In the run-up to the Waitsfield Select Board’s second vote to reject a resolution that called for people to wear masks in town, the town and select board members received numerous calls and emails regarding the board’s first rejection of the resolution on July 13. The board’s second vote took place on July 20 and resulted in resolution that said that masks are highly recommended.
During the 3.5-hour Zoom meeting, which had 50-54 participants, four people spoke out against s mask mandate and a dozen spoke in favor of a mask mandate.
Beyond the comments made at the July 20 meeting, The Valley Reporter requested those emails and outreach information from the town and received a packet of emails. One select board member provided the emails that he had received on the issue. The three others who received emails did not.
Additionally, Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director, Eric Friedman, provided both Waitsfield and Warren Select Boards with the result of a straw survey he did of local businesses and chamber members on the issue of wearing masks.
Twenty-nine emails sent to the town came from people who wanted the town to adopt a mask mandate. Three were opposed to such a mandate. Eight emails sent to select board members were in favor of a mask mandate. None were in opposition.
Here’s how one Waitsfield resident expressed it:
“I wish Scott had mandated masks, assuming he had the authority to do so. I can argue the local issue both ways but I think it is important to vote to adopt it now in Waitsfield because:
1. The vast majority of the public (at least the vocal public) seems to want it. The confidence in the select board is riding on this because of the way Paul and the other no voters handled it. Hard to justify a no vote when the other towns have enacted it. Most people in The Valley shop and congregate in Waitsfield.
2. It will help the merchants to add some weight to their own mandates.
3. There is absolutely no downside, even though there is no enforceability.
4. It reinforces what is a smart practice.”
Of the chamber members who responded to Friedman’s request for comments, 15 favored a mask mandate, five were opposed to it or felt is should be up to the business owner and two were unsure.
“Outside of those who formally responded as I’ve been out in the community, the overriding response I’ve gotten is that businesses want a mask mandate,” Friedman said.
CONCERN FOR SAFETY
The main reason he said is to take the burden off employees. Friedman further pointed out that keeping guests and residents in The Valley safe is part of a long-term branding issue that demonstrates concern for visitor safety by taking appropriate precautions.
Both Sugarbush and Mad River Glen also support a mask mandate. Sugarbush president Win Smith said given the seriousness of COVID-19, “It’s imperative that people wear masks inside and when not socially distanced.”
He also said that Warren’s mask mandate gives Sugarbush employees one more tool to use if somebody doesn't want to wear a mask.
“Most of our business is in Warren. We don’t have operations in Waitsfield, but we’re one Valley. Wearing a mask is not going to stop people from coming here and doing commerce. It’s saying to people that we want to protect you,” Smith said.
Mad River Glen general manager Matt Lillard expressed surprise that the board failed to enact a mask mandate again this week, after the public reaction last week which flooded social media and a digital community forum with so many comments that the topic was shut down for discussion.
“As the manager of a business in the Mad River Valley, I am disappointed in the decision. Wearing masks is incredibly important and our most reasonable option in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. In order to keep our community as safe as possible we are anticipating requiring masks at the ski area when social distancing is not possible this winter. We appreciate the Fayston Select board's decision to require face coverings indoors and when social distancing isn't possible. The order in Fayston gives local businesses another tool to help ensure the safety of our guests, staff and entire community,” Lillard said.
In terms of how Waitsfield’s new masks are highly recommended policy squares with previous requirements that people coming into the town office and Joslin Library wear masks, town administrator Trevor Lashua said. “We're looking to clarify and update adopted policies to fit with the resolution as well as the guidance from ACCD and others that enable us to be open. There's likely to be some kind of amendment to clarify those presented to the board. We're also watching to see what occurs Friday at the governor's press conference -- a statewide mask mandate trumps a local resolution and wouldn't also prompt any changes to policy or practice.”