The Town of Essex’s indoor mask mandate will end on March 14. The decision was made unanimously by the selectboard at Monday night’s meeting.
The week-long delay was issued by the board to give businesses and residents time to prepare for the new change in policy.
After that date, businesses can continue to make their own rules about whether to require masks on their premises, and the Town Manager can still require masks in municipal buildings if he so chooses.
On Dec. 6, 2021, the selectboard approved a Rule Requiring Wearing Face Coverings Indoors in Public Spaces, which took effect on Dec. 7. The mandate was in-line with Act 1, the legislation that authorized municipalities to adopt face covering rules.
The selectboard put Essex’s rule into place for 45 days, but then extended the mandate on Jan. 18 and on Feb 7. The rule had been in effect through March 22, but new guidance issued from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week spurred the board to reconsider.
The CDC's COVID-19 Community Level guidance now states that areas with medium-risk no longer require indoor masking. As of Monday, Chittenden County’s risk level was medium.
This medium level means that those at a high risk of illness should consider wearing masks, as well as those with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19.
Essex Westford School District already dropped its mask requirement in its facilities, though Selectboard Chair Andy Watts said he’s heard most students and staff are still choosing to mask-up.
Selectboard and public opinions
Selectboard member Sue Cook said she trusted the experts' opinion on the changing guidelines even if she didn’t understand it personally.
“It’s odd because it puts the responsibility on people that have the biggest possibility of having a serious illness,” she said. “It feels a little backwards, but we're not scientists.”
Cook suggested that the town gather data for five days to see if they were in fact in that medium range from the CDC, but Town Manager Greg Duggan noted that the CDC does not provide this information on their website.
She said she’d like to see the town provide messaging to businesses that states they are able to have their own masking regulations in place.
During the meeting, several Essex residents spoke in favor of dropping the mandate.
“I think it’s time to get back to normal or whatever the new normal is,” Michael Dimitrioff said.
“It’s time to get back to personal choice,” one resident said. “People can keep wearing one if they want, but I think we're at the point where it's gone on long enough and needs to be a personal choice again.”
Irene Wrenner also spoke in support of dropping the mandate, and said it is important for municipal meetings to resume a fully in-person format in the town hall like they had been conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The energy is totally different in the room than it is on Zoom,” she said.
Watts said the selectboard has been having a discussion about that, and hopes to get back into the town hall soon.