To mask or not to mask: Locals talk about why they wear one, why they don’t

A mother helps her daughter put on a face mask. Photo by August de Richelieu.


By Tuckerman Wunderle
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

As the state begins the process of reopening businesses in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Vermonters are adjusting to a new aspect of everyday life: masks.

S. Londonderry resident Doug Friant has been a staunch advocate of mask wearing.

“I definitely wear one when I’m in a crowded public place,” says Brian Heybyrne, a Chester resident who is a respiratory therapist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire who works with Covid-19 patients.

“When people have masks on I’m trying really hard to smile and engage,” says Sara Stowell of Cavendish.  “Wearing a mask is something we do for each other. It’s an act of solidarity, not an act of charity.” Her comments mirror many others who believe that wearing a mask is more for others’ benefit rather than for themselves.

Kevin Beattie, the Emergency Management director for Londonderry who also serves on the town’s Rescue Squad, agrees with this view. “My understanding is that my wearing a mask protects other people around me, but not myself,” he says. Ultimately, this leads to a safer environment for everyone involved, meaning that, as Beattie says, “If everybody wore masks, we could probably open up quicker than we are.”

‘Wearing a mask is something we do for each other.
It’s an act of solidarity, not an act of charity.’

Sara Stowell

However, not all Vermonters view mask-wearing as something that is essential. “I personally do not wear one,” says Alex Lighthall of Baltimore, “I don’t believe your average person has the money or resources to obtain proper masks at this point in time.” N95 masks, which filter around 95 percent of airborne particles, have become scarce around the state. Many people, however, have taken to crafting homemade masks from 100 percent cotton using Dartmouth-recommended directions. Others have created ones from items like bandannas and coffee filters.

‘I don’t believe your average person has the money
or resources to obtain proper masks at this point in time.’

Alex Lighthall

In an environment where mask-use is encouraged, but not mandatory, some people have begun seeing the choice to not wear a mask as a reflection of character. “The mask is really there to protect them,” says  Margo Caulfield of Cavendish. “The fact that they choose not to wear one shows they don’t care so much about other people.”

That conflict has led to a few arguments and altercations, including on Sunday in Weathersfield.

“If someone doesn’t have a mask on, I’m more of a 10-foot rule kind of guy” — 4 feet more than the 6-feet social distancing rule, says Doug Friant, a Londonderry resident who owns Springfield-based Vermont Timber Works and has been a vocal advocate for mask-wearing.

Even with continued concern around contracting the virus from someone not taking adequate safety precautions, Friant believes that it is time to begin lifting some of the more extreme social distancing measures. “We could stay inside forever,” he says. “We need to fight it out in the open and do it intelligently.”

‘Whether we agree that mask-use works …
it does appear to be integral to why Vermont
isn’t having the issues that other states are having.’

Julie Hance
Chester town manager

Over the last month, Vermont has seen a slowing in the rise in coronavirus cases, something that has encouraged Gov. Phil Scott to begin detailing how the state will reopen. The first of these measures was put into place on May 6 with Scott announcing that gatherings of 10 or fewer people can gather once more.

While the state has begun lifting the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, Scott has held back from officially mandating mask use. Instead, the state’s website for health lists recommended precautions, including wearing a mask or other form of cloth face covering.

“Whether we agree that mask-use works or is effective or not effective, it does appear to be integral to why Vermont isn’t having the issues that other states are having,” says Town Manager of Chester Julie Hance. While Hance does believe that the masks are effective, an official mandate on the issue is something that she doesn’t think would be beneficial. “I think the governor is approaching it right,” she says. “We do it with education. We should all be strongly encouraging the people that we know to wear masks.”

Chester Town Manager Julie Hance dons her mask for a photo.

Dartmouth respiratory therapist Heybyrne agrees. “It’s been an outstanding response, in my opinion,” he says. “It should probably not be mandated. I really appreciate the preference to urge mask usage through education and social pressure.” As with many other issues facing society, direct government action has the potential to create an inverse response. “The contrarian phenomenon has reared its ugly head during this crisis,” Heybyrne says.

