Mayor’s Office

State of the City - 2020

Mayor Miro Weinberger Declares that the State of the City Is a State of Emergency

In annual State of the City address, Mayor Weinberger outlines the challenges in the months ahead in response to COVID-19, the steps City government will take to get through this crisis, and a vision for Burlington’s future


Good evening residents of Burlington and City Councilors.

We meet tonight remotely, at a time of disruption and uncertainty with little precedent in our memories.

Our City, and the globe, are under deadly assault from a foe, the COVID-19 coronavirus, that we cannot see and still do not fully understand.

Our schools are closed and our college campuses are quiet.

The Church Street Marketplace, the hub of daily Burlington life for nearly 40 years, is empty, and only businesses essential for sustaining life remain open.

Our residents are under order from the Governor to Stay Home and are advised to cover their faces for safety when on the street pursuing essential tasks.

We look out our windows and see sprouting lily bulbs, robins, and neighbors on bikes – but these signs do not carry the sense of renewal and life of a typical spring.

In the last 19 days, we have lost at least nine Burlingtonians, and dozens more are battling the virus as I speak.

Those of us who have older parents fear for them, communicate with them through closed glass windows and online cameras, and wonder how long it will be before we can embrace them again.

Just behind this crisis of health, there also looms a crisis of economic disruption. Thousands of Burlingtonians have lost their jobs in recent weeks as massive sectors of the economy have ground to a halt. Renter or owner, employee or employer, all fear for the future of our homes, jobs, and businesses.

In short, the state of the City is a state of emergency. It is an emergency that is likely to last in some form for many months and that threatens us all, regardless of class, race, or age. And it is an emergency in which we each have a role to perform to save as many of our neighbors as possible, and to ensure that the Burlington of tomorrow is a city that emerges with renewed and even increased strength and vitality.

This is my ninth State of the City address, an annual speech that is required of the mayor by the City Charter. Tonight’s, though, is unique in many ways, including that my entire address will be about the COVID-19 emergency and how we will get through it.

Throughout this emergency, I have attempted to communicate daily with details and facts about the local response to COVID-19. In this address tonight, I plan to speak to four key pieces of the road ahead.

First, I will outline my thoughts on the context of our current moment.

Second, I will speak to the challenges I believe we may face for the next 12-18 months.

Third, I will summarize how we have reshaped City government over the last month and the steps we have and will take to ensure that we get through this crisis.

And fourth, I will share a vision for how Burlington can emerge as an even better, stronger, and more just community.

I will begin with our current moment.

Tonight, we believe we are approaching the crest of the public health emergency. The State is projecting that the crisis will peak sometime this month. Yesterday, the country’s Surgeon General warned that, "This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives.”

Here in Burlington, we know that the number of deaths is very likely to rise. We wish great strength to the dozens of our neighbors who are currently battling infections and to their families and loved ones.

And yet, at the same time, it is clear today that, thanks to the commitment and effort of the overwhelming majority of Burlington and Chittenden County residents, we are succeeding in flattening the curve. Barring an unlikely change of events, we are on course to stay well within the capacity of our health care system– which has been our paramount goal since this emergency began. Even amid the tragedy that our current moment holds, we also should recognize that together we have achieved a significant accomplishment, that was by no means assured one month ago.

Where do we go as a community from here? The future still remains very uncertain. However, the major outlines of the months ahead are beginning to take shape. We all are hungry to start thinking about what lies ahead, and need to start planning for it. I am going to do my best to level with you tonight about how I am thinking about what is before us, despite the risk that some of what I say may turn out to be wrong. Good outcomes in the months ahead will require both continued urgent government planning and action, and all of us to understand and commit to still more sacrifice and cooperation.

Public health experts expect that there will be three major stages of responding to this pandemic.

Stage One is our current stage, the Stay Home stage, where slowing the spread of the virus can only be achieved through extreme physical distancing measures. We will probably need to stay in this posture until two big things happen: 1) the State reports sustained reduction in cases for approximately two weeks, and 2) we dramatically expand our capacity to battle the virus.

