Most Vermonters support statewide mask mandates, school vax requirements, VPR-Vermont PBS poll shows
Christina Bakos didn’t want her voice on the radio because she thinks she sounds like a frog.
She's pretty sure she has COVID. Her son, who works at a preschool, tested positive. The school is closed this week because so many kids are infected.
Bakos lives in Cambridge. She’s vaccinated, but she’s at high risk for disease. In recent days, she's had trouble breathing.
Throughout the pandemic, she's always worn a mask when she goes out. For her, asking others to do the same feels like a no-brainer.
“You can’t go into a store without a shirt and shoes on,” she said. “What’s the big deal about a mask?”
“It feels like a silly thing not to do for someone else,” she added.
Many share this sentiment: 58% of Vermonters support a statewide mask mandate, according to a poll conducted by VPR and Vermont PBS this month.
In general, most people say they support policies that would limit the spread of infection: More than half of respondents said the governor reinstating emergency powers would be a “reasonable response” right now.
Some 60% said public schools should require COVID vaccines. And respondents were evenly split on whether proof of vaccination should be required to enter places like restaurants and stores.
Public health experts have long championed these measures.
“In a pandemic that spreads through the air, masks are as important as hand washing in a pandemic with germs that spread on our hands,” said Julia Raifman, who researches pandemic policy responses at Boston University and runs the COVID-19 State Policy database. “That's just the nature of the virus.”
Raifman doesn’t think of mask mandates or vaccine requirements as just preventing people from getting infected.
“Reducing COVID cases reduces a lot more than just cases,” she said. “It reduces hospitalizations, it reduces school closures, it reduces business closures. It reduces people who lose their family members, kids who lose their parents.”
Gov. Phil Scott has dismissed any notion of implementing a statewide mask mandate or vaccination requirements in recent months. And while over a dozen towns require masks indoors, nearly as many towns don’t.
Outside Vermont though, at least six states have statewide mask mandates in place this winter.
“We saw that masking increased immediately upon implementation of mandates. And those states have higher levels of masking than states without mandates in place,” said Anne Sosin, a public health researcher at Dartmouth College.
Sosin says Hawaii is a good comparison to Vermont for this. They have a statewide mask mandate and slightly under 70% of Hawaiians say they always wear a mask when they go out. While in Vermont, that’s just 51 to 54%, depending on which survey data you look at.
“We do have good data showing that mask mandates do lead to higher masking at population level,” Sosin said.
Outside of politics, most Vermonters agree that health care workers should not differentiate between caring for vaccinated and unvaccinated people under any circumstance. Only 31% of poll respondents said health care providers should prioritize vaccinated people “if resources become scarce.”
Researchers like Raifman, from Boston University, agree. “It's completely contrary to the spirit of public health to divide people into people who are vaccinated or unvaccinated,” she said.
It’s easy to blame people for not getting vaccinated, whether because of lack of access, misinformation, or ideology. But that doesn’t prompt behavior change, she said.
“It takes collective action, it takes support, to get vaccinated, to wear masks, to anchor in facts on why we need to do these things,” Raifman said. “When we're divided against each other, then the virus wins. And that's what's happening.”
Lexi Krupp is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and regions.
From Jan. 3 to Jan. 9, the VPR-Vermont PBS 2022 Poll asked hundreds of Vermonters about their opinions on politicians, Vermont's response to COVID-19 and more. Explore part one of results here. The second part of the results will be released in early February.