Vaccinated people don’t have to mask up in Stowe anymore but businesses can still require face coverings, jab or no jab.
The Stowe Selectboard Monday night rescinded a resolution that requires people to wear a mask when encountering others in public, almost exactly a year after its adoption. This town-wide mask mandate was first adopted May 25, 2020, more than two months before the state mandated face coverings.
In its place, the board adopted a new resolution that hews closely to Gov. Phil Scott’s current — and constantly evolving — pandemic state of emergency executive order.
The order, as it currently stands, states that, “in most situations,” fully vaccinated people — those who are two weeks out from their second Pfizer or Moderna vaccination or their single-dose Johnson and Johnson shot — can eschew masks.
However, unvaccinated people are still required to wear face coverings inside. The new resolution, rather than a straight “tear off that mask” rescinding of the mask mandate, is a tacit reminder that the only way out of the pandemic is via vaccinations.
“The selectboard encourages all eligible persons to get vaccinated,” the new resolution reads. “The intent is to set the example and to encourage voluntary cooperation, not confrontation.”
Selectboard member Nick Donza said he didn’t see the point of basically having a resolution that says “follow the governor’s rules,” nor spending $600 on a new South Main Street banner with language thanking residents and visitors for being vaccinated that serves as both a welcome and a reminder.
Member Jo Sabel Courtney worried about putting up a banner that would be a moot point if Gov. Scott simply ends the state of emergency.
“Everybody knows that vaccinations are good,” Donza said. “I don’t know what we’re telling people that they haven’t already heard.”
Board chair Billy Adams said, however, that even though the governor’s stated goal before lifting his order is an 80 percent vaccination rate, it does no harm to keep a banner up in Stowe, one of the state’s most visited towns, and go even higher than 80 percent.
The business sector still appears to be reluctant to go full speed on lifting mask requirements in their shops, vaccination or not. Stowe Area Association president Rachel Vandenberg suggested retailers, restaurateurs and lodgers be provided with two different versions of signs to hang on their front doors — one that says unvaccinated people need to mask up inside or one that says everyone does.
The signs carry the Town of Stowe logo as a sign of the local government’s backing of the business sector.
“Even though I’m in favor of dropping masks, I still want to respect individual businesses’ right to require them,” Vandenberg said. “I don’t want this town to start being, ‘Well, this business is doing this and that business is doing that.’ That’s just not helpful in this next phase.”
The vote by the five-person board to adopt the new resolution about banners and mask was not unanimous. Donza voiced a reluctance to enact anything that would pressure people who don’t want to get vaccinated to do so and decided to “respectfully abstain” from the otherwise 4-0 vote.
“It’s a good message. I’m not against the message,” Donza said. “I just think that everybody has a right to choose to do with their body what I want, and I don’t want to be telling people that. I’m not a doctor.”
Member Lisa Hagerty said, sure, if someone doesn’t want to get vaccinated, that’s their right, “but then it’s their right to feel uncomfortable.” She said if someone asks another person if they are vaccinated, the person queried ought to feel confident in their answer.
“I guess I’m comfortable with that discomfort,” Hagerty said.
That didn’t sit well with Stowe resident and frequent board meeting attendee Paul Sakash.
“It’s not your responsibility to tell me if I should feel comfortable or not comfortable if I am unvaccinated,” he said. “I think that’s completely off base.”
Town hall opens
Even though the new resolution’s message is largely for tourists, the lifting of the mask mandate also opens up the seat of town government.
The Akeley Memorial Building on Main Street has been closed except by appointment since the early days of the pandemic, but it will once again open to the public, starting June 1. Well, mostly.
Town manager Charles Safford said he’d prefer to keep the place closed to the public on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to give staffers time for training, meetings and other tasks.
He said staff has been getting so many requests — particularly of the zoning and development variety — that they need time to regroup.
“While serving the public is a priority, in order to serve them well, we also need time to think,” he said.
Starting June 1, the Akeley building is open, without an appointment, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; and on Tuesday and Thursday from noon-4:30 p.m. Appointments are still encouraged. for meetings with department heads to make sure they’re available.
And, per the resolution, if you’re not vaccinated, you’ve got to mask up before entering town hall.