During this period, we must use this time to our advantage. We have a lot of work to do to quickly develop new capacities to detect and test for COVID-19, to contact trace, to safely and supportively isolate individuals who test positive, and to ensure our health care system has everything it needs to sustain high levels of COVID-19 care. Burlington will continue to work closely with the Governor’s team in the weeks ahead to ensure that government is collectively ready when conditions allow us to move to the next phase.

If we remain committed to social distancing and the current trends reported by the Department of Health continue, hopefully we could drive down new cases to the levels we need sometime in the next one to two months. The better we each do our part, the less transmission there will be, and the sooner we can start re-opening parts of society and the economy.

Stage Two of our COVID-19 response will involve a planned, phased, and strategic, reopening of society, even as the threat of the virus remains. 

Vulnerable facilities, like nursing homes, will need to remain restricted and highly vigilant during this period. With each new sector of society that re-opens, we will need to watch carefully for new infections and work very hard to contain them when they do occur.

During Stage Two, as we live with the threat of the virus, we will need to continue hand-washing, avoiding touching our faces, capturing coughs and sneezes, cleaning surfaces frequently, and the other strategies that have become such a large part of our lives over the last month. Face masks also will be an important part of slowing the virus in the months ahead – more on that in a minute.

If virus spread within the community again becomes uncontrolled, we may need to re-impose some or all of the Stage One restrictions until the virus is suppressed again.

Here’s the hard reality: public health experts believe that Stage Two will probably last for 12-18 months.

Stage Three will be essentially going back to our lives before coronavirus, and we are unlikely to be able to get there until a vaccine has been developed and most people can be immunized.  Perhaps we will get relief sooner – many viruses do not do well in the summer heat, and it is possible that innovative medical treatments or even a vaccine could become available more quickly.  While we can reasonably hope for better, we should plan and prepare ourselves for a long, challenging fight.

Throughout Stages One and Two, concerns about the virus will impact our economy significantly. It is important to recognize, however, that successful social distancing, hygiene, and virus fighting strategies are not only our best public health tools, until we develop a vaccine or therapies, they also represent our only path for re-establishing the widespread public confidence in leaving our homes that is necessary to truly restart the economy.

This vision of the next year or more and its financial implications are daunting. Though the challenge is great, we will work our way through these questions with the same resourcefulness, commitment, and compassion that earlier generations brought to their defining moments. During World War II, Winston Churchill told his country: “The future is unknowable but the past should give us hope.”

What hope can we derive from history for our current moment? We can see that though the influenza of 1918-1919 was devastating, the world survived it and ultimately thrived again. In our recent history, we can see communities returning with resilience after being physically devastated by natural disasters – from Hurricane Irene to Superstorm Sandy. In this case, it should give us confidence to know that we will emerge from this storm with our buildings standing and infrastructure intact.

Looking just weeks into the past, we see multiple countries in Asia that are already well into Stage Two, having mobilized a massive virus fighting effort while re-opening (or in some cases never closing) much of their society.

Locally, we should take considerable hope from our actions over the last month to successfully flatten the curve. We have accomplished this to date by acting together. This virus makes clear to us that we must all work collectively for the common good; that the steps we take to protect ourselves also support our neighbors; and, in short, that we are only as strong as our community.

I have seen this spirit in Burlington in countless ways in recent weeks.

I saw it when I visited one of the 11 sites around Burlington where the Burlington School Food Project has been distributing free breakfasts and lunches to anyone under age 18 since schools were closed by this virus. BSFP has done this work in collaboration with partners, including our own Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Department. Thank you to Doug Davis, who leads the BSFP with great skill and compassion, and this entire team.

I saw it, too, when I was at the City’s North Beach Campground on the night that more than two dozen people experiencing homelessness got keys to individual campers to stay in. This group had been staying at the low-barrier shelter that we launched downtown six years ago, but there isn’t enough room at that facility for the social distance that is necessary right now. So, the City, the State’s Department of Children and Families, and the organization ANEW Place came together, and now, this vulnerable group in our community is in a safer place, and we all are safer too as a result. I want to particularly recognize Heather Bush from ANEW Place for her tireless work in this effort.

