Vermonters Learn of Mandatory Face Mask Rule Starting Aug. 1

Even people who don't particularly like wearing facial coverings said they understood the health and economic concerns of Gov. Phil Scott

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Word of Gov. Phil Scott's newly-announced mask mandate spread quickly across Vermont Friday.

"The masks are a good thing," said Cindy Hallett of Rutland, who had to wear a mask in order to enter the Walmart in the city for a shopping errand. "I wouldn't be able to work at my job right now if we didn't use masks."

The Republican governor said Friday that under an official order, masks must be worn across Vermont starting Aug. 1. The mandate applies to grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, hardware stores and other locations—indoors and out. It pertains to any place that is open to the public where physical distancing is impossible, Scott said.

"Please, help us out," Scott said Friday. "Let's not make the news with screaming matches caught on video. Let's do things the Vermont way by being role models and leading by example."

It's a shift for the Republican, who up until now has resisted a mandate—preferring instead to educate and encourage mask use.

His new rule applies to anyone over age 2, but not while eating or drinking, or during exercise outside.

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine noted the administration knows some folks have medical or developmental conditions that mean they can't wear masks.

"We must all be understanding and avoid the temptation to judge or shame," Levine said.

Vermont has consistently had one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the country, and hasn't seen a coronavirus-related death in more than a month, state officials noted Friday.

Scott's order follows what he said are serious concerns about COVID-19 spikes in the South and West, and other hotspots closer to home.

The move also eliminates a patchwork where certain towns or specific retailers have policies others don't.

Outside the Rutland Walmart, NECN and NBC10 Boston saw customers turned away if they weren't wearing face coverings.

"It's not comfortable but in the overall big picture of health, I have kids—I don't want them to get sick—so it doesn't really bother me," said Arlie Davidson, who wore one of his son's spare t-shirts as a face covering to Walmart when he forgot one.

"I'm of two minds," said a shopper named Debbie, who declined to give her last name. "I'm the vulnerable population, however, there's a lot of people who can't [wear masks] and I don't see how they're going to get little children to do that."

Vermonters have been urging their neighbors to wear masks—even using distinctive characters on their property to help spread the message. A front yard giraffe sculpture in Williston, a towering King Kong statue on Route 7 in Salisbury, and a roadside T-Rex and Minion further south on 7 in Rutland are all now wearing masks.

Expect many more visible reminders, with Scott telling businesses, nonprofits, and town buildings to post signs informing people about the order—and their ability to deny service if you don't mask up.

Scott added that there won't be any fines, at least not at first, for violating the new mask mandate. He said he believes most Vermonters will want to do the right thing to keep their neighbors healthy and to keep businesses open.

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