Health Care

Are masks required outdoors? And other FAQs on Vermont’s mask requirement

Signs outside the Simons Store on Park Street in Burlington advise customers to practice good pandemic hygiene on Friday, July 24, 2020. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Last week, Gov. Phil Scott announced that a mask order would go into effect statewide on Aug. 1, requiring people to wear cloth facial coverings in public spaces in Vermont.

Until now, Scott has preferred to encourage people to wear masks through education and awareness, rather than by mandate.

Mask mandates have been up to municipalities so far during the pandemic. Some cities and towns, including Burlington, South Burlington, Brattleboro, Montpelier and Wilmington, already have local mask policies in place.

Before Scott’s order goes into effect on Saturday, VTDigger put together a list of FAQs for readers about what the statewide mask order means, where it applies, and the penalties for not following it.

Where do I have to wear a mask?

Under the governor’s order, starting Aug. 1, face coverings will be required in public outdoor and indoor spaces “any time it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least six feet with others from outside their household.” 

What about when I’m outside?

Masks are not required for people who are exercising outdoors, or when people are outdoors and far away from others.

At a press conference Tuesday, Scott said if you’re on an outdoor path, regularly passing people but not consistently within 6 feet of others, it’s probably good to bring a mask, though you don’t have to wear it the whole time. 

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“I would keep your mask with you in case someone wants to engage in a conversation or stops to let you by,” he said. “You know, mask up while passing someone — just be respectful of others.”

Why is the governor ordering people to wear a mask?

As the pandemic continues, a growing volume of data is pointing towards the efficacy of mask-wearing in slowing the spread of the virus. Research published in June by medical journal “The Lancet” reviewed 172 studies from 16 countries to determine that mask use could result in a “large” reduction in Covid-19 infections.

And it goes both ways. Although wearing masks is particularly effective at protecting others, the evidence is also growing to suggest that masks also protect you from others’ droplets that may carry the Covid-19 virus. Experts have suggested that mask-wearing may reduce the risk to the wearer by 65%.

So why haven’t masks been recommended since the beginning? When the pandemic began, public health officials did not yet know the extent to which people could spread the virus before showing symptoms — or how many people could have the virus without ever getting any symptoms at all. 

However, when everyone wears masks, evidence shows both those groups pose a much smaller threat.

Why now?

The governor has long resisted a mask order, but said that while Vermont’s case rate is still low, the rise elsewhere in the country has put Vermont on high alert. He said the primary failure of Vermont’s previous policy of education rather than enforcement was that more time was needed to raise awareness of the importance of wearing masks.

“What the modeling indicated to me was that we’re going to see possibly some cases coming back towards the Northeast within the next three to six weeks, and I just wanted to be prepared … and in this case, time didn’t allow for that, we needed to take steps more immediately,” Scott said at Tuesday’s press conference.

What will happen if I don’t wear a mask?

At this point, there are no penalties for failing to comply with the order. Scott said his executive order does not include any fine structure; however, he noted that one could be implemented later if it is needed. Scott said the state is still relying on education as its primary tool when people are found to be noncompliant.

“I think the hope is that all Vermonters will tactfully and graciously provide reminders to one and other,” Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Schirling said in an email to VTDigger.

Schirling said the state’s “educational posture” on masks will continue, noting that once information on making has been posted on buildings statewide “we the overwhelming majority of Vermonters will follow the guidance. In the event [people] do not, gentle reminders are all that is recommended. Confrontations will not help.”

Businesses can also refuse to serve people who decline to wear a mask, or refuse to let them enter.

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Is anyone exempt from the order?

Children under the age of 2 are exempt from the order. Anyone who has a medical condition or developmental disability that would be complicated by wearing a mask is not required to wear one. People who decline to wear a mask because of health concerns will not need to produce documentation. 

Where can I get a mask?

The state has a page on its website dedicated to Vermont companies selling face masks, most in the $5-15 range. The list has nearly 50 businesses from across the state that are now selling masks — ranging from outdoors companies to Etsy shops to bridal stores, and everything in between. There’s even a few new businesses on the list that sell face masks exclusively, to both businesses and individuals. 

The state Department of Public Safety will also be distributing 200,000 face masks statewide, for free, through municipalities and other organizations. It will be up to local entities to decide how to distribute the masks to residents.

And if you’d rather DIY than buy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has guidance on how to make your own mask at home.

What should I know to make sure I’m wearing a mask effectively?

On a page called “How to wear masks” the CDC recommends a few key steps to take when wearing a mask:

  • Put the mask over your mouth and nose, and secure it under your chin.
  • Wash your hands before putting the mask on, and after taking your mask off.
  • Try to make the mask fit snugly against the sides of your face.
  • Try not to touch your mask. If you do, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands.

The CDC says masks should be washed after each use, or in the case of disposable masks, replaced after one use.

And, experts say masks are not a replacement for physical distancing. Even when wearing a mask, it’s always safer to stay 6 feet apart.

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Ellie French

About Ellie

Ellie French is a general assignment reporter and news assistant for VTDigger. She is a recent graduate of Boston University, where she interned for the Boston Business Journal and served as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Free Press, BU’s student newspaper. She is originally from Duluth, Minnesota.

Email: [email protected]

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