I know that there are many more heroes like Doug and Heather, and many more efforts like these two. These heroes are also every nurse who has been caring for patients at the University of Vermont Medical Center, every teacher who is adapting lessons to teach online, and every person who has put stuffed bears in their windows to make their neighbors smile. I know, too, that there will be many more Burlington heroes in the weeks and months ahead.

Next, I will speak to the work that City government has done and will continue to do in order to ensure that we get through this disaster.

Since we first began preparing for the arrival of the virus in February, we have been guided by the evidence that in global pandemics, local actions matter. As a result, we have dramatically reorganized City government to respond to this challenge.

On March 13, we activated our Emergency Operations Center, and that center now manages the decisions and actions that are related to this crisis. I want to thank our Fire Chief and Emergency Services Director Chief Steven Locke for his outstanding skill, commitment, and leadership through these first, key weeks.

On March 23, two weeks ago, we created the virtual COVID-19 Resource & Recovery Center, or RRC, to provide relief to all Burlingtonians who need it during this crisis. We’ve repurposed much of our CEDO team, as well as parts of the Burlington Electric Department and other City departments, to staff the RRC, and in their new roles this team is working to connect residents with resources, provide one-on-one consultation and support, analyze what big packages of federal legislation mean for Burlingtonians, and much more. Already, the team has responded to more than 200 individual requests for help, created 10 different program areas, and launched new programs like the Burlington food relief pilot program.

Elsewhere too, our City team is gamely, and with great flexibility and heart, taking on new assignments and functions. We also have repurposed the time of 10 City employees across five departments with research, epidemiology, and policy skills to form a City Analytics Team, in order to analyze a large volume of information about COVID-19, identify best practices, and use their insights to inform our emergency decision-making.

On other fronts, our cultural team of Burlington City Arts, the Fletcher Free Library, and Parks, Recreation & Waterfront is creating new online programming to support our community in this time of isolation and stress, and help us spark creativity and imagination from our kitchen tables. Our Department of Public Works is focused on the essential emergency work of keeping our water and sewer plants secure and functioning through this emergency, and transforming many streets into additional open spaces for social distancing. And so much more.

With all of this going on, and with staying connected and informed more important than ever, for the last two weeks, we have started holding daily public briefings to communicate the latest updates in the City. We plan to keep this up for as long as this crisis continues at its current pace.

Among the many efforts the City is pursuing, there are three major initiatives underway that I want to discuss here with you tonight.

The first is an initiative to supply masks to members of our community. Nearly three weeks ago, the City anticipated that masking strategies would be important, and started worked to see how we might be able to help produce masks.

At the end of last week, the federal government and the State announced new guidance encouraging everyone to wear masks outside the home. By that point, we had already had conversations with regional medical partners, sourced 1,400 yards of a thick fabric using the emergency allocation the Council approved the last time we met in partnership with local store Rags & Riches, partnered with the Lyric Theatre Company and Milton Artists’ Guild to help us create prototype masks, and begun getting masks into production with additional partners including outstanding community sewists, Vermont Teddy Bear, and Queen City Dry Goods.

Over the weekend, we started distributing the first run of these high-quality masks   to essential workers who need them at organizations ranging from Hannaford to Feeding Chittenden. I am now announcing two new goals.

First, we will work to provide these Burlington Community Masks to all of the essential workers who want them as soon as possible. If your organization is doing essential work, and you want masks, please email the RRC at

Next, we will continue to work with partners to scale our production to create tens of thousands of masks by May 1, so that every Burlington resident who wants one can have a high-quality masks when we move to Stage Two and start re-opening parts of the city.

The second major City initiative that I want to speak to tonight is part of our COVID-19 Resource & Recovery Center, or RRC. A key function of the RRC is to work with Burlingtonians to help our residents access the relief resources available to them as quickly as possible.

I want to give you an example of what I mean by speaking directly to the thousands of people within our community who have lost their job or are worried they soon will, and have no idea how they will pay for their rent or mortgage, groceries or healthcare, or other essential needs in the months ahead.

I want you to know that the City has been fighting for you through this crisis, and will keep fighting for you. From the beginning of this, I have made clear that no one should lose their home during a public health crisis that requires people to Stay Home. Last week, thankfully, Superior Court Judge Helen Toor took unprecedented action to essentially stop all evictions and foreclosures in Chittenden County for 90 days. I also testified to State legislators on this issue and they are moving forward with a bill to solidify these protections.

