Due to outbreaks of the novel coronavirus across the country, Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday he will be implementing a mask mandate in Vermont.
The mandate, which will be implemented Aug. 1, requires masks to be worn in public spaces — both indoors and outdoors — where physical distancing is not possible, Scott said during a news conference.
The mandate applies to everyone over the age of 2, Scott said. Masks will not be required, however, when individuals are eating, drinking or doing strenuous activity.
With the new mandate, businesses will have the right to refuse service to those who aren't wearing a mask, the governor said.
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"Unfortunately, this issue has become polarized and, I'm still worried that a mandate will create unnecessary conflict and resistance," Scott said. "Attacking, shaming, and judging isn't going to help; but understanding, educating, leading by example, meeting people where they are, and maybe a little kindness and understanding will."
The governor said although Vermont's positivity rate is frequently the lowest in the country and the state currently has fewer cases than any other state, modeling shows that the spread may be heading back to the Northeast.
"We need to protect our hard-won gains," Scott said. "This is a much better approach than having to roll things back, like they’ve done in states like California."
The governor said the state will continue with its education campaign in an effort to help reduce the spread of the virus and ultimately keep Vermonters healthy. He added that he knows not everyone can wear masks for health reasons and those individuals will have to be given the "benefit of the doubt."
For people who don't have health issues but have resisted wearing a mask, Scott said he was urging them to look at the data.
"The science is real and wearing a mask will help your family, friends and neighbors stay healthy," he said.
The announcement on the mask mandate comes as Vermont, like other states, tries to prepare to send students back to school this fall.
Vermont has not reported a COVID-19 fatality since June 16. The death toll remains at 56. As of Friday, there were eight new positive cases for a total of 1,385 statewide, according to the Vermont Department of Health.