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Alarmed by nationwide COVID spike, Scott to hold the line on Vt. spigot

Scott weighing possible mask mandate
Published: Jul. 21, 2020 at 6:26 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 22, 2020 at 11:30 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Governor Phil Scott Tuesday said the state is in a holding pattern in opening up the economy as coronavirus cases around most of the country continue to rise. And those increasing cases outside of Vermont could soon mean everyone inside the state could soon be ordered to wear a mask.

Governor Scott says the latest numbers are reassuring -- the fewest percentage of cases in the country, very low transmission rates, and no deaths in over a month -- all allowing Vermont to partly reopen its economy. But he says he is concerned about college students coming back in the fall and tourists flocking to see the foliage, bringing more illness to the Northeast.

"In looking across the country, we continue to see a forest fire spreading in the south and west and things could shift back towards us so we have keep our guard up," Scott said. "If it continues to look like this fire could be headed toward us, an expanded mask policy could be part of the mix."

For months, the governor has pushed back on a mask mandate, saying it would be nearly impossible to enforce and would create unnecessary conflict. But many Vermont municipalities have already taken action.

As part of a marketing campaign, the state recently surveyed 500 Vermonters over age 18 about what they think of wearing masks. It found 85% of respondents said they wore masks always or often while indoors.

We asked Vermonters across the state how they felt about a potential mask mandate. Todd Noel, owner ofPapa Noel’s Pizzeria in Sheldon, says he isn’t requiring customers or staff to wear masks in his store and that it’s up to the individual, though staff are required to wear them on deliveries.

"I'm not going to reject a customer just because they're not wearing a mask. I'm not going to deny anybody. So, if they come in here without a mask, I'm not going to treat them differently," Noel said.

"I feel like people should do what's right for them without intruding on our rights," said Rebecca Barry of Sheldon.

But others in Washington County applaud the governor’s willingness to require masks. ”And with school starting, I think you need to have that tool in the toolbox to provide some flexibility so you can respond to whatever the current situation is,” said Lowell Vanderlip of Montpelier.

Scott says an expanded mask mandate is something he's considering and will require it when the data supports it. "We may be at a point where with other people coming into the state, it's not just Vermonters we have to worry about. This may be the right time to do so," he said.

The governor said he may have more to say on the mask issue during Friday’s briefing.

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