By Curt Peterson
The Killington Select Board discussed a possible local mask mandate at their Dec. 14 meeting, but failed to make a decision either way; Town Manager Chet Hagenbarth is to gather information about mandate terminology, enactment process and enforcement for the Jan. 4 meeting.
Governor Phil Scott signed legislation Nov. 22 empowering Vermont towns to enact local Covid mask mandates, a compromise with the Legislature and other groups demanding more aggressive state action to manage the pandemic. Three weeks later, 15 Vermont towns have adopted mandates and more are talking about it.
Mandates have been inspired by a startling turn-around in Vermont’s Covid spread — once a citadel of success against the virus, the Vermont case-per-capita rate is now among the worst in the country.
Hagenbarth said he’s received two letters and some emails from residents in favor of a local mask mandate.
Resident Susan Durant told Select Board members that the eight current Covid cases in Killington are a warning that something should be done.
In the 10 months leading up to Dec. 8, 149 cases were recorded in Killington (2020 Census pop. 1,407). In other words, more than 10% of Killington residents have tested positive.
Select Board member Jim Haff, who recently contracted a mild case of Covid himself, said he is generally in favor of a mask mandate, but worries about enforcement — “Who? And how?” he asked. He suggested local businesses should set their own rules and enforce them in a manner they choose.
Killington and Pico Resorts are doing a good job of enforcing safe Covid behavior, Haff said, and they would prefer to maintain authority so they can make rapid rule changes as situations require.
Board member Chris Karr, who owns multiple restaurants in Killington, said his establishments have taken the initiative with the current Covid surge, requiring all employees to wear masks, and encouraging patrons to do the same when not eating or drinking.
Killington Police Dept. Chief Whit Montgomery said his crew is currently down to two officers, and “enforcing a mask mandate [throughout town] would be an extreme burden.”
Williston’s mandate leaves enforcement up to police, and officers can issue warnings instead of handing out tickets.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT) offers two model mask mandates for use as templates — identical, except one includes penalties and enforcement provisions. Fines for first, second and third civil offenses are suggested (without amounts), along with an optional waiver — a lesser amount the defendant can pay with a guilty plea in lieu of contesting the fine. The maximum fine set by the ACT 1 statute is $800.
Two of the 15 towns with mandates exempt churches. More general exemptions include: “children under 2 years,” people whose disability prevents mask wearing, people whose performance depends on being unmasked, and “any person while eating or drinking inside any establishment that serves food or beverage.”
According to VLCT’s Model Face Covering Rule Guidance, “… select boards [may] adopt a temporary rule that requires individuals within the town to wear face coverings while indoors at locations that are open to the public.”
The Select Board can vote to adopt a mandate “at a duly-warned select board meeting ensuring that the action and a copy of the proposed rule are entered in the minutes of the meeting,” posted five places and published in the town’s official newspaper.
The first mandate must include termination in 45 days unless the Select Board votes to extend it 30 days. Subsequent board reviews every 30 days with votes to renew or rescind are required. On April 30, 2022, all local mandates will automatically expire, per the state law signed by Scott.