ST. ALBANS CITY — Last week, Gov. Phil Scott announced that because Vermont has already hit its necessary vaccination threshold with over 60% of the population receiving at least one dose, it will move into Step 3 of the Vermont Forward Plan more than two weeks ahead of the anticipated schedule.
In addition, fully vaccinated Vermonters no longer need to wear a mask, in accordance with federal guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In his declaration Scott said, "Today marks a major step forward in our efforts to end this pandemic and get back to doing more of the things we’ve missed over the past 14 months. Vermont has led the nation in many ways throughout the pandemic, including our vaccination efforts."
But how are establishments, as well as locals, reacting?
In St. Albans this week, many people seemed to have chosen to ditch the mask in favor of showing their face for the first time in a year, but others expressed the desire to keep wearing the face shield.
According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a mask. You are fully vaccinated 14 days after your final shot. However, businesses or municipalities can require you to wear a mask.
Over at Tim’s Place in St. Albans, owner Arthur Kougias says his business hasn’t changed since the start of the pandemic.
“Everyone in the back is still wearing masks. We’re just waiting for the all clear from the governor but there still needs to be masks in restaurants so that hasn’t changed,” says Kougias.
Kougias says — although they still have a sign on the door — that if someone comes in without a mask they aren’t enforcing the mandate.
“The vast majority of customers still are wearing masks. We’re just allowing it. There’s no way we can ask if they are vaccinated,” he says.
As for deliveries, Kougias says that Tim’s Place did do delivery but he isn’t completely sure how that’s going to shake out.
“I was doing the delivery and I didn’t want to run around with deliveries, so we do a minimum,” he says.
At Mac's Quik Stop and Deli on Main Street, owner Frank Cater says that staff talked amongst themselves and decided that it would be good to keep signage up in the store and keep masks on among staff.
"What we're doing is kind of trying to be open-minded. We're not forcing people to put masks on," says Cater. "Right now we're 60-40 mask to no mask. We also put the 'Masks up Hoods down' sign up and we have a 'Be smart, be safe' sign too. But you have to put thought into it," he says.
Despite the announcement of new CDC guidelines allowing for the optional use of masks, officials at Northwestern Medical Center are making it clear that those rules do not yet apply to healthcare facilities.
“When people saw the first headline regarding masks people were excited and it’s like, 'Ok, let’s clarify where you can and where it makes sense,’" says Jonathan Billings, vice president of community relations for Northwestern Medical Center. “So, we’re continuing to practice social distancing and the wearing of masks and face coverings as we begin to expand visitation and foot traffic within the facilities.”
This means staff at Northwestern Medical Center and in Northwestern Medical Group practices will continue to wear surgical masks. As well, patients and visitors must wear either cloth face coverings or surgical masks.
NMC is also continuing to practice social distancing within both its in-patient and out-patient facilities.
“We’ve gotten very good guidance. They’ve served us very well and have helped keep the hospital staff and the community safe with their very considered approach. We will continue to listen to [Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine] and the federal experts on how to proceed,” says Billings.
Kelly and Harrison Stone, from Fairfield, were out on Main Street recently checking out the sites. They said it’s not strange to see people without a mask on, even though they were still wearing theirs.
“I just got my second shot the other day. I’ve kind of got used to it I guess. I’m ok still wearing it,” Kelly Stone said.
Kelly says she doesn’t know how she feels about being close to random people.
“People have the freedom to decide what they do themselves and you just have to respect that,” she said. “I’m going to keep wearing it, it’s comfortable now.”
While waiting for his pickup at Twiggs, Jamal Marbury said there isn’t much difference between places like Vermont and other states like Alabama.
“I just flew in and didn’t have to wear my mask in the airport but I also didn’t have to show my vaccination card anywhere,” he said.
Masks are still mandated at public transportation hubs such as airports, bus terminals and train stations.
“Just trying to get through it one day at a time. I’m glad to be here though. Seems like a chill place,” he said.