Now, I know that these actions alone don’t address the question of how you will pay your rent, mortgage, or other bills. We know that massive help is on its way from the federal government, and the RRC is here make sure all Burlingtonians get any assistance they need to access that aid, through web resources, adding capacity to the state Department of Labor, and, if necessary, through detailed one-to-one consultations.

Some of that aid will take time to get here, and that leads to the third major City initiative that I will discuss here tonight, which is all about giving City property taxpayers months of additional time to get help and figure out a personal path forward.

Already, before tonight, the City has suspended many fees and penalties, a summary of which is on the City website.

Tonight, the Administration is taking the rare step of asking the City Council to take action on Organization Day in order to add to this relief, and give our property taxpayers and their residential and commercial tenants more time to respond to the COVID-19 crisis without additional costs. We have put in front of the Council a $20 million plan to allow all property taxpayers who need it two additional months to make their June quarterly property tax payment without incurring penalties or interest. With our credit rating strong and the cost of large borrowing very small, we can take this unprecedented action to support our residents and workers at low cost and with limited financial risk.

In order to undertake these and other major initiatives, and to otherwise mount the emergency response to this crisis, and to recognize the new financial realities the City itself is facing, the City will need focus, sacrifice, and prioritize. We are anticipating a revenue shortfall of $5 million in the fourth quarter of this fiscal year alone, and even larger losses in Fiscal Year 21.

I want to be direct about what this means. As a result of this financial impact and focus on the COVID-19 emergency, we will need to delay or perhaps even let go of some of the city goals that we had prior to this crisis. By the end of April, we intend to bring a first phase of a COVID-19 Emergency City Financial Plan to the City Council in order to outline in more detail the City’s financial position and what we will need to do.

Even as we will have to make sacrifices, though, we will not compromise on or defer core Burlington values.

One of these core values is inclusion and belonging. Today happens to be the very first day on the job for the City’s first-ever Director of Racial Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging, Tyeastia Green. Tyeastia recently has relocated to Burlington from Minneapolis, and brings experience with and passion for developing racial equity programs for municipalities. With Tyeastia’s arrival, we have created new capacity in the City to break down the barriers of institutional racism and implicit bias. Tyeastia, welcome, and I am excited to advance this critical work with you.

Another core value is that Burlington continue to lead the way in responding to our other declared crisis: our climate emergency. To the greatest degree possible, we will pursue solutions that address both emergencies. To that end, tonight, I am glad to announce a Burlington Green Stimulus Package that will help support both our economic recovery from this pandemic and our transition to becoming a Net Zero Energy City.

Working through our outstanding municipal electric utility, the Burlington Electric Department (BED), we will redirect hundreds of thousands of dollars in existing efficiency funds to support a range of expanded or new programs, including initiatives to help lower energy bills for renters and low-and-moderate income households, boost incentives to help put local contractors and businesses back to work and support weatherization and heat pump installation, increase EV incentives, create a limited-time cash-for-residential-appliances program to incentivize a switch to efficient appliances, and assist with the cost of replacing commercial heating or cooling systems that fail in the months ahead. At our daily briefing tomorrow we will release details of this Green Stimulus Package.

Both of these examples lead me to the final topic that I want to speak with you about tonight: a vision for how Burlington can emerge from this crisis as an even better, stronger, and more just community.

While crises hold tragedy, loss, and hardship, they also can be times of transformation. In being forced to remake so much of our reality to respond to this pandemic, we also have the opportunity to remake parts of our future. I believe that we can find some lasting good in our response to COVID-19. Here are a few examples of what I mean by that.

First, we should build on the success of creating a low-barrier site at the North Beach Campground and emerge from this crisis taking better care of those in our community who are experiencing homelessness. We must be a community where all people can find shelter when they need it year-round.

Second, during this crisis, we are expanding our work to translate essential materials into languages other than English. In addition, before the end of this week, CEDO and the RRC will be announcing details of a new "trusted community voices" program to help share and disseminate important information across our City to people who speak different languages. This essential work of access and inclusion must continue beyond this crisis.

