Hilary Francis, Brattleboro town clerk, wears a mask while walking down Main Street, in Brattleboro, Vt., on Friday, July 24, 2020. Credit: Kristopher Radder / The Brattleboro Reformer via AP

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott on Friday issued an order requiring people in the state to wear masks in public as part of an ongoing effort to reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Speaking at his regular virus briefing, Scott said the outbreaks hitting the South and West may be spreading back toward the Northeast and Vermont.

“We are still in very good shape, but it is time to prepare,” the Republican said, noting it’s better to take precautions than having to roll back the reopening as has happened in a number of hard-hit states.

Under the order that takes effect Aug. 1, all public and private businesses must display signs saying masks are required for anyone over age 2. Businesses are allowed to refuse service to people not wearing a mask.

There are a number of exemptions, including people who are eating or drinking, engaged in strenuous exercise or those who have a medical exemption. People who do not wear a mask are not required to produce evidence of their condition.

The order comes with no fine or enforcement mechanism, although that could change as circumstances warrant.

Scott said the goal of the order is to further encourage people to wear masks.

“Unfortunately this issue has become polarized,” Scott said. “I am still worried that a mandate will create conflict and resistance.”

He urged people not to resort to public shaming of people not wearing a mask and to give people who don’t wear masks the benefit of the doubt that they could have a legitimate reason not to wear one.

“Let’s not make the news with screaming matches caught on video,” the governor said. “Let’s do things the Vermont way by being role models by leading by example.”

For people who have resisted mask-wearing, the governor said: “I am asking you, look at the data, not just something you see on Facebook, and realize that the science is real and that wearing a mask will not only protect the gains we’ve made, but also help your family members and friends stay healthy.”

Story by Wilson Ring