Covid mask

Starting Aug. 1, people in Vermont will be required to wear masks in public spaces where social distancing is difficult, Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday.

The mandate applies to both outdoor and indoor settings, anytime people can’t maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from those of other households.

In a news conference announcing the new requirement Friday, Scott referenced COVID-19 activity elsewhere in the United States.

“Rather than waiting, like other states have, until it’s too late, I feel we need to act now to protect our gains, which has allowed us to reopen the economy,” he said. “This is a much better approach than having to roll things back like they’ve done in states like California, Texas.”

Businesses can require their patrons to wear masks and refuse entrance to those who decline, according to a news release Friday from the Vermont Department of Health.

The mandate does carve out exemptions, including for people exercising or engaged in another strenuous activity; for children under 2; and for anyone with a medical or developmental condition that makes wearing a mask difficult.

People who decline to wear masks for these reasons are not required to produce documentation, the order states.

During Friday’s news conference, Scott, a Republican, spoke of the polarization surrounding this issue, and spoke directly to people who can wear masks but have resisted doing so.

“... Please help us out, not because it’s mandated, but because it’s the right thing to do — for our seniors, for our kids, for our own health, for our economy,” he said. “I’m asking you to take personal responsibility ...”

He also made a plea to people who do wear masks and are worried about those who don’t.

“I ask you to give them the benefit of the doubt, because attacking, shaming and judging isn’t going to help,” he said. “But understanding, educating, meeting people where they are — and maybe using a little kindness and understanding — might.”

At this point, the state is focusing on education over enforcement, VT Digger reported.

To date, Vermont has confirmed 1,385 COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic, and 56 people with the viral disease have died. A total of 1,177 people have recovered.