SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — The Springfield Selectboard voted unanimously in favor of an encouragement resolution instead of a town-wide mask ordinance but not without pushback from citizens, healthcare providers, an official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and from the selectboard’s own George McNaughton.

The encouragement resolution strongly recommends mask wearing, social distancing, diligent hand washing and sanitizing, vaccinations, boosters and getting tested after being in large social gatherings.

The town has also put in place a mandate for masks being worn in town offices unless an employee is alone in their workspace.

During introduction of the encouragement resolution, Michael Martin showed an official town document to be made available to local businesses that echoed the resolution.

“We are here because we have very high rates of COVID in Springfield,” said board Chair Walter Martone, opening up the meeting to discussion.

Martone also said the motion was based on discussions within the Selectboard and with Springfield Fire Chief Russel Thompson.

“We have no code enforcement and we believe a mandate will be difficult to enforce because we lack a code enforcement officer,” Martone said.

Selectboard member George McNaughton said he was in favor of amending the resolution to become a mandate based on information he received from officials in Brattleboro about the current mask ordinance.

“They were first to enforce a mask mandate, with code enforcement. It seems to be going okay,” McNaughton said. “The have no ability written into their code to enforce it.

McNaughton asked if contact was made with Springfield Hospital.

“Was the police chief consulted?” Selectboard member Everette Hammond asked.

Michael Martin responded, “I can guarantee you they won’t be able to enforce a mandate with the amount of officers they have down. Police are wearing masks.”

Martin continued, although not in favor of a mandate: “Vaccination and boosters are the best way to control transmission. Eighty percent to 90 percent of the deaths are unvaccinated people. Because vaccinated can still transmit the disease, mask-wearing is not just for the unvaccinated individual. The worst thing done for people in town was to put signs up that said vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks and unvaccinated people do.”

Martin also recommended that people wear a respirator instead of a mask if they are concerned about getting the coronavirus.

Lyndsy McIntyre, Springfield Hospital’s chief of Patient Care Services, spoke in favor of changing the resolution to an official mask ordinance.

“COVID as a whole has taken a tremendous toll on our workforce. We are seeing an incredible demand for COVID care,” McIntyre said. “Finding COVID care has been a herculean effort. Connecticut was assisting us but Massachusetts is only accepting Massachusetts residents. If there was a significant accident we would have trouble finding a trauma bed and it is getting harder and harder.”

“Do you feel a mandate would be effective even if it’s not enforceable?” McNaughton asked McIntyre.

“Yes, I do think that it would be,” McIntyre said.

Larry Tre Ayer III of Visualization and Evidence Synthesis for the CDC strongly advised to change the resolution to a mask ordinance to avoid a potential lockdown.

“I think we should enforce a mask mandate,” Ayers said. “Alternatively, we could limit people’s movements but that would not be right. A mask mandate is the best option.”

Char Osterlund also supported a mask mandate.

“A mask mandate ensures my freedom of movement. Springfield has the fourth highest in transmission,” Osterlund said, noting she will not go anywhere that doesn’t have one.

MJ Trask of Vermont Adult Learning was also in favor of a municipal mask mandate and used her work experience as an example.

“We have had a mandate since we came off remote. No one has not worn a mask. It’s a great model for all our students,” Trask said, encompassing all students of every school in the Springfield area.

Martone said the town had received 25 written comments on the proposal of a mask ordinance.

“Some were for a mandate, some were against and some fell in between,” Martone said.

Springfield resident Jake Wilson spoke in favor of the resolution and against a mask ordinance.

“I’m a resident, vaccinated and I have three kids in the school system. I wear a mask when I think it’s necessary. I think this should be a personal choice,” Wilson said. “I think we need to be bringing money and young people starting businesses into our town.”

Wilson also said according to a family in Claremont the city is doing fine without one.

“There’s no quarantine in Claremont. I’m 30 and I represent my age group. I think we need to look deeper into this,” he said.

McNaughton disagreed with Wilson on how Claremont has weathered the uptick in numbers managing, as part of Sullivan County, to reach the pages of The New York Times regarding high COVID transmission numbers.

“I don’t think we should model after Claremont. Because they have a higher rate of COVID than Springfield,” McNaughton said. “I currently can’t support [the encouragement resolution] because I think it should be a mandate.

In the end, Martone made a motion that the mask mandate ordinance be revisited at every selectboard meeting until April 30, 2022, or until Vermont state legislation runs out. The motion was unanimously approved by four as Kristi Morris was not in attendance.

The encouragement resolution was a unanimous vote of four with George McNaughton stating that he hesitatingly votes aye because he would rather see an official mask ordinance.

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