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As COVID Cases Rise (Again), Vermont Businesses Weigh Mask, Vaccine Mandates

Vermont businesses may refuse service to anyone who refuses to wear a mask.
Liz Fullerton
/
VPR
As COVID cases rise driven by the delta variant, some businesses in Vermont are once again mandating staff and customers wear masks while indoors despite the state's 84% vaccination rate.

As cases of COVID-19 rise once again driven by the highly contagious delta variant, a growing number of employers are instituting mask and vaccination mandates.

The federal government, state of California and New York City will require government workers to get a vaccine or in some cases face weekly COVID testing. Companies like United Airlines and the Mayo Clinic have instituted similar policies.

But in Vermont, where the vaccination rate is the highest in the nation, Gov. Phil Scott has made clear that he won’t be mandating vaccines for state employees anytime soon.

“When you have a vaccination rate of about 84% and climbing, we’re in a much better position than other states, so I don’t think that’s necessary at this point in time,” Scott said, speaking at his weekly press briefing on July 27.

But last week, two of the biggest employers in the region — Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and University of Vermont Health Network — announced vaccine mandates.

In other sectors, few employers seem to be going that route. In a recent interview, Erin Sigrist, president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association, said none of her members have said they’re mandating vaccines.

“Members seem to be encouraging employees to get the vaccine, but there is no employer that I’m aware of within our membership that is requiring employees to vaccinate,” she said.

Outside of retail, some manufacturers say about the same thing: Vaccines are encouraged but not required. That’s the case at semiconductor manufacturer GlobalFoundries Inc., where employees are required to wear masks on the job and the company has offered vaccine clinics onsite, but so far the shots aren’t required for their 2,200 employees, according to a spokesperson.

The sock maker Darn Tough meanwhile has been using an incentive approach for its 350 employees to get vaccinated, said spokesperson Brooke Kaplan.

“We do recognize they have a business to run, so what we've done is we've instituted a program where employees receive an extra day of vacation for proof of vaccination,” she said.

Beyond vaccine requirements, some businesses’ approaches to COVID safety measures may be slowly changing. Local universities, including the University of Vermont, St. Michael’s College and the Community College of Vermont, have reinstated indoor mask requirements for all faculty, staff, students and visitors.

Beginning Monday, Aug. 9, Hanover Co-op, which operates a handful of stores in the Upper Valley, will require masks once again for all employees, vendors and customers.

Paul Guidone, the co-op’s general manager, said mandating masks is the best way to keep everyone safe.

But, the co-op will not be mandating vaccinations. Guidone said at least 71% of staff are fully vaccinated and the leadership team worried a mandate might alienate workers in an already tight labor market.

“We debated that very aggressively amongst my leadership team, and we came to the point that at the end of the day, if we provide all of the information to employees, and the wherewithal for them to have it done, we will trust their judgment to do the right thing,” he said.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.