Note: This story is more than a week old. Given how quickly the Covid-19 pandemic is evolving, we recommend that you read our latest coverage here.
Ten of Vermont’s 14 counties now have enough Covid-19 transmission where federal recommendations suggest universal indoor masking.
Chittenden County is one of five counties now considered “high transmission,” which is the most severe classification from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But walking around Church Street and downtown Burlington, most businesses aren’t asking all customers to mask up indoors.
Several business owners said that, without government mandates, recommendations are often confusing. They are considering varying factors to develop their own rules: How often they’re around children, whether their employees are vaccinated, how their competitors are responding.
“One of the things that was really helpful was when we were getting guidance from the state, and so it took decision-making on the part of the individual business owner out of the equation,” said Cathy Davis, president of the Lake Champlain Chamber. “If you’re going to require masks, that’s something you’ll have to enforce — or not. It leaves businesses and organizations in a sort of limbo.”
At Leunig’s Bistro on Church Street, the protocols have remained the same amid the most recent rise in cases. The restaurant asks customers and staff to wear a mask if they are unvaccinated, and runs on the honor system.
“I think it’s a good idea to start talking about masks again,” said Melissa Baldwin, Leunig’s general manager. She’s watching local case numbers and is wondering what to do in colder months, when it will become impossible to keep all the windows open.
“We’re definitely monitoring the situation and seeing what other restaurants are doing,” Baldwin said. “We want to be on par with what the rest of downtown is doing, too. We’re just kind of waiting to see.”
She acknowledged the burden mask enforcement can place on restaurant staff. She was promoted to general manager in March 2020, right as lockdowns started.
Covid safety enforcement “is what we do now,” she said.
Worried about kids
Down the street from Leunig’s, Nowa Crosby reinstated universal masking last week at his shop, Randolin Music.
Crosby was planning to visit his grandchildren for the first time since the pandemic began, but worried about rising case numbers. Three of his grandchildren, ages 3, 9 and 11, are still not eligible to get vaccinated.
“I decided if I was going to go see them, and they’re gonna want to hug you, I need to be careful,” Crosby said.
Children are also front-of-mind for staff at Diversity Hair in Burlington. Both Jacqui Gibson, the owner, and Emily Foster, the stylist at the next station, are vaccinated. Foster says she feels safe at work, but worries about kids who come into the salon, including her 8-month-old son, who she sometimes brings to work with her.
Gibson is wrapping up renovations to the salon’s interior and has been thinking about what mask or vaccine policies she’ll implement when she welcomes back a larger volume of customers next week.
“I think I’m going to have them start showing proof [of vaccination], just because of the new variant,” Gibson said. “With being vaccinated, I don’t feel too scared. I just want to protect myself and others.”
Foster said mask requirements were never a source of conflict with customers during earlier mandates. If they decide to bring back a mask requirement soon, she doesn’t expect it to be an issue.
“We have really good relationships with our customers. There’s a lot of built-up mutual respect, and relationships,” Foster said. “So if we ask them to put a mask on, they’ll just do it.”
Across the street from the salon, the popular Burlington bar Three Needs recently decided to require proof of vaccination upon entry, as reported in Seven Days.
‘We lost an artist’
Just down the same street, Yankee Tattoo is taking a similar approach, and has for months. A sign on the glass storefront tells clients they must either show proof of vaccination, or wear a mask.
A printed-out obituary hangs beside these instructions.
Anthony Audy, who had been an artist at Yankee Tattoo for 15 years, died of Covid March 30, 2021. He was 44.
“We lost an artist to Covid, so for us it’s been pretty serious,” said Eric Henshaw, the shop’s co-owner.
Henshaw said now that all Yankee Tattoo employees are vaccinated, it feels safer to come to work. But the economic threat also looms.
The shop has only six employees. If just one person got sick, it would upend operations.
So for now, the mask and vaccine protocols are here to stay. Henshaw said Yankee Tattoo plans to hold a staff meeting later this week to discuss a mask requirement for vaccinated customers as well.
“I don’t feel unsafe, or anything like that,” he said. “I’m just worried about people’s state of mind, and my business.”
Sign up for our guide to the global coronavirus outbreak and its impact on Vermont, with latest developments delivered to your inbox.