Letter to the editor: Time for Midd mask mandate

I was very disappointed that at their last two meetings the Middlebury selectboard declined to issue a mask mandate (instead of merely a recommendation) for indoor public spaces in Middlebury. As the pandemic escalates and the delta and omicron variants further complicate our response, I hope the selectboard will reconsider their decision with attention to these points:

1) The “Precautionary Principle” in public health enjoins us to act in the public interest when there is suggestion of harm, especially when the consequences of inaction may be great. COVID is spreading ever more rapidly and the next few weeks will be hazardous. Thus, we should act promptly to prevent harm before it overwhelms us.

2) Our hospitals are stretched to the limit as resources and personnel are stressed to the breaking point. We are running out of beds, we must triage admissions and care, and the morale of chronically overstressed medical personnel is at a dangerously low level. Ordinary medical needs cannot be met and elective surgeries are postponed, because such a large proportion of care and staffing is needed for sick COVID patients.

3) Our businesses will benefit from a mask mandate as well. I believe that shoppers are more likely to come downtown and visit business establishments when they feel confident about their safety. This is certainly true for my family and my friends.

4) A mask mandate has been proven effective and flexible. Nevada has a model program that has been successful. Nevadans over age 9 are required to mask up in indoor public places, regardless of their vaccination status, in counties that meet the CDC criteria for high or substantial rates of COVID-19 transmission (like all of Vermont). The mandate is lifted when rates decline to a safer level of transmission (moderate or low) for at least two weeks, at which point masking is only required for unvaccinated people.

A mask mandate is responsible public health policy and good for business. A strategically timed mandate can be revisited and suspended as conditions permit. Right now the risk is particularly high with travel and holiday mixing, and the extreme contagiousness of the omicron variant.

A COVID-19 tsunami is coming and our best strategy is to anticipate it and act now. Masks are a simple, successful and safe preventive measure we all can take. Once the surge is underway there will be little we can do to mitigate the harm on individuals, our medical care system, and our businesses.

I would urge people to contact the Middlebury selectboard (kramsay@townofmiddlebury.org) to register their feelings about this urgent public health issue. It’s the least we can do to protect ourselves and each other.

Jack Mayer, MD, MPH


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