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How Vermonters are navigating discussions on removing masks

Many Vermonters applauded new guidance dropping masking requirements and social distancing for...
Many Vermonters applauded new guidance dropping masking requirements and social distancing for fully vaccinated people. But others say it's still too soon.(WCAX)
Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 5:17 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Many Vermonters applauded new guidance dropping masking requirements and social distancing for fully vaccinated people. But others say it’s still too soon.

Vermont is embarking on a new stage of the pandemic as vaccinations are up and cases are down.

Seventy percent of Vermonters have at least one shot and our positivity rate stands at 1.1%.

New state guidance lets fully vaccinated Vermonters ditch the mask in most settings, though businesses can still set their own rules.

Montpelier’s Hunger Mountain Co-op still requires masks and distancing.

“We want to get to a place where community spread is at or near zero. And we’re just not quite there yet,” said Kari Bradley of the Hunger Mountain Co-op.

Hunger Mountain’s employee union supports the move, as they’ve been on the front lines of enforcing the mask mandate in the first place.

“There’s a lot of name-calling, a lot of yelling, we’re starting to see it again but generally people are a lot nicer about it than in the beginning,” said Melissa Pelkey, the president of the UE Local 255.

However, some stores are adhering to the new guidance, trusting people will be honest about vaccination status.

Some people I spoke with who declined to go on camera applaud the news as long overdue.

The differing opinions are the latest example of Vermonters navigating how and when to wear masks as many are at different comfort levels, creating what experts call re-entry anxiety.

Throughout the pandemic, Vermont has relied on the honor system in adhering to the guidance. But many businesses are still playing it safe.

Erin Sigrist of the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association says more than 90% of their member businesses are still requiring masks.

“Just like at the beginning of the pandemic we all didn’t want to wear masks and now we’ve become so comfortable with it, it’s going to take some time for all of us to become comfortable with wearing or not wearing a mask around others who may not be as well,” Sigrist said.

But OSHA’s guidance is still in effect, saying employers need to create a safe and healthy workplace for employees, and discussions of what’s healthy and safe can be subjective.

As we navigate discussions, Sigrist says it’s critical to create an open discussion while everyone is on the job.

The mask mandate is still in effect for unvaccinated Vermonters until July 4, which state leaders say may be moved up. But that all depends on as many people getting the shot as possible.

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