BY OLIVIA NYE | COMMUNITY NEWS SERVICE | JULY 28, 2020
On July 15, the Hinesburg Select Board gathered over Zoom to discuss the importance of wearing masks in public. Their objectives: to protect people’s health and to support local businesses.
While most people are wearing masks, there are still those who are not. At the meeting, Hinesburg resident Dede Erb shared an unfortunate experience with a disrespectful customer at Lantman’s Market. In one instance, Erb said an individual who did not want to wear a mask went so far as to make deliberate physical contact with? other customers and reach around the plexiglass between customers and cashiers. Because of these troublesome situations, Erb is in favor of a mask mandate.
“Businesses, because they feel compromised in their ability to enforce, customers are going against customers and asking: why are you not wearing a mask? It puts us now at the bottom of the chain of command in the position to have to do this work ourselves,” Erb said.
One by one, each Select Board member voiced their concerns for local businesses and their interest in supporting them as best as is possible. Chairperson Phil Pouech suggested consulting store owners to ensure that the board is not doing anything counterproductive.
“This is important. At the same time, it has a lot of pieces to it and we want to make sure that we get them right. We want to be respectful of people who cannot wear a mask, so what do they do? We want to make sure we do what the business owners need from us,” Pouech said.
The Select Board is favoring a mandate, but it remains uncertain whether it will take the form of a policy, resolution, or ordinance, as well as how they intend to enforce it.
“I think the enforcement piece is really important to consider. You enact an ordinance because you intend to enforce it,” former Select Board member Andrea Morgante said.
There isn’t the staffing to be able to effectively enforce a mask mandate, town administrator Renae Marshall said. There could be a fine, but the Select Board would have to make an agreement with the Hinesburg Police Department to enact fines.
Board member Merrily Lovell does not support enforcement after reading mask mandates from other towns in Vermont, many of which did not include any enforcement, she said. Instead, she believes in making people knowledgeable about the importance of mask wearing.
“It’s about education. People have their reasons for not wearing masks,” Lovell said.
Board member Jeff French suggested volunteer shopping or finding an alternative for those who are unable to wear masks for medical reasons. The Board concluded that they would likely use a broader term, such as face coverings, so that people who struggle with masks can wear face shields.
“I get the freedom piece too, but you can’t walk into the grocery store with no shoes. You just can’t do it because it’s just not safe,” Pouech said.
Several board members including Lovell attested that they have seen the majority of people wearing masks while in public. They hope that by continuing to wear masks, the people of Hinesburg can protect one another. Those in favor believe a mandate would serve to reinforce that mutual protection.
“The motto of the state of Vermont is unity and freedom, and that recognises the competing issues of personal freedom weighted against the benefits or protection of the community,” board member Michael Loner said. “I think the state of Vermont—all the way back in its founding—working together in unity is how we protect ourselves and the freedoms we have. I am for a mandate.”
While the Select Board has yet to come to a final conclusion on the issue, they hope to see everyone continuing to keep each other safe.
“The beautiful thing about face masks is it’s not going to inherently protect me, it’s going to protect someone else. It’s something we do for our fellow human beings and I think that’s kind of beautiful,” Lovell said.
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.