Scott says he’s mulling vaccine mandate for some state workers

Vermont News

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — As Vermont finds itself in the midst of a sustained increase in COVID-19 cases fueled almost entirely by the highly-contagious Delta variant, state leaders said Tuesday that it’s not just the cases that have them concerned.

There’s also been an uptick in hospitalizations – as of Tuesday morning, 24 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, and 9 were in intensive care.

“Look, I know Vermonters are concerned as we see the rise in cases from the Delta variant across the nation and here in Vermont,” said Governor Phil Scott. “This isn’t where we wanted to be, but we need to accept that we’re going to be managing this for quite some time.”

84.6 percent of eligible Vermonters have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but as the last several weeks have shown, the Delta variant has taken root among the roughly 85,000 people who haven’t gotten a shot.

“Unfortunately, that’s still a large enough number for the Delta to spread,” said Governor Phil Scott.

For that reason, Governor Scott is now exploring new measures to get more Vermonters vaccinated. He urged employers to incentivize and require vaccinations, particularly in high-risk settings like hospitals and long-term care facilities.

He’s also looking into vaccine mandates for certain state employees, a measure that previously appeared to be off-the-table.

“To help set the example, I’m announcing today that my team is working to do the same,” Governor Scott said. “Starting with certain state institutions like the Veteran’s Home, correctional facilities, and our psychiatric hospital.”

Governor Scott attributed this change in strategy to the rapid spread of the Delta variant, but it doesn’t appear a wider mandate is on the horizon, and employees will likely be able to opt-out in favor of frequent COVID-19 testing.

“We’re going to take it one step at a time,” Governor Scott said. “It’s not something that we’re ready to impose at this point in time, but as we’ve said from the beginning, we’re watching the data, we’re listening to the science, and trying to do what’s best for Vermonters.”

Despite a rise in hospitalizations, Vermont is still among the best in the nation when it comes to hospitalization rates. Still, State Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said we may only be just starting to see the impact of the Delta surge in Vermont’s hospitals.

He tripled down on some familiar advice.

“Let me start out with just three key words – vaccination, vaccination, vaccination,” Dr. Levine said. “It’s not politics, it’s not an agenda, it’s public health and medical science. Plain and simple.”

In recent days, both the University of Vermont and the City of Burlington introduced new guidance on indoor masking. UVM is requiring it for all students, staff and visitors, while city officials are recommending mask use indoors. Governor Scott was asked whether something similar should be done on the state level, particularly in counties that are above the CDC threshold for high transmission.

“I still think it’s a personal choice, I think you have to make decisions depending on your risk – who’s in your family, who’s in your household,” Governor Scott said. “Whether you should be going to events inside where you might pick up the variant. I think you have to do your own risk-assessment and make your own decision at that point.”

If you want to know more about vaccinations in Vermont, including when and where to get your shot, visit the Vermont Department of Health website.

For more information on current COVID-19 activity, including a breakdown of daily cases, click here.

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