At an emergency meeting on November 30, the Warren Select Board voted to adopt a mask mandate in the town. “We didn’t want to wait another week,” chair Andy Cunningham said. The mandate includes Sugarbush Resort’s indoor facilities. Warren was also the first town in the Mad River Valley to adopt a mask mandate in 2020. The mandate will be effective for 45 days and the select board will discuss whether to renew it every 30 days thereafter, sunsetting on April 30, 2022. The mask mandate may be reversed at any time at the select board’s discretion. “We’ll either keep it or we’ll toss it, depending on what’s going on in the world,” Cunningham said.
Exceptions to Warren’s mask mandate include kids under 2 years old, people with breathing issues, workers whose work prevents them from wearing masks safely, and when eating or drinking at a table. While many businesses in Warren have already been requiring masks, though some have not, the mask mandate will expand the policy to all businesses and indoor public spaces in the town.
“We’re not looking to enforce this,” Cunningham said. “There’s no mechanism to enforce it.” Constable Gene Bifano, who refused to wear a mask despite being asked to repeatedly, asked why pass a mandate if it’s not going to be enforced. “We’re presuming businesses and travelers are not educated enough,” he said. “Everybody who goes skiing understands the risk, the businesses for sure know the risk. I don’t see where this mandate is going to force” people to wear masks.
“This isn’t us being reactionary but proactive,” Cunningham said. “This is a minor step that gives us a little protection and certainly feels like it gives peace of mind.”
WAITSFIELD SELECT BOARD TO DISCUSS
The Waitsfield Select Board will discuss whether to implement a mask mandate at its December 6 meeting. “I want to discuss it with the select board,” said Waitsfield health officer Fred Messer. “It’s not as easy as before” (during the state of emergency). “Before I really explore it, I want to deliberate with the board.” Before the mandate was instituted last August, the Waitsfield Select Board held a public forum on whether to implement a mask mandate via Zoom and heard emotional testimonies on both sides. One local businesswoman was in tears when faced with having to require masks at her business. Others strongly urged the town to issue a mask mandate. Then the governor implemented a mask mandate statewide. Now it’s back on individual towns to decide how best to combat the virus.
Other towns in The Valley reported they had not yet discussed the issue.
Warren’s mask mandate was made possible after Vermont legislators took action last week. Vermont legislators returned to the State House for a special session on November 22 to approve a bill allowing Vermont towns to institute their own mask mandates. Brattleboro was one of the first towns in the state to adopt this policy. Governor Scott has repeatedly said in recent press conferences that he does not want to issue a state of emergency again. This step allows local control, though will vary town to town.
Early in the pandemic, Governor Scott declared a state of emergency on March 13, 2020, then issued a mask mandate for all Vermont towns beginning August 1, 2020. Along with the state of emergency, the mask mandate was lifted in June 2021, and many businesses welcomed mask-less customers for the first time in over a year. This fall, as the Delta variant of COVID-19 spread, many businesses opted to return to mask requirements (including The Valley Reporter), though others posted signs recommending masks but not requiring them. With Vermont’s COVID rates some of the worst they’ve been during the pandemic, it’s still up to individual businesses to decide whether to require masks.