Do you need to wear a mask in public?

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Do you need to wear a mask when you're out in public? Mixed messages from state and city leaders are one example of what has developed into a hot debate.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced Wednesday that the city will be making masks for essential workers, buying fabric and partnering with local artists to put them together. He calls them an effective tool in fighting the spread of the coronavirus. But that's a different message than from Vermont's health commissioner.

We spotted Peter Garom outside the Price Chopper in Burlington and asked the Vergennes man why he chose to wear a mask to the grocery store. "Mostly, just as a reminder of staying apart to other people. It's a little bit of help, a little protection, but not a lot I don't think," Garom said.

Vermont has discouraged people from wearing masks unless they're showing symptoms. That message was repeated Wednesday by Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. "I will caution everybody right now it is not considered an intervention for the public to be using, so don't go out and buy masks," he said.

But other countries have embraced masks. We saw them used widely in many Asian countries and also in parts of Europe, with some spots even ordering people to wear them while grocery shopping or going outside.

The CDC is also reportedly considering changing its guidance on masks here. The new thinking stems from the growing evidence that people can have and spread the virus for 48 hours before they start feeling symptoms. That's something Dr. Mark Levine warned about, but he said until science proves their efficacy, Vermonters who are healthy don't need them. "I would hesitate to just embrace something that would give us the illusion that we're protecting ourselves," he said.

Others we asked said masks shouldn't be mandatory. "I think it's personal choice -- whatever they want to do. If it makes them feel good, then they should probably do it. If not, then continue on as the way they're going," said Mark Kenney of Burlington.

Garom says his was leftover from something else, otherwise it should be at a hospital instead. "While we don't have enough, I think they need to go where the real need is," he said.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: So, if you hadn't already had that one, you wouldn't be wearing it?
Peter Garom: I wouldn't be wearing a mask, no.

Across the lake, Plattsburgh is already asking residents there to wear masks when they're out in public. Mayor Colin Read Wednesday said there's growing evidence that even simple cloth masks can keep people who are infected from passing the virus to others.