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Dems knock Scott for no masking order

The top contenders for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in August are criticizing Gov. Phil Scott for his reluctance to mandate face coverings in public spaces, even as almost every other governor in the Northeast has come around to the idea. 
Scott’s handling of the coronavirus has been largely applauded by his Democratic rivals, who have focused their attacks on the governor’s opposition to progressive climate policies, paid family leave and a $15 minimum wage. 
However, as Vermont has become a regional outlier on the issue of face masks, and with weeks until the primaries, initial reluctance to criticize the Republican governor’s stance on the issue has given way to sharp criticism from his top Democratic contenders, former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat who served with Scott in the Senate. 
Every other state in the Northeast (apart from New Hampshire) has an enforceable order requiring masks in public spaces.
While Scott frequently urges residents to wear masks, that request is voluntary, and he has stopped short of ordering a requirement for face coverings. Meanwhile, several cities, including Burlington, South Burlington, Brattleboro and Montpelier, have passed mandatory mask policies, according to WCAX.
Both Holcombe and Zuckerman went after the governor in interviews with VTDigger last week.
“Somebody who was truly leading with public health in mind, based on the advice of experts, would be telling Vermonters to wear masks right now, especially given what we’ve seen nationally,” Holcombe said. 
“To me, there’s a really important bottom line that they’re not acknowledging,” she added, “which is that it isn’t just about suppressing a surge once it’s already here. It’s actually about preventing one in the first place.”
Zuckerman said the governor must decide “if he’s going to follow the lead of President Trump, listening to a small minority base who believes their inconvenience in wearing a mask is more important than public health, or is he going to stand up to those folks and say everyone wears a mask to support the public good. He’s trying to have it both ways but I don’t think that’s acceptable in a pandemic.”
Holcombe and Zuckerman are on the Democratic ticket along with Patrick Winburn, a largely self-funded attorney from Bennington, and Ralph Corbo of East Wallingford. 
Broadsides against Vermont’s Republican governor have been rare during the Covid-19 pandemic. Unlike the president, who Scott often criticizes, the governor has tried to set an example — he wears a mask at press conferences when he’s not speaking. He often urges people to wear face masks to protect others, and so Vermont’s economy can continue reopening. 
Scott has regularly faced questions about a masking mandate since the start of the pandemic, and he has offered various reasons why he doesn’t believe it’s advisable to order Vermonters to wear face coverings in public. 
The governor often says that he would rather lead than drive people, and that Vermonters need to make a personal decision, rather than having rules imposed on them. He also points to the numbers, which place Vermont among the safest states in the nation when it comes to the rate of coronavirus transmission, as evidence that his approach is working. 
“Giving that latitude,” Scott said on July 1, “I think, has given us, again, a way of approaching this may be different for other states but … you can’t argue with the numbers.”
As of July 5, Vermont had one person hospitalized with a confirmed coronavirus infection. There have been 56 confirmed Covid-19 deaths in Vermont since the start of the epidemic, and six since the beginning of May. A single day increase of 17 cases on July 1 was among the highest increases in weeks. The biggest recent outbreak, in Winooski, infected more than 100 people. Many were young, and no one died. 
Scott announced at his July 1 press conference that a campaign was underway to encourage Vermonters to wear masks, though specifics were not offered. 
“We want to make sure that people understand why, and do it willingly,” Scott said of the goal of this campaign. “Because when you try just mandating, as they’re seeing in other states across the country, it doesn’t make it so, it doesn’t make it happen. There’s a lot of friction, controversy, like a defense mechanism of the government telling you what to do once again. I would rather educate, lead and inspire people to do the right thing.”
He added, “So I think we’re doing the right thing. We’ll try this. And we’ll see where it takes us.”
Scott called on Human Services Secretary Mike Smith to describe the campaign in further detail. Smith said it would be rolled out on a “broad platform basis” across state government, and might entail posters at state parks, social media messaging, coverage in the news media, and more personal conversations. 
“We’ll have Vermonters talking to Vermonters about why they think it’s important to wear a mask, what do they feel in terms of why they think it’s important to wear a mask,” Smith said of the campaign. 
“And one of the things I think is essential,” he added, “is making sure that we get all those groups that may be reluctant to wear a mask, and have them make that decision themselves, that it’s important for them to wear a mask.” 
Smith added: “I think, you know, if you internalize it, if you socialize it, if it becomes important to you, you will do it. And that’s sort of the basis of the campaign across the state government.”
No metrics for success have been proposed, instead Smith says “we’ll know it when we see it.” He added: “If we don’t change the sort of social norms in wearing a mask, it’s not going to make a difference whether you have a mandated mask policy or not because enforcing it is almost impossible.”
Holcombe said Scott’s yet-to-be revealed public awareness campaign is not enough. “When Secretary Smith says he’s hoping mainly for Vermonters to talk to Vermonters, that doesn’t really feel like a policy, it feels more like hopes and dreams,” she said. 
“What he’s doing is he’s shunting it down to the local level,” she added, “where community businesses that are trying to rebuild their connections with customers are now getting into conflicts with customers who don’t understand if it’s real or not, if they’re needed or not, because they assume that if it was important to public safety, the governor would have said so.”
Zuckerman said although some people will “indignantly stand up with other people in not wearing masks,” regardless of what the state does, he was certain that more people would wear masks in public places — or in large gatherings outdoors — were required to wear them in an order from the governor’s office. 
The lieutenant governor, like the governor, said that fines are not the way to go on enforcement. Zuckerman said the state should help keep stores or other public places stocked with masks, and if people aren’t complying with the face covering mandate, police can hand out masks rather than fines. 
“There are a lot of folks who maybe are casually not wearing them, but are not ideologically not wearing,” Zuckerman said. “And that would also maybe help bring down some of the tensions that we are having discussions about law enforcement and public safety.”
Zuckerman said Vermont could also get on the right side of the national debate over whether the government should be mandating masks in public. “And the more of us that do it, state by state, the more other states will also see that pressure. And we need to for our economy,” he said. So, in my opinion, mandatory masks is part of the economic engine for the summer and fall.”

 

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