Oregonians are cautiously stepping out into a mask-optional world this weekend, after the state's mask mandate ended Saturday, March 12.
While many employers were still requiring masks for their employees, at Portland's Lloyd Center mall, three store workers estimated there was a 50/50 balance of masked and non-masked shoppers.
Jessica Glantz, an assistant manager at T-shirt and novelty store Spencers Gifts, said many employees there are still wearing masks, while they wait for direction from corporate.
"We're asking people to wear masks, but we don't enforce it," Glantz said of the store policy.
Glantz said she is excited to show off her smile — and her smiler. She lowered her mask briefly to reveal a diamante piercing in her frenulum, the bit of skin that connects the upper lip to the gum.
"I had COVID, and I don't want to wear masks anymore," Glantz said. "I got COVID after vaccination, in January this year. I've always been one to follow the guidelines and the law, so I usually wear my mask. But if someone doesn't require a mask, I won't."
The end of the Oregon's mask mandate means the return of choice for private businesses, which can still require customers and staff to wear a mask.
Oregon cited low COVID-19 hospitalizations as it lifted its mask mandate, saying hospitals can now cope with the level of infections. Washington and California followed suit, too, Friday and Hawaii, the final state, will lift its restrictions by March 25.
It's been a long road. Governor Kate Brown brought in the indoor mask mandate in July 2020, briefly lifted it in the summer of 2021, and then reimposed it in August 2021.
William Jerome, owner of Gambits Cards & Hobbies, a collectible card and tabletop gaming store, said he estimated foot traffic in the mall had tripled overnight, with the lifting of the masking requirements.
"Freedom," he explained. "They can leave the house. It's one of the things that some people said was restricting them."
Jerome had customers who refused to come in and play games because of the indoor mask rule, he said. But Saturday, a group of six came back and hung out for five hours.
Jerome, who is vaccinated, said he was fine with staff and customers wearing masks, if they felt more comfortable.
"It is what it is," he said. "In Japan and China people wear masks when they're sick, to protect you. It's common courtesy."
'You got used to it'
Up for some shopping, Kristen Regalado, of Eugene, and Rene Camacho, of Lebanon, were walking maskless around the mall. Camacho said, at first, he had forgotten her mask in his car.
"Then I remembered, I don't have to go back to the car for it," Camacho said, pleased. He does, however, intend to wear it on occasion.
"People are gross," he explained. "You see people do things that are nasty, like coughing, I've seen people pick their nose and grab something."
Camacho has little patience for people who complained about Oregon's masking requirements.
"We're all grown-ups," he said. "It's like, come on. You can push through. We're in America complaining about masks, it's kind of goofy."
Though masks have been required for a majority of the coronavirus pandemic, not all of Oregon has enforced the rules.
"It just depends where you're from. I live in a small town," said Camacho, who lives in Lebanon. "You go to towns like that, no one enforces the mask mandate."
'I already didn't really worry that much, to be honest'
Fritz Farman was relaxed as he manned the Silver Castle kiosk in the mall. He and his brother sell piercing jewelry. He said he expects more and more people to go maskless in the near future.
"It's going to change, it's getting better," he said.
Farman was happy to ditch his mask.
"I'm fine. I've done my vaccination," he said. "I've talked to a lot of people (who work in the mall). They're all vaccinated."
He had COVID-19 for a couple of days in late 2021. "Mine was very mild. I'm not gonna complain about it," said Farman.
The state of Oregon still recommends people mask up around the immunocompromised and people over age 65. Masks are still compulsory in hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, and until April 18 on buses, planes and trains.
Just leaving the quiet end of the mall, Antonio Hernandez, 20, was maskless. He said the end of the mask mandate didn't make much difference to him.
"I already didn't really worry that much, to be honest. If someone asked me to put it on, I put it on. But I wouldn't always. I feel like for some people it's a safety blanket for them now. Most people are vaccinated. And that was also a big issue as well. It feels good for me to, I just hope everyone is able to get back to normal."
Hernandez, who is unvaccinated, said he was glad to be done with his.
"I can breathe better without it, and I like to be able to read people's facial expressions. If it's required, I don't have an issue with putting on a mask."
He had COVID-19 in early 2020 and briefly lost his sense of smell.
"It was just kind of like a common cold for me. I'm not vaxed at all, I just feel I'm healthy and I'm young."
Regaldo, the shopper from Eugene said, works retail and said wearing a mask had become a part of her life, but she's glad to be done with them.
"I was just used to always having my mask on at work," she said. "You got used to it. We've been covering our faces for almost two years now. It definitely feels weird. Different."
Other shoppers — including a group of teenagers — continued to wear masks while inside the mall. Regaldo said she supported them.
"I also just think the younger generation, they're more socially aware and, I guess, want to make more others comfortable," she said. "That's just a good thing."
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