Health Care

Burlington, South Burlington pass masking requirements

Mark Bouchett of Homeport on Church Street in Burlington is looking forward to reopening. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

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Burlington and South Burlington both took steps to require masks in some public places amid the coronavirus pandemic at their city council meetings Monday night.

The Burlington City Council passed a resolution requiring masks in retail stores and city buildings, while the South Burlington City Council passed a resolution that requires masks to be worn in city buildings and encourages masks to be worn in other public spaces. 

Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday that he would allow municipalities to adopt stricter masking policies after mandating earlier last week that retail workers, but not customers, had to wear masks as stores reopen this week.  

The Burlington council passed the resolution in an 11-1 vote, with Councilor Ali Dieng, I-Ward 7, voting no.  

The resolution requires both staff and customers to wear cloth face coverings or face shields over their noses and mouths while inside retail establishments. 

Councilor Joan Shannon, D-South District, said she saw the issue as a workers’ rights issue. Retail workers and other customers would not be protected if some customers did not wear masks, she said. 

“I think the public really wants this, to feel like they are safe in the shopping environment,” she said. “They want to support our downtown businesses, but they feel like they can’t do that unless they feel protected.” 

Shannon said that there was no enforcement mechanism in the resolution. 

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“Enforcement is primarily just by request, and a business owner could deny somebody service, but I would say that’s it,” she said. 

Dieng expressed concern over the lack of enforcement. 

The resolution requires companies to post signage informing customers they are required to wear masks, and does not apply to offices, restaurants, bars and hotels. Children under 2, those with difficulty breathing and those unable to remove the mask without assistance are exempt from the masking requirement. 

The requirement will remain in effect until the council amends, rescinds or suspends it, or if the mayor declares an end to the Covid-19 emergency.

The South Burlington resolution, which was passed unanimously, requires that masks be worn in city-owned buildings, and “strongly encourages” that city businesses and nonprofits require that masks be worn in their establishments. 

Helen Riehle, the chair of the South Burlington City Council, said in an interview with VTDigger Monday that the resolution had strong support as widespread usage of personal protective equipment is recommended by the CDC to stem the spread of the virus. 

“We thought that as we opened up, it would be important to have that as a requirement in public spaces in South Burlington,” she said. “It’s just for a period of time, until Covid-19 is under control, we have a vaccine and we can back off a little bit on some of the suggested safety measures for the public.”

The council is concerned about the safety of its city workers as they interact frequently with members of the public, Riehle said. 

The resolution does not include any enforcement mechanisms.

“We don’t have the capacity or the inclination to be arresting people,” Riehle said. “But I think there’s a certain amount of social pressure when it’s a law.” 

In Vergennes, Mayor Jeff Fritz said the City Council hadn’t yet discussed a similar measure, but possibly could at its meeting next week. 

Fritz said he strongly supported requiring masks. Most people in Vergennes are wearing masks, which is critical to ensuring that businesses are able to remain open, he said.

“I just think it’s simple common sense,” he said. “It’s a very easy courtesy to everyone around us, it’s pretty simple to slap a mask on.” 

However, other city leaders across the state say they have not considered masking requirements. St. Johnsbury Town Manager Chad Whitehead and Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson said neither municipality was considering such a requirement.   

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Brattleboro requires everyone inside municipal government buildings to wear a mask, but the town doesn’t have a community-wide ordinance at this time. Town Manager Peter Elwell says the five-member Selectboard may discuss the idea at its regular meeting Tuesday.

Justin Trombly and Kevin O’Connor contributed reporting. 

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Aidan Quigley

About Aidan

Aidan Quigley is VTDigger's Burlington and Chittenden County reporter. He most recently was a business intern at the Dallas Morning News and has also interned for Newsweek, Politico, the Christian Science Monitor and the Republican-American newspaper in Waterbury, Connecticut. He is a 2018 graduate of Ithaca College, where he served as the editor-in-chief of The Ithacan, the student newspaper. He is a native of Trumbull, Connecticut.

Email: [email protected]

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