By Guy Page
As the state’s July 4 Covid-19 vaccination program ‘finish line’ approaches, Vermonters who refuse vaccination may not be refused service in restaurants and stores. However, they may be required to wear masks.
That’s the takeaway from sometimes cryptic comments made by Gov. Phil Scott and administration officials today at Covid-19 press conference.
Asked point-blank today by a reporter whether unvaccinated Vermonters will be denied service at restaurants and stores as the Covid-19 vaccination campaign gathers steam, Scott and senior administration officials refused to answer directly. However, they promised information next month.
Later in the press conference, Scott suggested unvaccinated Vermonters would be required to wear masks in public places.
Early in the press conference, County Courier editor Greg Lamoureux asked Gov. Scott, “can a business say you can only enter if you are vaccinated?” Scott answered: “That’s one of those what ifs that I don’t have the answer to. Nobody has asked us this that I know of.”
Then Agency of Commerce and Community Development Lindsay Kurrle jumped in. Noting that home gathering guidelines have been relaxed, guidance for businesses “doesn’t open that wide at this point,” she said. “We’re talking about it internally. You can expect to have more clarity on that in the next couple of weeks as the governor roles out the plan.”
When Lamoureux pressed for information about unvaccinated Vermonters entering bars and restaurants as customers, he was told, “I don’t know. I would need to be a lawyer. I can’t answer that.”
Administration officials stressed the need for Vermonters to comply with the accelerating vaccination campaign. President Biden, Gov. Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Levine all have referred to July 4 as the desired finish line for the vaccination program. Scott said he hopes that if the vaccination plan goes well, masks and social distancing will no longer be mandatory, but will be left to individual choice.
Vermonters must “get vaccinated as soon as it’s our turn,” Levine said, so that “we can cross the public health finish line together.”
Human Services Secretary Mike Smith urged listeners to create an online account immediately so that they can be scheduled promptly “when it is your turn to be vaccinated.”
Meanwhile the State of Vermont will press hard on the need to respond when it’s their turn. “We’ll step up the PR campaign,” Scott said. “We hope all of you [news reporters] will as well.”
“This is a race to the finish,” Scott said.
Not all Vermonters share Scott’s enthusiasm. A gathering for the anti-mandatory vaccination World Freedom Day has been scheduled for Saturday, March 20 on the Vermont State House lawn. A statewide group, Health Choice Vermont, supported legislation protecting freedom to not choose vaccination and prohibiting any loss of services due to that choice. However, neither bill survived the March 12 crossover deadline for passage this year.
Vermont Daily asked Gov. Scott: “An estimated third of Americans have either health, philosophical, or religious objection to being vaccinated. If next month they may be prohibited from eating, shopping and going to work, how will you respond to their claims they are being treated unequally like second class citizens?”
I haven’t put forth anything…..I’m not concerned about that,” Scott answered. He noted that in the health care system, individuals who have shown that in the past they have not wanted to be vaccinated are given the option of masking and socially distancing.
“It may get to a point that it is advisable that you may have to wear a mask,” Scott said.
The press conference was held on the one-year anniversary of the first Vermont Covid-19 death. To date 166,000 Vermonters have been vaccinated, with more than 80% of those 70 and older receiving the vaccine to date. 60% of Vermonters ages 65-69 have been vaccinated, Smith said.