[Posted Friday, March 11, 2022]
The statewide indoor mask mandate ends at 11:59pm on Saturday, March 11, almost two years to the day since COVID-19 shut down just about everything in Oregon. And what it didn't shut down was transformed to fit the new world of physical distancing, masking, and testing.
Government, business and individuals coped, pivoted, and innovated. Remote work, remote school, no-contact almost everything were the survival strategies that allowed us all to carry on some semblance of our lives.
Many of the work-arounds from the pandemic are likely to stick around and become the new normal. It turns out that Zoom has the potential to increase attendance at certain community meetings, and online sales have become an indispensable convenience for many retail outlets and their customers. In a nod to this new normal, Baker and Spice will remain closed for indoor service for another few weeks while the interior is remodelled to accommodate the reality that, to one degree or another, online sales are here to stay.
While masks will likely continue to be a staple of most handbags, backpacks, glove compartments and medicine cabinets, beginning March 12 they will largely be optional (they will still be required in health care settings like dentist offices).
Multnomah County will follow state policy and drop its indoor mask mandate. This means that of March 12, masks will no longer be required at the Hillsdale Library.
Some faith communities in the neighborhood, including St. Andrews and Hills Community Church, are taking a more cautious-wait-and-see approach before changing current policies, while others will make masks voluntary. St. Barnabas Episcopal Church recommends masking after March 12, and will resume offering wine at communion on March 13.
Portland Jewish Academy will keep masking requirements in place and plans to reconsider its policies later in the spring.
Portland Public Schools will drop its mask requirement on Monday, March 14. Robert Gray Middle School principal Lisa Newlyn says staff and teachers will make their own decisions to unmask or mask. "This is a good time for families to talk about personal needs for safety and discuss strategies for self advocacy," she said in an email. "It's important we respect personal choices." As when the outdoor mask mandate was lifted, the school community will continue the same theme of respect and consideration now that the indoor mandates are lifted, she added.
Masks will no longer be required during indoor fitness classes. Lara Jones, co-owner of SW Portland Martial Arts and Crossfit Hillsdale says, "It will be great to be able to exercise without masks again, but we’ll continue to be careful about maintaining all other Covid precautions." Masks will be optional in athletic facilities at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center beginning March 13; director Steve Albert cautions that masks may still be required at specific programs or events.
Salons will no longer have to require masks. Staff at 77Salon and Nail Savvy said over the phone that masking choices will be up to the customer, who can choose to wear a mask as well as request that their stylist or technician be masked. NailSavvy installed curtains around client chairs when they re-opened after the initial COVID shutdown. Those are still in place and available for use depending on customer preference.
Most of the Hillsdale businesses who responded to a recent email asking about the lifting of the mandate are optimistic that this a sign of a return to normal, including Sasquatch Brewing Co. owner Tom Sims. Sims said that the new policy should help business and will allow him to re-open the brewery's taproom in NW Portland.
Many also replied that they and their staff may choose to continue to wear a mask, and will be conscious of the masking choices of their customers.
At Paloma Clothing, co-owner Mike Roach said, "We are going with 'mask optional' for both customers and staff. If customers ask what they should be doing, we will say,
'Whatever you are most comfortable with. Please be respectful of those
who continue to mask if you choose not to.'" Roach and Paloma manager Traci Burnes point out that retail staff encounter many people in a workday and may feel more comfortable continuing to wear a mask at work.
A few doors down at Hoot-n-Annie Resale Boutique, owner Tina Donnaloia said, "Like most businesses, we are torn. We are so happy cases are down and happy to see the light at the end of the tunnel for mask wearing. It is not fun wearing them 7-9 hours a day. But we know our community is a little split on whether they are ready." Masks will be optional in her stores beginning March 12, but, "We will not reopen our play area until we are sure things are better. Last thing we want is to unmask, bring back the play area and see a rise in kiddos getting sick."
Baker and Spice's Julie Richardson said she didn't know yet how the bakery will respond to the lifting of the mask mandate. She and her staff are still discussing what that will look like.
At Portland Camera Service, owner Jayesunn Krump said the end of the mandate would allow his business to resume some of the activities put on hold by the pandemic, such as group classes and studio rentals for photography shoots. He said, "All of us at the shop are hopeful that this might be the beginning of getting back to normal and we are looking forward to it for sure!"
After discussion with his staff, Ron Connell says that Other Worlds Games & Comics will continue to require masks for gaming events for now. Sales have been good, he said, but attendance at camps and events has not returned to anything near pre-pandemic levels. He will add more events to the calendar and hopes for an uptick in participation as people feel more comfortable. “We have never wanted to be just a retail store," he said. "We could make the switch, it would be easier, but it’s not as fun. We want people to come and play and be a community.”
The end of masking (and all we can do is hope it's the end—the last time we lifted the requirement we got hit by the Delta surge and returned to masking again within a few weeks) feels a little like a non-event: most businesses have returned to more traditional business hours, restaurants are serving indoors, students are back in the classroom and our library doors are open once again. What should be a significant mile-marker on the road to the end of the pandemic is also a step into a new twilight landscape of uncertainty: Will there be a new variant surge? How do we navigate various levels of personal comfort with unmasking as some people welcome the freedom from face coverings while others will prefer to keep them on? Stay tuned, keep your masks handy just in case, and be flexible and be kind.
Will unmasking be easy or difficult for you? Let us know.