Masks required

At the Brattleboro Municipal Center in August, visitors could grab a mask and sanitize their hands. 

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BRATTLEBORO — Masking up is mandatory again in Brattleboro.

“All establishments located in the Town of Brattleboro that invite the public into their premises for the purpose of receiving services, purchasing products, or otherwise transacting business, shall require both staff and customers (or visitors) to wear cloth face coverings or face shields over their nose and mouth while inside the establishment,” states a resolution approved by the Select Board.

At a special meeting Tuesday, Select Board members voted 4 to 1 to adopt an indoor masking rule that goes into effect immediately and makes exceptions for children under 5, anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, incapacitated or cannot remove a mask without help. Every establishment is responsible for posting signs at its entrance and other appropriate locations.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the board approved a resolution requiring facial coverings. Towns and cities had authority via an executive order from Gov. Phil Scott after he declared a state of emergency.

Town Manager Peter Elwell said the local mandate stayed in effect for 13 months, and the board rescinded it in June.

“A couple of weeks later, the state of emergency ended, and that would have ended the authority for that mask order in any place,” he said.

As case counts climbed, the board sought in August to put a mask mandate back in place but Scott said the town lacked the authority to do so. Scott has opposed reinstating a statewide mask mandate but allowed lawmakers to craft legislation during a special session this week that allows municipalities to put local mandates in place.

Select Board member Daniel Quipp said it comes “too late.”

“This piecemeal response across the state will guarantee its ineffectiveness,” he said. “The people of Vermont will suffer for this.”

The mandate should be statewide, Board Vice Chairman Ian Goodnow said.

“I have a lot of faith in Brattleboro to take care of ourselves and our neighbors, and get us through hopefully this last stage,” he said.

Noting that Brattleboro is a county hub, Board Chairwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin said people visit from around the region.

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“I think it’s important for Brattleboro even though we don’t have excruciatingly high numbers, if we stop one person from getting sick, that’s great because this is a public health emergency that I don’t think the governor properly recognizes,” she said.

Board member Tim Wessel, the only board member who voted against the rule Tuesday and in August, said he’s “pro vaccination” and “pro masking indoors” especially when appropriate distancing can’t occur, but he agrees with the governor that the mandate will divide people.

“I think you’re further tribalizing people,” he said. “You’re making the sides take their sides.”

Wessel said if people see everyone else wearing a mask, they’re likely to join them. He also worries requiring masks for vaccinated people sends the wrong message that vaccines aren’t working, when in fact, they’re effectively curbing hospitalizations and deaths.

Board member Jessica Gelter said she’s glad the town can finally mandate masking. She sees it as a way to communicate that the board takes the virus seriously and wants to protect the most vulnerable community members.

The board is required by law to review the rule in at least 45 days, and then at least every 30 days after. The board plans to put the rule on its consent agenda for every meeting, which would go without discussion unless a board member wants to bring it up.

With the legislative session starting in January, Elwell anticipates there could be changes that affect the law’s expiration date of April 30. He said there were lawmakers who opposed the legislation because it wasn’t statewide.

“So they voted no even though they believe action is needed,” he said.

No members of the public spoke during Tuesday’s discussion about masking. Wessel said responses from retailers collected by the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance were not uniform.

David Hiler, co-owner of the Whetstone Station Restaurant & Brewery and River Garden Marketplace, suggested the town make masks available for businesses if it will be requiring them. Robin Johnson, who runs The Stone Church, said the mandate would help his live music venue stay open.

“My opinion is that I’m sick of being told what to do at this point,” Nicole Chase, owner of Twice Upon a Time, said in the DBA document. “I wish the town and the state would make up their mind whether or not they want to be in charge or not so I could get back to running my business and surviving.”