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Vt. Gov. Phil Scott imposes statewide mask mandate

Published: Jul. 24, 2020 at 8:00 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 24, 2020 at 7:02 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Starting on August 1, Vermonters are required to wear masks inside and outdoors if they can't socially distance. The governor has been resisting a mask mandate since he declared a state of emergency 134 days ago. Our Calvin Cutler reports on what's changed.

Vermont is still leading the nation in curbing COVID-19. But cases from the South and West are spreading back to the Northeast. So Gov. Phil Scott is instituting the statewide mandate.

"Reducing the spread of the virus and keeping Vermont healthy and open is the goal. To accomplish this, we need everyone who can wear a mask to do so," said Scott, R-Vermont.

People will have to wear one inside and outside when they can't socially distance. Businesses will have to post signage.

There are two exemptions: people with medical conditions and kids under the age of 2, except when eating, drinking, exercising or participating in strenuous activity.

Businesses can turn away people who don't comply.

"Anyone who declines to wear a mask because of health concerns or difficulty breathing will not be required to produce documentation or other evidence because doing so would be a violation of their health care privacy rights," the governor said.

Still, some Vermonters with medical conditions worry about the stigma.

"I mean, you definitely need them but I think mandating it isn't the way to go. It'll cause problems," said Chris Wilder of Barre.

But on the front lines of enforcing the mandate are businesses. Staffers at Lenny's Shoe and Apparel in Barre say they supply everyone with masks who needs one.

“We supply them anyways in the store, so it’s just a polite thing to go, ‘Hey, here you go,’ so you can get a mask and keep everyone safe,” said Ned McCarthy of Lenny’s.

There are no fines or penalties for not complying but the governor isn’t ruling out potential fines in the future. He knows the mandate is tough to enforce, but Scott is calling on all Vermonters to maintain the progress the state has made.

“We just want people to do the right thing, get prepared for this and understand that it’s in the best interest of all of us. We’ll get through this quicker if everyone does the right thing,” the governor said.

At the same time, the state is rolling out a mass media campaign to encourage Vermonters to voluntarily comply.

More than 4 million people are now infected with COVID-19 in the U.S. Vermont joins at least 41 states plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico that now have some type of mask requirement.

There were 52 new cases in Vermont this week, but health officials say that Vermont’s positivity numbers remain under one percent.

About 7.1 million people can now visit Vermont without a quarantine under the state’s guidelines.

As of Friday, Vermont health officials reported 1,385 coronavirus cases in the state and 56 deaths. A total of 87,692 tests have been conducted, 1,087 travelers are being monitored, 4,682 have completed monitoring and 1,177 have recovered.

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