This speech was delivered on the floor of the Vermont House of Representatives on November 22, 2021.
Thank you Madame Speaker. I rise today for my very first floor speech on the physical floor of the Vermont House. I rise to address a bill and a topic of great importance to our community, our state and to me, as a mother of two unvaccinated children. My oldest child is six and is finally eligible for a vaccine. She receives her first shot tomorrow. My youngest, who is two, still waits to be eligible.
For those who have never been the primary caregiver for young children in a pandemic, let me start by saying how incredibly stressful and anxiety producing the decisions of our Executive Branch, our local elementary school, and our child care center have been every single week of this pandemic. Every day we are anxious because we do not have a fully vaccinated family, yet.
Thousands of the state’s youngest Vermonters are relying on us to make decisions that impact their health and safety. Of course this also applies to thousands of more Vermonters who, while vaccinated, live with underlying health conditions or work in essential, frontline jobs.
We have an unfair choice in front of us in S.1. It is unfair because the Governor’s proposal was delivered with a threat of a veto if we were to do our jobs as legislators. It is also unfair because the Governor could take the necessary action to protect Vermonters from the surge of Covid cases on his own. Instead, we were called into session and, by extension, exposing all of our communities and families potentially to the virus. I get to return home to my unvaccinated children after this debate and can only hope I do not return with the virus.
Today we have an opportunity to protect Vermonters like my children. We can enable towns to enact local mask mandates to slow the spread of this virus. There is a better policy we can and should consider that uses a science-based formula and CDC guidelines for when and how we use a tool like a mask mandate, but our work today is being limited.
Mask policies work, especially when community spread is high as it is in Vermont today. They prevent larger scale disruptions to our economy, schools, and communities. When our economy shut down in 2020, working people and businesses suffered and we spent millions of our federal and state resources attempting to stabilize Vermonter’s lives.
When schools shut down in 2020 and continue to shut down due to positive cases, we saw a concerning spike in mental health needs, behavior outburst, and social dysregulation in our adolescent youth. When child care centers close, like my child’s is today, working parents and caregivers continue to pay for days without child care to support our child care center’s revenue stability. Some caregivers lose a day of income and others juggle work and watching young children at the same time. Let me tell you, that juggle is impossible to do.
I believe a large majority of Vermonters will use this mask mandate tool in their communities because it protects their community and I believe most Vermonters will comply. We must legislate from our conscience, not from a place of assumptions or guesses on who or who will not comply with a mask mandate.
Let’s remember Vermont’s youngest children in this debate who are relying on us to do the right thing and prioritize public health. Let us support local towns in their ability to enact a local mask mandate and then let us come back in January and use science to make better and more meaningful policy for our state.