Vermont Governor Phil Scott has announced that all people will be required to wear masks or cloth face coverings in public places in the state.
The governor’s regular COVID-19 briefing began with a weekly update on the pandemic’s modeling and its predicted spread across the country and state. It indicates there has been an exponential daily spread across the country and daily case reports are at their highest levels. While Vermont has the lowest death and hospitalization rates per capita, those metrics are rising in the South and West.
Governor Scott, a Republican, says future projections that the virus is returning to the Northeast are concerning. “With our low numbers I’ve waited to implement a mask mandate thus far. I preferred to focus on education and I still believe that’s been the right approach to date. But the outbreaks across the nation may be spreading back towards us. Rather than waiting like other states have until it’s too late I feel we need to act now to protect our gains. That’s why today I signed an order that will take effect August 1. This change will require rather than recommend masks being worn in public places, both indoor and outdoor, where physical distancing is not possible.”
Scott emphasized that the order requires wearing masks in public places of all types. “As well this this orders requires masks or cloth face coverings be worn outside if you cannot keep a six foot distance from others. This order applies to everyone over the age of two but there are some exceptions. For example masks are not required when eating or drinking, during strenuous exercise or activity or for any child or adult with a medical or developmental issue that is complicated by a facial covering. And I want to be clear about this businesses can refuse to serve people who are not wearing masks.”
This week the Vermont Defender General’s office issued a report finding that correctional staff at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport ignored 60-year-old Kenneth Johnson pleas that he could not breathe. Johnson, a Black man, died of an undiagnosed tumor in his airway. Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says there is no excuse for his death. “This concerns me on several levels. Could we have provided better medical care? And the answer is absolutely yes. Did the medical people and corrections supervisors respond sufficiently? And I have my doubts. But there are several independent investigations ongoing. And since this prisoner was African American then we have to ask the hard question: Would we have handled this prisoner differently if he was white?”
Governor Scott says he hopes race did not play a factor. “But I can’t say for certain that it did not because we know that racism is apparent throughout our country but here in Vermont as well. And if so we have to take responsibility for that.”
Vermont’s mandatory mask mandate was developed in consultation with the state Department of Health.