Third, so far in this crisis, we have used technology in new ways to track constituent requests, issue City permits, and expand public accessibility to public meetings. The use of these tools, and this broader spirit of innovation, should continue.

Fourth, through this emergency, I have seen a spirit of appreciation for each other and for our public employees that I have been heartened by. This moment of collective coming together has been an uplifting of our public dialogue, and a reminder of the value of expertise and competence in government. Even while the Trump Administration remains in the White House, I hope that we can hold on to this change in our civic discussion at the local level, and appreciation for the public employees who serve our city and state.

I want to close with gratitude. After I conclude this speech, we will be moving into the City Council meeting, and I am grateful for our City Council – your partnership, your challenges, your ideas, and throughout, the deliberative and democratic process that makes policy better. Together, with the twelve of you and the Administration, I know that we will head forward into these uncertain waters and find ways to guide Burlington’s ship to shore. I also want to congratulate again the three new City Councilors who were just sworn in for the first time: Sarah Carpenter, Jane Stromberg, and Zoraya Hightower. I particularly want congratulate Zoraya on her accomplishment of being the first woman of color ever elected to this body. I look forward to working with you for the betterment of our city.

I am grateful, too, for the three City Councilors whose service in that role concluded tonight. Councilor Adam Roof, I will miss your distinct perspective and thoughtful arguments. To long-serving Councilor and departing President Kurt Wright, I am grateful for our evolution from campaign opponents to trusted friends and colleagues, and I look forward to continuing to talk at least once a month when I join your radio show.

Finally, Councilor Sharon Bushor, in your 34 years of service to this City, you distinguished yourself as the longest-serving City Councilor in Burlington history, and someone who has shaped what this City is today in so many ways. Along the way, you have sat through many evening meetings here in City Hall. Today, I’m pleased to announce that in recognition of your long service and devotion to Burlington, we are hereby renaming City Hall Conference Room 12 with the much improved title of the Bushor Conference Room.

I am deeply grateful for our City’s outstanding team of Department Heads. Your skill, leadership, and deep care is a key piece of what makes our City work. In this crisis more than ever, I have been so appreciative of having all of you by my side as we think creatively and, simply, work hard for the people of Burlington.

I am also grateful that, even amid this crisis, signs of hope and the continuation of the rest of our lives still persist. Here is one of these examples: When I gave this address back in 2017, I shared the story of a woman named Alicia Sherman, who had come to a Town Hall Meeting we’d held that year on the opioid epidemic and described her experience with addiction and recovery. She had begun her journey as a competitive athlete taking prescribed pain medication, at one point landed in a hospital bed with a serious infection for 90 days, and from there, was able to break her opioid use disorder and rebuild her life. I heard from Alicia recently that on March 27, during the storm of COVID-19, Alicia and her husband Seth welcomed their daughter Arielle to the world. Congratulations to all three of you – stories like yours remind us of all of the life and hope that exists even amid this pandemic.

I am grateful that here on Zoom tonight we have Mary Jane Cain. Mary Jane and former Burlington Mayor Frank Cain attended my first seven State of the City addresses. Tonight, we also remember Frank and are so appreciative of the service that you and him have given to our community.

I am grateful for my family. Mom and Dad – thank you for all your guidance, encouragement, and love over the years. I look forward to being physically close to you again – I have some serious hugs for you. Stacy, Li Lin, and Ada – you are everything to me. I’m so fortunate to have a life partner like you, Stacy. Thank you for your unwavering support, wise counsel, and boundless love. Li Lin and Ada, thank you for being such wonderful daughters. Being your dad is awesome. Ada, I’m sure the tooth fairy already has heard that you lost your first tooth earlier this evening.

And finally, and above all, I am grateful for our Burlington community. This crisis has, already, reshaped so much of what was familiar to us just a month ago. One thing, though, hasn’t changed. Burlington continues to be a place where we leave chalk messages of greeting on the sidewalk for our neighbors walking by, where we volunteer to deliver meals to the front doors of seniors, and where, quite simply, we look out for each other. I know that we will get through these weeks and months ahead the same way we’ve gotten through the past few – together.

Thank you