Vermont Statehouse drops Covid vaccination and testing rules

Members of the House of Representatives huddle together during a break in debate during a special session of the Legislature at the State House last November. Lawmakers voted Monday to drop Covid-19 vaccination and testing guidelines for visitors to the statehouse. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Lawmakers voted Monday to drop Covid-19 vaccination and testing guidelines for public visitors to the Statehouse to post signs that “strongly recommend” visitors be vaccinated.

The old policy, passed in December 2021, had recommended visitors show proof of vaccination to Statehouse staff upon entering the building and be screened for symptoms of Covid. But Sergeant-at-Arms Janet Miller told members of the Common Rules Committee on Monday that the rule was only followed “a couple of weeks” into the legislature because there weren’t enough staff to enforce it.

The old policy had also allowed the public to request rapid tests from the Sergeant-at-Arms. Miller said no one has asked about these tests since the system was set up.

As well as recommending vaccines, the new policy also requires signage stating that those with Covid symptoms should refrain from entering legislative rooms.

The new motion was accepted unanimously. Only one member seemed to question its effectiveness: Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, said government buildings put up signs all the time and “no one reads them.”

“Signs are everywhere on government buildings, you would go blind if you tried to read all the signs,” he said. (Brock eventually voted for the new policy.)

The current mask policy at the Statehouse, which the committee did not discuss Monday, recommends that everyone entering legislative rooms wear a quality mask. It will also require masking if the federal government rates the area as having high Covid levels.

It is unclear how closely this policy, passed in March, is being followed. None of the committee members wore a mask at Monday’s in-person meeting. (Covid levels in Washington County are currently classified as “Low” by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

While most Covid restrictions in the building have now been lifted, capacity limits remain in certain poorly ventilated and often crowded areas. For example, the second-floor Cedar Creek Room, once a popular spot for gatherings and press conferences, remains limited to a capacity of about 30 people due to air quality concerns, Miller told the committee.

The Sergeant-at-Arms said the state Department of Buildings and General Services is reviewing air quality concerns around the building, adding that ventilation issues are unlikely to be resolved until summer 2024.

Meanwhile, the committee voted to have the Cedar Creek room closed to large gatherings and press events.

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