Mayor&Rsquo;S Office

Covid-19 Update and Next Steps for Police Accountability

January 10, 2021

Neighbors – This has been a tough week. You can read my reflections on the insurrection at our nation’s Capitol and the fatal structure fire on King Street. Today, I also want to share with you an important update about the Covid-19 pandemic in our community, and next steps for police accountability.

Covid-19 Update: New variants, latest local testing opportunities, + more

I’m concerned about the implications of the new variants of Covid-19. At least one of these new variants appears to be much more transmissible. While this new strain appears to be no more dangerous than the prior strains at the individual level, this is bad news at the community level. Unchecked, a more contagious strain will spread more quickly, infect more people, and ultimately result in more hospitalizations and lives lost. While the new strain has not yet been identified here in Vermont, it has been found nearby and our country’s capacity for identifying new strains of the virus is very limited: we should assume that the new strain is already here and beginning to circulate locally. We also continue to see growing levels of viral RNA in wastewater readings across much of the city, including the New North End, Old North End, and South End.

So what does this mean for us? It means that even though we are all fatigued from Covid precautions, it is even more critical that we redouble our efforts to contain the virus for the remaining months ahead. More people are getting vaccinated every day and the end of the pandemic is in sight – which means that if we can hold off this virus for another few months, we can prevent more deaths.

I urge all Burlingtonians to once again – as you have done so remarkably well over the last 10 months – re-commit to all of the practices we’ve learned since the pandemic began: Avoid the “three Cs” of crowds, close contacts, and closed-in spaces, especially in combination. Always follow the Governor’s mask order, and choose a high-quality face covering if you can. Physically distance yourself when around others. Avoid non-essential travel and indoor gatherings with other households. Screen yourself every day for symptoms before entering work or other institutions, and get tested after possible exposures.

Speaking of testing: Anyone who was in close contact outside their household over the holidays should get tested. Free, public testing continues every day at 405 Pine Street in Burlington, and this site can now test 450 people every day. There’s also a daily testing site in Winooski at the O’Brien Community Center, and the State has scheduled a pop-up test site in the Old North End every Friday in January. Learn more about testing options in our area on the City website:

In my Covid-19 briefing this week, I talked more about this new variant with Dr. Stephen Leffler, President and Chief Operating Officer of the UVM Medical Center. Dr. Leffler also shared an update on vaccine distribution, and I discussed additional actions the City is taking right now – including launching a new program to distribute free HEPA filters to qualified small businesses and non-profit organizations. Watch the briefing on the City website.

Next steps for police accountability

I recently made the difficult decision to veto the City Council’s proposed Charter Change to establish an independent community control board of the Police Department. I had multiple concerns with the details of this proposal that I discuss more in a memo to the City Council and follow-up statement. Fundamentally, I was concerned both that the proposal as written would further compromise our ability to provide the public safety services that the public expects, and that it was highly likely to fail at later stages of the Charter Change process – which would have resulted in setting back efforts for needed reform by years.

We do need to reform how the City Charter addresses police discipline – both to get these decisions right and to secure broader public confidence in this system. I was the first Burlington elected official to point out, a year ago, that it is a problem that the Charter gives the Police Chief near absolute authority over police discipline decisions. In my veto letter, I laid out numerous steps that we should take to continue making immediate progress on improving the police discipline system, and since the Council meeting last Monday night, I have already spoken with Progressive and Democratic City Councilors and community members about moving these and other ideas forward. I am confident that there will be more public progress on this issue in the weeks ahead.


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