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Area businesses set vaccine policies

I’m just a regular person, I’m not a government official. But I do control Otter Creek Yoga and I can take a stand on who comes in there. Everyone shows me their card with joy!
—Joanna Colwell

MIDDLEBURY/VERGENNES — Many businesses in Addison County have been deliberating in the past few weeks on how to keep their workplace safe from COVID-19 in light of to the Delta variant’s spread and breakthrough cases in the county.

Some are encouraging all customers to be vaccinated and requiring staff vaccinations. Others are banning unvaccinated customers with signs or rules, but are not requiring proof of vaccination. And some businesses are requiring customers to present proof of a vaccination card to enter their businesses.

“We want to take these steps to keep our staff safe,” said Two Brothers Tavern co-owner Holmes Jacobs about his recent decision to require proof of vaccination for all Two Brothers employees starting in September. The Jacobses made the decision after an employee at the Middlebury restaurant had a positive COVID test.

But as of now, the restaurant does not require entering customers to show proof of vaccination. 

“We’re waiting for more guidance from the Vermont Department of Health and the governor’s office,” Jacobs said.

For the past two weeks, Two Brothers employees have been required to wear masks, but customers have not. The masks came out after the employee received the positive test result.

“That was actually a breakthrough case,” Jacobs said. “It was a staff member that was vaccinated. It did not fully affect patrons or staff.”

Thankfully, other employee COVID tests almost all came back negative.

“We did have one that was a false negative, and came back a couple of days later positive,” Jacob said.

After the positive case, management shut down Two Brothers Tavern on Aug. 9 and 10 while they assessed the situation. Jacobs described the shutdown as a huge financial burden for Two Brothers, estimating that the business might have lost $15,000 during the period.

Although the restaurant does not plan right now to require proof of vaccination for its patrons, Jacobs and the rest of the management team have set a Sept. 15 deadline for all staff to get vaccinated and show management proof of it.

SWEET CECILY’S

At the gift shop Sweet Cecily’s on Main Street in Middlebury, owner Nancie Dunne said there is no official requirement for customers proving that they are vaccinated.

But Dunne has also posted outside the building a message that reads: “In this state, in this community, and in this store, we believe in the science of the COVID-10 vaccine! If you have chosen to not be vaccinated, please visit when the pandemic is over!”

“(A vaccination requirement for employees is) not needed because everyone is vaccinated because we have an intelligent staff,” Dunne said. “If someone was choosing not be vaccinated for a medical reason, they would not be working here.”

Sweet Cecily’s has dispensed with a mask requirement for staff and patrons since Gov. Phil Scott lifted mandates on social distancing and mask wearing in June after the state reached an 80% vaccination rate.

Although Dunne’s business does not require proof of vaccination for customers to enter, she feels that the sign is having a similar effect of a proof-of-vaccination requirement.

“I haven’t had anyone (who was outraged with the sign) come in, there’s not too much to argue with,” Dunne said. “In the state and in this community, people have tried incredibly hard to stay safe, that’s why Vermont does so well. We now have hundreds and hundreds of tourists in our business right now. Until such a time as I require mask again, that sign might indicate where we stand about (this).”

lu•lu ICE CREAM

On Main Street in Vergennes, lu•lu Ice Cream owner Laura Mack said that her store does not require customers to show proof of vaccination — as of now.

“We are not a shop where people linger very long,” she said. “(Customers) usually eat outside or take it on a run,” but rarely “sit for a prolonged period of time.”

In light of the Delta variant, the shop’s employees are masking up again. 

Mack said her future decision on requiring customers to show proof of vaccination is subject to the recommendations from the state and the Vermont Department of Health.

“So at this time we’re comfortable with people not showing proof of vaccination,” Mack said. “We’re not requiring proof of vaccination, but as things change there is always potential that things could change as well.”

As Delta variant cases rise around the county, Mack said she will have to pick from many possible changes regarding masks or proof of vaccinations. But having spent her whole life in the restaurant business, she said that quick decision making is just a part of the job.

“I’m pretty fortunate I grew up in a restaurant as a whole,” Mack said. “Unfortunately in life things happen. This is what it is, now we’re shifting. I think I’m going to take it day by day. Make those hard decisions as a team so we’re really all comfortable.”

OTTER CREEK YOGA

“I’m just a regular person, I’m not a government official,” said Joanna Colwell, owner of Otter Creek Yoga in Middlebury. “But I do control Otter Creek Yoga and I can take a stand on who comes in there. Everyone shows me their card with joy!”

In contrast to the methods used by Two Brothers Tavern and Sweet Cecily’s, Otter Creek Yoga in the Marble Works since June has required customers (“students”) to show proof of vaccination for their first time returning to the studio since the pandemic’s onset.

The business also required its instructors to show proof of vaccination and is planning to bring back a mask requirement for students and staff.

Colwell is proud of Otter Creek Yoga’s hardline on COVID safety and is making no exceptions on her vaccination proof requirement.

“We just had this really painful thing happen this weekend,” she said. “We were going to have a visiting teacher come to the studio and teach some classes on yoga and anti-racism. And, basically, right before we were going to pick them up at the airport, they told me they weren’t vaccinated. I just have a lot of older students, a lot of immunocompromised people in our space. So, I had to cancel everything.”

Colwell felt that this incident stemmed from a small group of the yoga community who believe all types of vaccines can be harmful. She knows all about this sub-community in the yoga world — because Colwell used to be in it.

“I did not get my kid fully immunized until much older,” she said. “It was just because I had this mistaken idea that vaccines were not natural (by putting) all of these foreign substances into your body.”

She stopped being a skeptic of vaccines many years ago after conducting research on the internet.

“I wasn’t thinking about how vaccines protect everybody,” Colwell said. “Especially … the most vulnerable people.”

Like Dunne, Colwell has put a poster outside of her business urging customers to believe in the science of vaccines.

But — unlike at Sweet Cecily’s — Otter Creek Yoga is also requiring customers to show their vaccination cards.

“Everyone who controls a space, whether it is a church, a school, a store — you should make your space to be vaccination mandatory,” she said. “The people who are the most vulnerable are bearing the burden of everyone who is vaccine hesitant or vaccine resistant.”

John Vaaler can be reached at johnv@addisonindpendent.com.

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