From the General Manager, August 5, 2021

Dear Co-op Shoppers,

I wish I had a more uplifting topic for you at this time, but the inescapable fact is that cases of COVID-19 are on the rise nationally and locally. Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to require the wearing of a facial covering at the Co-op beginning Tuesday, August 10. This is short notice, and we greatly appreciate your support and understanding. Here is a summary of our thinking:

Since the start of the pandemic, we have based our actions on our understanding of the risk for shoppers, employees, and local vendors. The recent increase in cases has led us to revisit our cautious approach. Our co-op was amongst the first places in town to start masking in the spring of 2020 and amongst the last to lift precautions a month ago. Now we are back to evaluating risk and planning responses based on the latest data and information.

Here is a recap of the latest:

  • Last week the CDC began recommending vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear masks in public indoor spaces in places with substantial or high transmission (defined as at least 50 cases per 100,000 population).
  • This is based on new data showing that the Delta variant is highly contagious and may result in more severe health impacts, and that immunized people with “breakthrough cases” can be contagious.
  • As of today, the 7-day average of new cases in Vermont is 46, a 249% change from two weeks prior (from NYTimes.com).
  • In Washington County, we are averaging four new cases per day, more than double from two weeks ago.
  • According to the CDC website, Washington County is averaging 39 cases per 100,000. Meanwhile, Chittenden County is at 80 per 100,000, placing them well into the substantial transmission category.
  • On the positive side, hospitalizations and deaths remain very low as the vaccine appears to be effective at preventing serious illness.
  • Furthermore, breakthrough cases appear to be rare. A Kaiser Family Foundation study of states that collect breakthrough case data found that less than 1% of fully vaccinated people contract COVID.
  • While recognizing that transmission is up, the State is generally optimistic given our high rate of vaccination. They are recommending masking in schools this fall but expect the current case surge to peak in about a month and are not planning to reinstate any requirements.

From this information, we conclude that risk is increasing incrementally for our co-op community. Let us acknowledge that the risk profile has shifted primarily to those who are unvaccinated, which includes children who have not yet had the opportunity. There may also be some increased risk for the elderly and immunocompromised who did not have a robust immune response to the vaccine. Finally, we need to consider folks in these categories who are household members of our employees and shoppers.

Based on this, our staff response team developed a set of metrics to guide us in deciding when to reinstate safety precautions. Specifically, earlier this week, we set a threshold of 40 cases or more per 100,000 in Washington County (7-day average from CDC) to require masking at the Co-op. Unfortunately, we are certain to reach that point by the end of this week, so beginning next week, we will restart our mask requirement until we judge the risk has subsided.

Until then, we encourage everyone to wear a mask and get vaccinated to help protect themselves and our community. Our Curbside Pick-Up program remains an excellent option for those who want to minimize contact with others.

I want to acknowledge the concern, disappointment, frustration, and other feelings that may come with this new chapter. I share some of these but remain hopeful given our community’s values and relative success with the disease so far. At the Co-op, our top priority remains everyone’s health and safety, so we greatly appreciate your support as we get through this together.

Thank you and all our best,
Kari Bradley, General Manager