A coalition of Vermont family physicians and pediatric specialists announced Tuesday it is urging “continued universal masking in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and promote a healthy, safe, and productive school year.”
The group said although it agrees with the Scott administration’s recommendation to schools to require universal masking of students and staff to begin the school year, “we urge continued universal masking regardless of vaccination status or school vaccination rate for students and staff until those under 12 years of age have had the opportunity to be vaccinated and when epidemiologic data tells us it is safe to remove masks.”
The group includes the state chapter of the Vermont Medical Society, the Vermont Academy of Family Physicians, and the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital.
At his news conference Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott called attacks on school boards over masking mandates inside schools “absolutely unacceptable.”
“School boards and superintendents implementing mask policies are simply doing what the state, at my direction, is recommending,” he said. “If they want to blame someone, blame me.”
Scott said it is “good news” that data does not justify a state of emergency, but without one, a unilateral mask mandate is not allowed.
Bennington County school districts have announced they will mandate masking at the start of the school year.
The Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, which operates the Taconic & Green Regional School District and Mettawee Community School, said last month it will require masks “for all students and adults in our schools, regardless of vaccination status, until further notice.”
All schools within the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, as well as the Arlington School District, are also requiring everyone who enters their buildings to wear a mask, until further notice.
Last month, Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Assistant Superintendent Bill Bazyk said the Arlington School District Board decided to implement the agency’s recommendation to require universal masking for the first 10 days of school. The board will then review the policy on Sept. 8.
The board of the Southwest Vermont Union Elementary School District will re-evaluate its masking policy sometime this month, said Katie West, an SVSU spokesperson.
West said the Mount Anthony Union Board, which oversees the Mount Anthony Union Middle School and the high school, will review its own masking policy next quarter.
School buses are also requiring passengers to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, in accordance with federal regulations.
The coalition said masking, in addition to helping prevent the spread of COVID-19, will also help prevent the spread of other common respiratory viruses that can mimic COVID’s signs and symptoms.
“With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Vermont, we are already seeing the effects on schools and classrooms only a few short days into the school year,” the group said. “Minimizing disruption to the school year is important for schools, families, and students.”