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Mask and You Shall Receive

Local business owners share the ups and downs of the new statewide mask mandate



As of July 1, Gov. Kate Brown mandated face covering in all public, indoor settings in Oregon. The statewide requirement spurned opposition and appreciation; some refused to comply, others grasped the public safety implications. 

Leapin' Lizards, a toy store in downtown Bend, requires all customers (over the age of 2) to mask up before entering. - COURTESY LEAPIN' LIZARDS
  • Courtesy Leapin' Lizards
  • Leapin' Lizards, a toy store in downtown Bend, requires all customers (over the age of 2) to mask up before entering.

Brown put off mandating masks during Phase One reopening in Central Oregon and some other Oregon counties May 15, remaining optimistic that Oregonians would take respecting the well-being of others upon themselves. Statewide case numbers continued to climb, and on June 24 the governor mandated masks in seven counties. Days later, she issued the statewide order. 

Aimee Huff, an assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University College of Business in Corvallis researches pandemic-related public health messaging. Her personal areas of expertise include communication challenges that surround face coverings and how social norms, government regulations and personal choices intersect. 

Airborne transmission

"Emerging science indicates that we need to be more concerned with airborne transmission," Huff explained. "The virus can linger in tiny droplets in the air and infect people who inhale that air. This development feels new to the public. Until recently, the public health messaging has been focused on hand washing and social distancing to minimize transmission by large droplets, such as those produced when coughing or sneezing. The public now needs to think about how to minimize airborne transmission."

On July 4, The New York Times made mention of an open letter to the World Health Organization, in which 239 scientists in 32 countries outlined conclusive evidence showing that small, airborne particles have great infectious potential. In early April, 36 air quality and aerosol experts urged the WHO to consider the extensive evidence surrounding airborne transmission, but that message got lost in other messages around hand washing and social distancing.

Huff noted that in order for mandates to be successful, community members must work together. "Business owners and customers have important roles to play in encouraging compliance. Business owners can communicate their requirements, and customers can encourage each other to learn about, support and comply with businesses' policies. Meaning that for businesses where masks cannot be worn by customers at all times, the business posts clear how-to messaging. For example, a restaurant might inform customers dining indoors that they are expected to wear face coverings until their food arrives, and any time they're not sitting at their table." 

Local restaurateurs explained the steps they have been taking to ensure rules and regulations are clear to all customers. 

Whining and Dining

Nicole Precone, owner of Root Down Kitchen in Bend, said she's still not offering indoor seating. "All of our customers are required to wear a mask when ordering and when using the restrooms," she said. "We only offer outdoor seating at this time. We have signs on our front door and front counter reminding customers of the new requirement. So far, everyone has been cooperating; we've had no issues. If someone shows up without a mask we ask them to put one on. If for some reason that doesn't work, we ask customers to go outside and call in for curbside pickup. We won't provide service to anyone who isn't wearing a mask."

Dump City Dumplings' owner Dan Butters explained that a small number of customers were upset about the current situation, but that their frustrations didn't always concern masks. "We have signs everywhere that say not to enter the building, and those get ignored here and there. We've had a few people who have been mad that we aren't fully open, but that's on them. Overall, people are understanding that this is a crazy time, and they work with us to get through it." Going the extra mile, staff members take the temperature of each customer with a laser thermometer before seating them on the patio. In doorways and restrooms, masks are mandatory. Once diners are at their respective tables, they can take their masks off to eat and drink.

Masking the maskless

Public agencies such as the Deschutes Public Library are going even further to support patrons in complying with the new guidelines. As of June 22, the library re-opened from Monday-Saturday, 9am-6pm, with special hours for the immunocompromised or elderly (9-10am). Customers are able to pick up and check out materials at self-serve kiosks. All programs and events will still be held online.

"We supply masks to those who would like to use our facilities but don't have a mask available," said Chantal Strobel, DPL communications & development Manager. "The response has been positive, and customers seem happy to wear a mask to use their local library. We have procedures and signage in place to maintain 6 feet distancing for all people, and we limit the number of people in library facilities at one time."

Jamie Alderete, owner of BendOver Wax Studio in Bend, also noted that customers had been consistently gracious. "We have an online form for our clients to fill out before they come in. We ask a few questions and require they wear a mask for the duration of their visit. Everyone has been very understanding. If someone forgot a mask, we have one to offer them. I think people are just happy to be out and to be able to take care of their self-care needs!"

Still, other businesses have struggled enforcing the mandate. 

"I had purchased masks and had been handing them out, but I'm currently out of stock," said Suzy Reininger of Leapin' Lizards toy store in downtown Bend. "I am saddened that at this point in the pandemic I still need to provide masks. It's my opinion that everyone should have one with them. Even visitors. If you come to Oregon, be aware of our requirements." 

Some businesses, like Oregrown Industries, Inc., were ahead of the game. "We took preventative measures by asking customers to wear a face covering approximately a month prior to the mandate," explained Aaron Elston, vice president of retail for the company. "Oregrown will be providing locally made Blackstrap cloth masks to all staff to ensure a low-waste footprint. Customers have, for the most part, been very receptive to the new rules."

Gym requirements

Brown's mandate includes some exceptions, including exercising at a gym, so long as gym-goers remain 6 feet apart.

Ulla Lundgren, co-owner of The Yoga Lab in Bend, explained that while they're carefully following protocols, the majority of classes were still being held via Zoom. "We're requiring everybody to wear a face covering inside, with the exception of when they are engaging in strenuous exercise, which in our case is our Vinyasa and flow classes," Lundgren explained. "We've marked the outer parameters of where yoga mats are placed with tape to take out the guess work. So far everyone is complying and seems to appreciate our efforts to keep everybody safe. Of course, we're keeping our space sparkling clean and disinfected."

According to Huff of OSU, Bendites would be better off exercising outdoors.

"Businesses that encourage customers to physically gather and exhale more forcefully, such as gyms or fitness studios, will need to carefully consider how to prioritize their employees' and customers' health," she concluded. "This can be difficult, because working out is more uncomfortable when wearing a face covering, and customers may be reluctant to wear one unless it's required. However, it is becoming clear that masks and good ventilation systems are important in minimizing airborne transmission."

About The Author

Cayla Clark

Cayla graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting, soon after realizing that playwriting is not a viable career option. Fortunately, this led her to journalism, and she is thrilled to be part of such a unique and fun-loving team. Upcoming local events? Send them her way!

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