Since the state of Vermont ended its mask recommendation on March 14, Middlebury businesses have followed suit. Now, customers can enter nearly every business and building in town maskless.
Ilsley Public Library, located on Middlebury’s main street, lifted their mask requirement for patrons over two weeks ago when the statewide mask recommendation ended. However, masks are still required for library employees working at the front desk because they interact heavily with the public.
“There was a little bit of fuss when we originally dropped the mandate. I think some people wanted to keep it required for a while longer, but other than that people have been really flexible,” said Ilsley Public Library Circulation Desk Librarian Hayley Coble.
When they did have a mask requirement at the public library, sometimes patrons would remove their masks when in areas of the library where few staff were present. However, if asked, they were often compliant in putting their masks back on, according to Coble. She said that a few people have left when asked to wear a mask when they had that requirement, but it generally has not been an issue trying to get people to wear them.
The Middlebury Natural Foods Co-Op announced last Wednesday that, starting Saturday, March 26, they would no longer require customers or employees to wear masks inside the store. They wanted to give their customers a heads-up about the upcoming change. Glenn Lower, general manager of the Co-Op, emphasized that the business’s approach to Covid-19 policies is to follow what local and national requirements dictate.
“It’s not up to my discretion… we’re going to follow what the Vermont governor says, the Vermont Health Department and the CDC,” Lower said.
The Co-Op was not quick to remove their mask mandate, even when the state allowed it. Lower explained that even when Addison County’s Covid-19 alert level went from high to medium a couple of weeks ago, the Co-Op chose to keep their mask requirement for a little longer to make sure the spread of Covid-19 did not become concerning yet again. Lower emphasized his hope that they would not have to quickly reinstate their mask mandate, and says that going back and forth with guidelines could be difficult to enforce.
Coble started working at the public library in July, when they reopened to the public. Masks were not required at the library in the summer or early fall, but with the rise of the omicron variant they began requiring patrons to wear a mask. Similarly, the Co-Op did not require masks inside the store during the summer of 2021. Other than those couple of months, they have required masks for the entirety of the pandemic.
According to Lower, customer responses to the masking requirement at the Co-Op over the last two years have been all over the place, and there have been a few customers who have decided not to shop at the Co-Op anymore because of the former mask requirement. But Lower said the general consensus is that customers have often been very accommodating of the Co-Op’s mask mandate.
“The vast majority have been very understanding and very accepting,” Lower said.
Lower recalled how much things have changed since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic with regard to customer mask requirements in their store. At first, the short supply of medical masks limited the store’s ability to provide them for customers. This, in turn, led to the mass creation of reusable cloth masks.
“People started sewing their own masks, and people were donating them to staff,” Lower said, pointing out that the mask around his neck was one of those sewn and donated by a community member two years ago.
While some things have returned to normal — for example, the public library’s capacity limits are back at pre-pandemic levels, although they still have air purifiers running inside –– the possibility of case numbers rising and restrictions returning now seems inherent to living with Covid-19.
“I think it’s beginning to wear on people, but people realize the necessity for masking when the transmission rates are up,” Coble said.