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Masks required in Brattleboro establishments

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BRATTLEBORO — In an effort to contain the spread of germs during the coronavirus pandemic, the Select Board approved an emergency order requiring facial coverings inside Brattleboro establishments in a 5-0 vote.

"We are going to hear about it one way or another," Select Board Chairman Tim Wessel said after voting on the resolution during the board meeting Tuesday. "That's our job."

The board received some criticism from Kate O'Connor, executive director of the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce, for considering action that had not been warned on the meeting agenda. But board members agreed to check in with community members about how they feel at the next meeting.

Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday that municipalities could adopt stricter policies on masks after mandating that retail workers wear them as stores reopen this week. On Monday, city councils in Burlington and South Burlington passed resolutions requiring masks in public places.

Starting Wednesday, all establishments in 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 the resolution passed Tuesday.

The resolution does not feature any enforcement measures but it has exceptions. Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children under the age of 5, anyone who has difficulties breathing or anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help.

Each establishment will be responsible for posting signs about the order at its entrance and other appropriate locations. The order will remain in effect until the Select Board amends, rescinds or suspends it, or the governor declares an end to the state of emergency.

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Board member Daniel Quipp proposed having a discussion on the issue. He said he spoke with a large number of people who are supportive of the town taking a position on wearing a facial covering in a retail space or indoor setting.

"I think oftentimes, we are just kind of forced to do what we are allowed by the state," he said. "The governor has punted this on to municipalities, for good or for ill."

Amanda Witman of Brattleboro called for normalizing the use of masks.

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"Because it's just such a simple visible sign that people are being safe in our community," she said. "My mask keeps you safe and your mask keeps me safe."

Board members all agreed that masks would help contain the spread of germs. Wessel said he finds it "rude and dangerous" for a person not to wear a facial covering around someone who is providing them services and wearing one.

With Brattleboro being on the border of other states, Quipp encouraged the board to take a stance on masking up. He recalled stores posting "apologetic" statements when the town enacted the plastic bag ban in 2018.

"The town can be the bad guy sometimes and that's OK," he said. "We have broad shoulders and we were elected to do this."

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Peter "Fish" Case urged the board to consider a policy to address the issue "so retailers have one less thing they have to worry about."

O'Connor suggested revisiting the topic at the next meeting so the chamber and the business community could offer feedback. Town Manager Peter Elwell said it is legal for the board to take action if a matter is urgent enough.

Leda Scheintaub, co-owner of Dosa Kitchen, described being in favor of requiring facial coverings.

"It's really problematic to have people right near you without a mask," she said. "It's common sense."

She said she would not be visiting any store that does not require a mask.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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