I am writing to implore Gov. Phil Scott to make masks mandatory for customers in retail establishments during your emergency order. While we have met in my role as a state representative for Rutland City, this concern originates with my other job as the manager of a bookstore in downtown Rutland.
All the evidence we have been given makes clear that masks are an effective way to slow the transmission of COVID-19. They are an excellent tool in continuing to flatten the curve, especially as Vermont begins to reopen under your watch. My store is still working on getting as many safety measures in place as possible and we plan to reopen our doors to walk-in customers on May 26. When we do open, I am requiring everyone entering the store to wear a mask. This requirement is for the safety of my staff, of my customers and is in the best interests of my community.
I have no qualms about enforcing this rule when I am working and firmly explaining to people as they come in that wearing a mask is a requirement for joining us in the store. But I am currently not in the bookstore many days as serving as a representative takes up most of my hours. I feel very strongly my staff should not be forced to fight this battle.
The other day, I did my family’s grocery shopping in a store that repeatedly announced over their sound system (clearly audible throughout the entire store) that masks were required to shop with them. Despite this, a significant number of shoppers were not wearing masks. Some looked embarrassed whenever the announcement rang out, but others looked defiant.
I know you wish for the use of masks to gain acceptance through educational efforts, but it is impossible to deny that for some, masks have taken on deep-seated political meaning. For these people, the decision to wear a mask has nothing to do with medical advice and everything to do with their concept of freedom. They are entitled to that opinion, but the media has carried multiple stories of people lashing out violently when informed they need to wear a mask to remain in an establishment. Clearly, this is unacceptable.
When the requirement to wear a mask originates with my store and not a state mandate, that lessens its authority and unfortunately turns it into a personal disagreement between my staff and any individual who refuses to wear one. This will diminish compliance with an important effort to continue to curb the spread of COVID-19 and unnecessarily direct personal ire towards my staff.
It also puts communities throughout Vermont at risk as many businesses will succumb to pressure from a few vocal individuals and will not require masks. This will unnecessarily endanger their staff and all of their customers.
While no action will ensure compliance by a defiant few, a gubernatorial mandate requiring masks be worn in retail businesses during your emergency order would protect innumerable Vermonters from potentially catching COVID-19 and serve to protect retail workers from negative reaction by buffering them from the decision-making process.
This important action needs to originate with your office. Retail workers throughout the state should not be forced to fight this battle for you.
Rep. William Notte represents Rutland City.