Vermont going mask-optional as of March 14

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont is going mask-optional as of March 14, based on its low COVID-19 hospitalization rates and the majority of its population being vaccinated.

"The decision to wear a mask will be up to each person based on their own circumstances and health needs," Patsy Kelso, state epidemiologist, said at Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly news conference on Thursday.

Kelso said the state will also simplify its isolation and quarantine guidance as of March 14. "If you test positive, you’ll need to stay home and isolate for five days. If you’re a close contact and not up to date on your vaccines, you do not need to quarantine, but should get tested."

She added that while the state has learned much about the virus, "it does continue to surprise us, and we need to be prepared to adjust, if necessary."

The mask-optional policy also will include schools, "regardless of vaccination status," Education Secretary Dan French said. "And this will apply to school buses, as well, since masks are no longer required on school buses as a result of a recent change in federal regulation."

Earlier this week, the state said Vermont schools with a student vaccination rate of 80% or higher can lift their masking requirements.