based on our experiences in the last 14 months, that I don’t think that scenario is going to happen,” he said.

Levine also says if you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t need to worry a lot about contact with unmasked and unvaccinated people because the overwhelming evidence is your vaccine will protect you.

Related Story:

Vermonters react to CDC’s lifted indoor mask mandate

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