Commentary, Covid-19 updates, Opinion

The ‘why’ behind the Woodstock Village mask requirement

By Seton McIlroy, vice-chair of Woodstock Village Board of Trustees

Weatherwise, the toughest time in Vermont is not the freezing days of winter, as some out-of-staters think. It’s the Janus-faced month of April. We get a few days, maybe a week, when the snow melts, flowers poke out, and heavy coats stay in the closet. Suddenly, we get freezing temperatures, dark skies and flower-killing frost and snow. The hope for short sleeves and warm breezes is dashed. The coats and sweaters now feel too heavy. You just want winter to be over already.

After two years of Covid winter, we are now in the Vermont April of the pandemic. For a few months, we rode high on vaccines and felt safe venturing out with maskless faces to see the family and friends we had missed. But then, just like that April snowstorm, the Omicron-variant blew in and took us back to record-breaking Covid cases, deaths and hospitalizations.

Returning to masks, social distancing and staying away from Grandma feels like going backwards. We’ve followed the rules, we’ve done the right things, only to have the virus pull a trick play. Unfortunately, Covid doesn’t care about our feelings. Covid just wants to find the next host to infect so it can continue to spread, and the Omicron evolution has made it drastically more effective in that regard. So, what do we do? Do we look at the overrun hospitals, the exhausted teachers, the frontline workers who are afraid to go to work and say we’re the ones who are tired and that anything we do is just a drop in the bucket? Or do we do our part? On Jan. 11, the Woodstock Village Trustees faced up to the pandemic fatigue and reimposed an indoor mask requirement for public spaces in the village. In accordance with state restrictions, the requirement will expire and be reassessed on Feb. 8. The data shows more Vermonters than at any other point in the pandemic have been infected, hospitalized and died from this new, unrelenting version of the virus. Despite Vermont being the most vaccinated state in the country at 86% age-5-and-older residents with at least one dose, our positive case rate has exploded.

As of this writing, the most recent new one day positive case number was 2,217. Last January, the new case number was 130. At the time, it was rare for that number to go over 200. As fall turned into winter and Omicron became the dominant variant in the Green Mountain State, the new case rate skyrocketed. Our hospitalization rates are also higher than ever. A mask requirement was the responsible reaction.

As I went store-to-store in the Village handing out “Woodstock Wears Masks” signs and letting people know about the new requirement, I was heartened by positive responses. “This is a sign I’m happy to post,” said one cashier. “I’ve been wanting a mask mandate for a long time,” said another. A small business owner thanked me and said it would “give us cover to enforce our own mask requirement”.

Vermonters are pragmatic. To not put our Covid coats back on for awhile would be to ignore reality and, worse, to put extra burden on our neighbors who are overwhelmed with the response to this health care crisis. Spring will come at some point, but stubbornly freezing in the meantime is not a logical option.

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