Vermont’s face mask guidelines an outlier — without the negative effects seen elsewhere

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As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise sharply in states without strict mandates on face coverings, Vermont stands out among its neighbors.

The rest of the Northeast requires at least some customers of businesses to wear masks. Several states have what amount to across-the-board requirements.

But in Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott’s administration has declined to enact a statewide mask requirement for the general public and has maintained that encouragement, guidance and education are its preferred approach to curbing the effect of the coronavirus pandemic.

Even without a statewide order, Vermont has fewer cases than anywhere east of the Mississippi River.

To date, public transport riders are the only customers required to wear masks statewide. Individual towns and retail operations are authorized to make face coverings mandatory.

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“It’s a point of controversy for many. It’s become more of a national issue than anything else,” Scott said during a press conference Wednesday when asked about considering a change to his stance on the matter. “I continue to worry about enforcement of the action, who has to do this enforcement, whether it’s the shop keepers and so forth.”

COVID-19 in Vermont: What towns and businesses require face masks? Here are answers.

New York, Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island have each required wearing facial coverings in public. Connecticut has said business employees and patrons need to wear masks, while New Hampshire has limited such distinctions to specific businesses. 

Over the past two weeks, the 16 states that don’t require face masks at all have averaged an 84% spike in COVID-19 cases, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer analysis published Wednesday. Meanwhile, the 11 states that require public use of masks have experienced a 25% decrease in cases.

Vermont had a 61% decrease in cases during that span. But the Inquirer sorted the state’s looser mask guidelines into the same category as Florida, which saw a 179% increase.

Vermont recommends residents wear face coverings when outside of the home but only requires workers to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth when in the presence of others. Retail cashiers can use a translucent shield instead of a mask.

Scott has said going further than that has, to this point, not been necessary.

“People do the right thing,” said Scott, who wears a mask during his thrice-weekly media briefings.

“At the end of the day I believe wearing a mask to protect others is a strength,” Scott said. “It’s not a weakness, it’s a strength because you’re helping other people. If you can wear a mask I’d ask that you do so.

“I wear a mask because I want to protect my fellow Vermonters.”

Contact Austin Danforth at 651-4851 or edanforth@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @eadanforth.

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