“It look to me like this puts Waitsfield on the path of communism,” said Waitsfield Select Board chair Paul Hartshorn, explaining his decision to vote against a mask-wearing resolution, along with board members Darryl Forrest and Kellee Mazer.
Board members Jon Jamieson and Brian Shupe voted in favor of the resolution. The board discussed the resolution at its July 13 meeting with the town’s public health officer Fred Messer in attendance and voicing support for the mask resolution.
The day after the board voted against the mask resolution, Messer responded by using his statutory authority to issue an emergency public health order calling for people to wear masks in public when they can’t be physically distanced from others.
“The only reason we have health officers and elected government is to keep people safe and the board has failed to do that. As the town health officer, I have the authority to investigate potential or existing health hazards and take action,” Messer said.
At the board’s July 13 meeting, which included board members at the town office and others participating via Zoom along with members of the public and Messer, town administrator Trevor Lashua explained the resolution, which mirrors ones passed by other towns in Vermont, including Warren and Waterbury.
“The resolution follows Vermont League of Cities and Town’s advice and examples from Warren and Stowe. Fayston is considering a similar resolution tomorrow night. The idea was that there be a Valleywide approach with this,” Lashua said.
SET AN EXAMPLE
Lashua explained that the town does not have the staff or protocol for enforcement, but a mask resolution would set an example and provide the business community with some backing.
Lashua explained the outreach he’d received from the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce director Eric Friedman about member feedback on the issue of mask resolutions.
Mazer expressed reservations about the resolution and said she’d been struggling with it since the Warren Select Board passed a similar mask resolution two weeks ago. Mazer said she’d been exploring the state’s town-by-town map of COVID-19 cases and felt that there’d been very few local cases.
“Is this coming up because of our concern about out-of-staters? We don’t have cases in Washington County,” Mazer said.
“That’s not true. We have cases in The Valley. The Vermont Department of Health is not really specific. It just gives town cases in terms of 0-5,” Messer said.
Hartshorn said the resolution didn’t address the health issues of over-wearing masks and said people wearing them are breathing in carbon dioxide all the time.
“I’ve not heard of any cases here. I heard about the Bridges’ case. That’s the only one I’ve heard of,” said Forrest.
‘This is more than people who have it. People can walk around positive for COVID and not know it. They can infect a lot of people. I support the resolution,” Messer said, noting that he’d been approached by lot of people who are very uncomfortable being around people who aren’t wearing masks.
Jamieson expressed his support for the resolution, pointing to the rising cases throughout the country that are causing states to re-close restaurants and public spaces.
‘NOT OUT OF THE WOODS’
“We’re not out of the woods yet on COVID. We’ve been really lucky in Vermont and we’ve been cautious. This resolution continues to move in that direction. I think it proves the point – the swimming holes are full of out-of-state plates and I’d like to keep it that way. One way to do that is to continue our high level of caution,” he said.
“It’s not a huge thing to ask. It’s common sense and common courtesy. Outliers get a lot of press, I think the vast majority of people like the idea of having this be a Valleywide mandate,” he added.
Shupe concurred noting, “I hope for the best but prepare for the worst based on what’s going on elsewhere in the country. I think we can stay ahead of taking more drastic action by taking this step now. I’m not going in a store where people aren’t wearing masks.”
Shupe said he’s read a recent report that concluded that cotton masks do not impact oxygen saturation rates.
Jamieson made a motion to pass the resolution and prior to the vote Hartshorn made his remark about the resolution putting the town on the path to communism, adding further “When I went to high school here, I never thought we’d be leading our way to communism. I think that’s where we’re going.”
Regarding Messer’s emergency order Lashua said that he was exploring if the order calling for wearing masks was the mechanism to achieve mask wearing. He said that the Vermont League of Cities and Towns references a resolution and an ordinance because there’s a clearer path to implementation.
In an email to Lashua, Messer and The Valley Reporter, town resident Brian Voigt asked why the order was not on the town’s website as July 15.