By Chea Waters Evans, The Charlotte Bridge
In recent weeks, record-breaking Covid case numbers in Vermont and a surge of hospitalizations led the state legislature to address requiring masks once again to curb the virus’s spread. Governor Phil Scott was reluctant to mandate masks state-wide, and reached a compromise of sorts with state lawmakers earlier this month; the legislature voted to allow towns to create their own mask mandates. Brattleboro was the first Vermont town to create such a policy and other towns, including Charlotte, plan to address the situation in upcoming meetings.
Vermont’s bill allows municipalities to implement mask mandates in public spaces; Rep. Mike Yantachka, who represents Charlotte, explained in an email, “If a municipality chooses to implement a mandate, it must be reviewed every 30 days to remain in effect, and all authority ends on April 30, 2022.”
Yantachka voted in favor of the bill. Earlier this month, he actually signed an open letter to the governor along with more than a dozen other representatives asking for a state-wide mask mandate. “While a statewide mandate to wear masks indoors would have been more uniform, the only option available that had the governor’s approval is the one we passed,” he said. “This puts the onus on local governments, unfortunately, but is better than taking no action at all.”
Local business owner Jen Novak has a home decor and design shop, The Gilded Elephant, in the Charlotte Crossing building on Route 7. She said she has a sign on her door, printed from the state’s department of health website, asking patrons to wear a mask.
“Most people, generally, are coming in with them on, anyway,” she said, “and if they don’t have one they’re pretty respectful about going to get one.” She said aside from her own concerns for her health and her families, she worries because of the state- and country-wide Covid surge, “and that’s why I feel good about asking people to wear a mask, and why I wear my mask.”
She did say, though, that she would understand either way the Selectboard ends up deciding. “I don’t necessarily think they should mandate it,” she said. “I feel like it’s sort of up to business owners if they want to require masks or not. I think people have their own reasons, some deeply personal, as to why they want to wear, or not wear, a mask.”
Selectboard Chair Jim Faulkner wrote in an email to The Charlotte Bridge, “I feel the Selectboard would be negligent in its obligation to our residents if we didn’t: 1) ask the question, ‘Is a local indoor mask mandate right for Charlotte?’ 2) listen to feedback from residents and then 3) take that information gathered and discuss it as a board.” The Selectboard will meet on Monday, December 6 at 6 p.m. to discuss this issue and other town business. Charlotters can attend in person at Town Hall or via Zoom.
Whatever the Selectboard decides, Yantachka said that in light of the recent surges, “We all need to pull together and look out for each other to defeat this virus.”