Derry Select Board orders mask wearing Board chair: Gov. Scott put small town leaders in 'untenable situation'

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By Cynthia Prairie and
Bruce Frauman
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Select Board of the town of Londonderry voted in a special meeting on Wednesday, July 15, to mandate that the public and employees wear masks or other face coverings in local businesses.

The board was prompted to take the action, said board chair George Mora during an interview on Thursday. “because of this situation – the outbreak – plus the deluge of requests from the community. We’ve been waiting for the governor to take the lead on this for so long and he hasn’t.”

Derry Select Board chair George Mora during Wednesday’s Zoom meeting.

The Telegraph reported on Monday that 18 Londonderry residents tested positive for Covid-19, a serious and sometimes deadly virus that, as of Thursday evening, has sickened 3.5 million Americans and killed more than 138,000 since early March. Fifty-six of those deaths have occurred in Vermont.

‘We’ve been waiting for the governor to take the lead on this
for so long and he hasn’t.’

George Mora
Londonderry Select Board

While final wording on the order will be worked out by Mora and Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe, compliance will be monitored by  Emergency Management Director Kevin Beattie, but there would be no fine. “We could come up with an ordinance but it would take 60 days to make it official and that would be pointless.”

The Londonderry order is patterned after one adopted in early June by the Select Board of the town of Manchester that says in part that businesses “shall require both staff and customers (or visitors) to wear cloth face coverings or face shields over their nose and mouth while inside …” Several exceptions were made including when employees are eating or are in a private room and for children under the age of 5 among others. You can read the Manchester order here.

‘Every business has handled it already,’ and mask wearing should come ‘from a compassionate place, not a legislative place.’

Vincent Annunziata
Londonderry Select Board

Mora said cashiers are not required by the state to wear masks as long as they stand behind translucent shields or a sneeze guard.

Voting against the order was board member Vincent Annunziata because “every business has handled it already,” and mask wearing should come “from a compassionate place, not a legislative place.” Annunziata said he was not comfortable with an action that would “empower people to police other citizens” because this will possibly erupt into “something bigger.”  But, Beattie countered, in six weeks since Manchester mandated masks, he has seen 100 percent compliance with few, if any, confrontations.

Derry resident Doug Friant has been advocating for mask-wearing.

Beattie said the manager of the Londonderry Village Market expressed concern about employees confronting the public over mask-wearing, but agreed to require masks if the town made them mandatory. And Derry resident Doug Friant, owner of Vermont Timber Works who has been advocating mask-wearing for months,  said the mandate allows stores to not be the bad guys when shopkeepers ask customers to wear a mask. Board member Taylor Prouty agreed, saying there is room for a mandate like this to contribute to “education to people who have differences of opinion about this. The timing is right.”

On Thursday, Mora said, “Both Kevin and I implored members of the community to keep in mind that everyone is frustrated and afraid and to be kind and stop pointing fingers.”

Mora’s frustration with the state was evident on Thursday when she said that during a Wednesday conference call with Dr. Mark Levine, state Health Commissioner, she told him “that the state has put small towns in an untenable position of having to impose mask orders and trying to enforce them.”

She illustrated: “It’s like a speeding ticket. It’s not like you are going to fine everyone driving over the limit. But you set an example and the rest of us get the message.”

Beattie said there is a “significant amount of Covid in our community.” And with testing at Flood Brook School, the Manchester Medical Center and Riley Rink, more positives are expected. A third day of testing at Riley Rink, 410 Hunter Park Road, in Manchester will be offered from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday July 17.

Mark Fischer of the West River Farmers Market said customer contact information will be taken.

Also on Wednesday, the board chose not to further restrict the operation of the Londonderry’s West River Farmers Market, which is held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday at Routes 11 and 100.

Farmers market board chair Mark Fischer, owner of Woodcock Farm in Weston, said the market will start asking customers for their names and contact information, should contact tracing that prove necessary.

Before the market season opened, the board set a number of restrictions on the market. Fischer said social distancing and masks are required of all vendors and customers.

Beattie said the market has been “running very well,” and he has not seen any problems.

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Filed Under: BusinessesCovid 19 CoverageFeaturedLatest NewsLocal announcementsLondonderryMandated shutdownsSouthern Vermont activity

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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