By Katy Savage
If you’re planning to go to Woodstock, don’t forget your face mask.
The Woodstock Village Trustees and town Select Board have required masks both inside retail stores and in outdoor public spaces since July 9.
The requirement is being enforced by the Woodstock Village Police, the health inspector and village parking attendants, but Town Manager Will Kerbin said no fines will be issued. Parking attendants will give free masks to those who don’t have their own.
“The intent of it is to educate and protect public health and safety,” Kerbin said.
Woodstock is joining several other Vermont towns that have similar policies.
The Brattleboro Select Board voted unanimously in May to require face masks inside establishments. Burlington and South Burlington have similar requirements as do Wilmington and Manchester. Montpelier also passed a policy in June requiring anybody who enters a public building or uses public transportation to wear a mask.
Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine recommended people wear face masks in April to reduce the spread of Covid-19, but Gov. Phil Scott has yet to issue a statewide mandate, despite increasing pressure to do so.
Vermont and New Hampshire are the only states in the Northeast that don’t require face masks at this time. At least 24 other states have made them mandatory.
Vermont Sen. Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, who has urged Scott to mandate face masks, said the Legislature will likely discuss the topic in August, if the governor hasn’t required masks before then.
“The science is not in dispute that when both parties to an interaction area wear a mask it reduces the spread of infection,” Ashe said.
Ashe also called it “unfair” that employees are required to wear face masks, but customers aren’t.
The use of face masks has been debated in some towns.
The Rutland Board of Aldermen discussed the issue at its July 6 meeting, but Mayor David Allaire said he’s recommending the board not mandate masks, but encourage people to wear them on a voluntary basis.
“I’m taking my cues from the health department,” said Allaire. “The numbers are low. We have one of the lowest infection rates in the country.”
Similarly, Killington Town Manager Chet Hangebarth said the town will continue to follow state guidelines and recommend face masks, but not require them.
“Even if you say it’s required, there’s no enforcement,” Hagenbarth said.
Some businesses have been requiring face masks, while others are recommending it.
Killington Resort requires masks inside buildings and outside if you’re near other people.
Phoenix Books Manager Will Notte said the store in Rutland has been requiring masks since reopening.
Notte said all businesses on Center Street in Rutland individually decided to require face masks. He said most customers have been cooperative, but one refused to wear a mask and decided to shop elsewhere.
“It speaks to why there should be a statewide mandate from the governor,” Notte said. “It certainly helps that we are putting forward the same policy.”
Though other towns’ ordinances have focused on indoor spaces, Woodstock’s requirement for face masks outside is unique.
Kim Smith, the owner of 37 Central Clothiers in Woodstock, said the policy is necessary.
“We have a lot of tourists that are coming through town and we want to make sure people are comfortable,” Smith said. “Everybody who’s coming knows how great we’ve done and everybody wants to keep it that way.”
Woodstock Pharmacy owner Gary Smith said the tourist traffic in Woodstock has been heavy. Smith is keeping his doors closed to the public for now and is taking prescription orders by phone.
“I don’t know who I’m letting in my front door,” Smith said. “I personally feel Gov. Phil Scott has made a huge mistake by not mandating masks statewide.”
Smith said he’s losing about 25% of his business but reopening to the public would be a “suicide mission.”
“I feel the virus has a long way to go,” Smith said.
As states start to reopen and testing becomes more available, the number of Covid-19 cases across the country has risen. Vermont has also seen an uptick in cases.
There have been a total of about 1,300 cases in Vermont, including eight in Woodstock and 16 in Rutland City as of July 9, but those numbers could change. A total of 30 presumptive positive Covid-19 cases were reported in Manchester on Monday, July 13.
Vermont’s state of emergency, which was supposed to expire on July 15, was recently extended to Aug. 15.