New rules in Vermont require most people to wear masks in public places—indoors and out—to keep COVID-19 infection rates low.
Monday, business leaders from around Rutland pitched in to pick up 50,000 disposable masks secured by Foley Distributing.
The masks will be distributed to stores and other places in Rutland County where people are now required to wear facial coverings under Vermont's new statewide mandate—so customers won't have to be turned away.
"In order to open our businesses, in order to open our schools, in order to open the downtown, we need to follow the science," said Lyle Jepson, who will soon lead the new organization formed by a merger of the Rutland Economic Development Corporation and the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce. "And the science says, 'Mask up!'"
The mask policy took effect Aug. 1, following what Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, saw as concerning upticks in COVID-19 cases around the country and closer to the state's borders.
The move was met with a bit of pushback, with some questioning the need in a state with low infections, and others claiming it's an infringement on their rights.
But generally, reports from around the state show good compliance so far, thanks to a greater understanding of how a mask can stop a person who's infected—but who doesn't know it—from spreading the virus.
More on the Coronavirus in Vermont
Public service announcements from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and from Rutland Regional Medical Center are now urging Vermonters over age 2 to cover their mouths and noses whenever they're someplace that is open to the public—indoors or out—where they can't guarantee physical distancing.
Exceptions are allowed for people with medical conditions, developmental disabilities, or those engaging in strenuous exercise.
In Middlebury, oversized masks are decorating storefronts and town landmarks. They were hung this weekend by volunteers in the community who belong to an informal collective called Sewing for Change.
The art project, known as "Masks on the Line!" aims to both add fluttering pops of cheerful color and to remind neighbors and visitors of the new mask rules.
"This is the new reality and new landscape, so why don't we celebrate it?" suggested Nancy Edwards, one of the volunteers who sewed masks for the art project.
"Wearing masks sends the message that we care about each other," added Bethany Barry of Sewing for Change. "I care about you, and you care about me, so we wear masks."
Another effort is distributing masks to people who register for food assistance through the federally funded Farmers to Families food box program. Those grocery pick-ups are happening around the state.