Vermont Weighing Giving Local Governments Power to Enact Mask Mandates as COVID Cases Rise

A special session has been requested next week for Vermont lawmakers to determine if a new COVID measure should be passed.

Governor Phil Scott is asking legislators to convene and discuss passing a bill that would allow local governments to adopt mask mandates. More than 500 new cases were recently reported in the state, with 62 people infected with COVID currently hospitalized.

"I propose a special session of the General Assembly for the single purpose of expressly granting each individual municipality the narrowly crafted, and time-limited, authority to mandate the use of facial coverings indoors within their jurisdictions," said Scott in a letter to legislators.

However, there will be some restrictions to these mandates if the bill is approved. The orders must only be enforceable in indoor settings and, if approved, must start on November 29 and end on April 30, 2022. Schools would also not be included in the mandates, and every town involved would have to renew them every 30 days.

This meeting request comes after the Vermont League of Cities and Towns pressured Scott to take more action against the state's growing COVID infections, according to local news station WCAX 3. A source also told the station that Scott plans to veto any other restrictions proposed during the session.

Scott is hesitant to enforce a statewide mask mandate. According to the letter, he believes that "confrontations over mandates, and the partisan politicization of these issues, ultimately delay the decisions we need these individuals to reach." He also cited previous public disproval to a statewide mandate as evidence against another one.

The special legislative session will be held on November 22.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

The mask orders must only be enforceable in indoor settings and, if approved, must start on November 29 and end on April 30, 2022. A sign encouraging employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is displayed at the Vermont Creamery in Websterville, Vermont on June 29. Photo by Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

A surge in cases in the Upper Midwest has some Michigan schools keeping students at home ahead of Thanksgiving and the military sending medical teams to Minnesota to relieve hospital staffs overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

The worsening outlook in the Midwest comes as booster shots are being made available to everyone in a growing number of locations. Massachusetts and Utah became the latest to say anyone 18 or older can roll up a sleeve for a booster shots, and an advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is meeting Friday to discuss expanding boosters.

Cold weather states are dominating the fresh wave of cases over the last seven days, including New Hampshire, North Dakota and Wisconsin, according to federal data. But the Southwest had trouble spots, too, with more than 90 percent of inpatient hospital beds occupied in Arizona.

In Detroit, where only 35 percent of eligible residents were fully vaccinated, the school district said it would switch to online learning on Fridays in December because of rising COVID-19 cases, a need to clean buildings and a timeout for "mental health relief." One high school has changed to all online learning until November 29.

At another high school, some students and teachers briefly walked out Wednesday, saying classes still were too large for a pandemic and the school needed a scrubbing.

Detroit health officer Denise Fair Razo said new cases have skyrocketed in the city in the last 14 days to 3,858, compared to 2,322 in the previous two-week period.

"We're in Michigan so we're not finding ourselves spending time outdoors in flip-flops and tank tops," Fair Razo said Thursday. "We are indoors and we're frankly becoming a little bit too relaxed. We're no longer wearing our masks. We're no longer washing our hands as frequently as we should. But we know these precautions."

Elsewhere in Michigan, some schools are taking next week off for the Thanksgiving holiday instead of just three days.

"This school year has presented some major stressors that are noticed and recognized," Superintendent Greg Helmer told parents, citing staff shortages and student absences in his district in Ravenna.

In Minnesota, the U.S. Defense Department will send two 22-member medical teams to Hennepin County Medical Center and St. Cloud Hospital next week to immediately treat patients and assist weary health care workers.

"I need Minnesotans to recognize, as we've been saying, this is a dangerous time," Governor Tim Walz said in pushing vaccinations.

The U.S. is now averaging nearly 87,000 new coronavirus cases per day, up from 72,000 two weeks ago, and hospitalizations are starting to increase again after steadily falling since the peak of the summer delta variant surge. The country is still averaging more than 1,100 deaths a day, and the number of Americans to die from COVID-19 now stands at 768,000.

About 59 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, or about 195 million Americans. The government and health officials are urging more people to get vaccinated, especially the 60 million people who have yet to receive a first dose.

Phil Scott
Vermont Governor Phil Scott is asking legislators to convene and discuss passing a bill that would allow local governments to adopt mask mandates. In this June 14 file photo Scott speaks at a news conference in Montpelier, Vermont. AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File