Even with the measures currently in place being mostly suggestions, some Vermonters like Lighthall from Baltimore still view the state to be overstepping its boundaries. “I just keep seeing the government doing as it pleases and answering to itself,” he says. “Every great tragedy has happened in the name of the greater good.”

“Regardless of the amount of pressure that the government asserts over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is clear that the use of masks in public spaces is something that will be with us for a while. From a societal standpoint overall I think we’ll see them more and more often,” says Heybyrne. “I think it’ll be a normal thing to see people in large crowded cities using them.”

Furthermore, as we as a society begin to adjust our thinking around the worldwide pandemic, mask use may return even after it is initially phased out. “I think unfortunately any time there is any kind of an outbreak you will see the government fall back to masks,” says Town Manager Hance. “It may go away for a short period of time, but I do think we’ll always come back to masks.”

For the time being, however, all Vermonters are encouraged to take whatever safety precautions they feel most comfortable with. “We are all essential to somebody and we are all important,” says Stowell. “Here’s a relatively easy way to be helpful to each other.”

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  1. Paul Hendrickson says:

    Wait, I see they have second homes “up” here so they drive back and forth each week end, got it, cool.

  2. Paul Hendrickson says:

    One other thing, there are way more NY and CT and MA cars on 103 than VT cars. Don’t believe just look.

  3. Paul Hendrickson says:

    Jiffy Mart for example, I see lots of out of state cars coming there. Last week saw an expensive CT car drive up and the arogant couple got out walked in without masks. See it often there. Then the motel on rt 5 outside of BF has out of state cars there. Most likely for one night, coming into VT seeing the sign “self quarantine if planning to stay”, those people should be sent back to where they came from if they don’t stay there for 14 days. G Scott better get control on this.

  4. Joe Checco says:

    Went to Shaws in Manchester Center on Tuesday to pick up some lunch. Amazing how many people were not wearing masks. Sat out in the parking lot to eat and observe. Almost all people who exited the store without a mask got into cars with out of state plates. If we are going to let people from hot zones into Vermont for the summer, we need stricter controls on their behavior.

  5. Lisa Junker says:

    Having just taken someone to shop at Shaw’s in Walpole, I was taken aback by how many folks entering were not wearing masks!

    Most were men, though a few ladies too. Along with no mask, was a complete lack of awareness for social distancing, and the requested one way flow of aisles. My first thought was why? How do these folks justify endangering others? I agree, we need to educate people better, and instill a sense of responsibility and compassion for others.

  6. K. Henry says:

    We wear masks for one another, By all means, if you are most concerned with your own comfort and yourself above all others, don’t bother. If on the other hand you would like to see the comfort and well-being of your fellow citizens, please consider wearing your mask in public. It doesn’t make you a conformist or a person who doesn’t believe in the rights of the individual. It makes you a caring human who believes that, together, we can work to be safe and healthy.

    Wearing a mask is not always comfortable. It is not necessary to wear one 24 hours a day, it is not necessary to wear one in your yard or home or when you are alone in the woods. When you are with others, it makes a statement that you are as concerned about the people you are in contact with as you are about your own personal comfort level.

    Are not wearing a mask because you can’t afford one? Just send me a note, I will make one for you or direct you to someone who will provide one for you – or send you the directions to make one from a bandana, pillowcase, scarf, T-shirt etc.

    We will slowly unfurl from this – but it isn’t over and running around as if nothing happened is juvenile at best. I personally have been hit very hard in the purse strings, so many of us have. It is not pleasant, it is not over and it may yet hit us again. … Please take a minute and decide if your personal moment of frustration about rights and some slight temporary discomfort are worth the peace of mind of the rest of your community. No one says you have to care about others, well, unless you believe in any of the multiple religions that pop to mind. and oh, the constitutional directives that were put in place to protect the collective US.