Mask mandate appears unlikely in Woodstock Village, as trustees say times have changed

  • Town Hall in Woodstock, Vt., on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. A plan to renovate Town Hall to make it more accessible and functional was sent out for cost estimates by the Woodstock selectboard. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/27/2021 1:35:13 AM
Modified: 11/27/2021 1:35:21 AM

WOODSTOCK — The elected trustees of Woodstock Village are proud that they acted quickly to mandate mask-wearing in public last year to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

But after relaxing mask requirements when Vermont’s state of emergency ended in mid-June, and seeing COVID-19 case counts reach new heights in Vermont this fall, requiring masks is now more complicated, trustees said.

“The trustees have already weighed in on it,” Jeffrey Kahn, chairman of the trustees, said Friday. “Four out of the five felt that we should leave it as it is.”

Kahn called his fellow trustees and asked them whether they should consider a mask mandate before their next meeting, on Dec. 14. The topic is on the agenda for that meeting, he said.

While Vermont lawmakers met this week to authorize municipalities to mandate masks, the situation in Woodstock Village suggests that local officials see mandates as more difficult than they were in 2020.

At the moment, Woodstock requires masks in municipal buildings, and the county requires them in the courthouse. Businesses set their own rules, and they all are requiring, at a minimum, that unvaccinated people wear masks indoors, Kahn said.

The business requirements appear to be working well, according to Kahn. At his Central Street gift shop, Unicorn, Kahn requires unvaccinated people to wear masks, and asks unmasked people to leave if they’re unvaccinated.

“We’ve actually said to them, ‘We’re sorry, but you must leave,’ ” he said Friday.

Brenda Blakeman, a trustee who owns First Impressions Salon & Spa, said a customer upbraided her a couple of months ago.

“She thought we were inconsiderate because we didn’t have masks on,” Blakeman said Friday. Now, she requires masks for her staff and anyone who comes in, regardless of vaccination status.

Even so, Blakeman said she is not in favor of a mandate. It would be a source of conflict.

“I just think it’s easier to keep the peace,” if businesses make their own decisions, she said.

Trustee Daphne Lowe, a real estate agent, reserved judgment: “I think that we will be getting together to talk and look at all the pros and cons when we meet next.”

And trustee Bill Corson said he doesn’t think local authorities should mandate masking.

“I personally think the people in Woodstock use common sense and know when it is appropriate to be wearing a mask,” Corson said in a brief email. “The majority of stores and shops already request that masks be worn in their stores. It should be left up to them, not mandated by the village or town.”

Seton McIlroy, vice chairwoman of the trustees, noted that Woodstock is well-covered by mask requirements.

“I think that at this point, a lot of our public places are covered,” McIlroy, a communications consultant, said Friday. The schools require masks, and the local Rotary makes masks available to the public, she noted.

But Woodstock also is an international destination. Another new variant of concern to public health officials has emerged in South Africa that has already led to travel restrictions to the U.S. and Europe from several African countries.

“I am a fan of the mask mandate, especially the way it’s set up that we can check on it every 30 days,” she said.

She hopes village residents will weigh in with their wishes and concerns, she said.

While the trustees’ next meeting is a little over two weeks away, several Vermont communities in the Upper Valley plan to consider a mandate in the coming days, including Weathersfield on Monday and Hartford on Tuesday.

Joe Major, vice chairman of the Hartford Selectboard, said the decision isn’t an easy one.

“It is incredibly complicated, simply because I am not necessarily in favor of mandates,” he said Friday.

Hartford plans to consider two measures, one that would require masks and one that would “strongly request” that people in Hartford wear masks “while inside buildings open to the public.”

While Major is in favor of encouraging businesses to require masks, and encouraging the public to wear them indoors, he opposes a town mandate because it would leave front-line workers in charge of enforcing it.

“We’ve seen all the ridiculous videos of belligerent people on television,” he said.

The Upper Valley Aquatic Center, where Major is executive director, has required masks for everyone entering for the past couple of months.

“There are certain businesses within Hartford that do have the infrastructure to enforce mask mandates,” he said.

“My goal at the aquatic center,” he added, “is to make sure people are safe.”

When case counts were low, vaccinated visitors were allowed to be unmasked, but in September, cases went back up and children went back to school, making it more likely the virus would get passed around among the largest unvaccinated population, children under 12.

“This is going to be a while,” Major said. “Once they can get vaccinated, those rates will go down, but it’s going to take a while.”

Both he and Kahn said that people should go get vaccinated.

But in the meantime, since September, all UVAC visitors have had to wear masks, Major said.

He said that there has not been a single known transmission of COVID-19 within the aquatic center during the pandemic.

“It can be done,” he said of suppressing the spread. “We’ve done it.”

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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