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Health commissioner recommends masks indoors, no mandate from governor

Published: Aug. 31, 2021 at 9:04 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2021 at 5:13 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermonters are being told to mask up inside public spaces while coronavirus transmission is high.

The recommendation comes from Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

“Wearing a mask helps protect you and the people around you from getting or spreading COVID-19, especially those who are immunocompromised or too young to be vaccinated,” said the Health Department in a social media post.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD advises Vermonters to wear a mask in public indoor settings right now, while virus...

Posted by Vermont Department of Health on Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Meanwhile, Governor Phil Scott and his administration are sticking to their guns on masking and other policies, saying that school districts and individuals should follow CDC guidance where appropriate. But the lack of top-down mandates is leaving some with difficult choices of how to move forward.

“It is difficult for us to do certain things. Like we are not able to have a fully-hybrid option at the high school to increase distancing for our students, so there are certain things we cannot do,” said Slate Valley Unified School District Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell. She has been watching other districts closely as they open and says not having a state of emergency and clear guidance from the Agency of Education means difficult decisions at the local level.

Currently, the Scott administration is recommending masking for the first 10 days for all schools. After that, the schools that have 80% vaccination rates among students can then ditch the masks. However, all schools with children under 12 are recommended to continue masking.

“The fact that our kids are back in school -- we want to maintain them in in-person learning to the fullest. We want to make sure that levels of community transmission of the virus are as depressed as we can get them,” said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

With no statewide mandates, a number of school districts in recent weeks have taken heat from parents that has resulted in contentious school board meetings, and even reports of death threats directed at school leaders. Governor Scott said most school officials -- with the exception of Canaan -- are following the state’s masking guidelines. “If they want to blame someone, blame me,” he said. “I want to be very clear to those who are upset at their school district they are simply following the state’s advice, they are doing exactly what I’ve asked them to do.”

Vermont-NEA president Don Tinney says schools need to be in close contact with public health officials to have the best tools to protect their students. “When we left school last year we thought our students would be in a post-pandemic school year very different place, and that is simply not the case,” he said.

So far, WCAX has learned of multiple schools that have had positive cases. However, state officials believe that as community transmission decreases, they believe the number of cases in schools will also, because the schools are a reflection of the amount of community transmission.

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