News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Mask ‘frustration’ rising in Sisters

It’s not only at the school board meeting where frustration is mounting in Sisters Country over mask protocols and expectations. (See story page 1.)

Guidance from the CDC and the White House has shifted dramatically in the last 10 days and at times appears confusing. As recently as May, President Joe Biden was emphatic to a reporter’s question: “If you’ve been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask. Let me repeat. If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask. The safest thing for the country is for everyone to get vaccinated.”

Many took that literally, thinking there was light at the end of the tunnel. Conditions changed on the ground, however.

On July 27, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced: “In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public, indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant, and protect others. This includes schools,” Walensky said. “The CDC recommends that everyone in grade schools wear masks indoors, including teachers, staff, students, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.”

On July 29, responding to the Delta variant of COVID-19, Governor Kate Brown ordered the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) to create a rule requiring masks for anyone in an indoor school setting this fall. Once the rule is created, it will also affect summer programming, according to ODE.

The Nugget has observed a considerable increase in mask wearing in public in the last two weeks. When we visited Ray’s Food Place, where masking is not required, 17 of 29 customers coming through the doors that random hour were masked. To a person, they all seemed to know the store’s layout without hesitancy suggesting that they were not tourists.

Locals often make sport of guessing who on the street is a tourist.

“Caps are a giveaway,” said Morgan Forbes, who was maskless along with all 13 customers at Sno-Cap when we stopped by. “You can spot them by their usually all-black outfits and the sayings on their duds, or wearing wool hats when it’s 95 degrees,” he joked.

“The masks are a dead giveaway, too,” said his sidekick, Danny Krause.

Shopkeepers tell The Nugget that mask-wearing by tourists is more prevalent than among locals, and becoming a source of some of the increased tension. A manager at a local gallery said, “I get city people walking in from out of town, see me without a mask and give me that ‘what’s wrong with you people’ look.”

A shopper in the gallery, Melanie Morris from Silverton, wore her mask and said, “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It’s a lose/lose but I figure wearing it gets me fewer stares.”

But as noted in the Ray’s sample, not all the masked are visitors.

Some of the vaccinated have lost faith that the vaccine will protect them, especially against variants. A number of vax holdouts seem a bit less confident in the face of the Delta and Lamda strains. Not yet willing to get jabbed, they figure a mask can’t hurt. Others, like Morris, just don’t want the aggravation of arguing the point or appearing to be selfish.

Legacy media and the Administration have taken more and more to using shame and name-calling to induce the unvaccinated. Last week, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy called the unvaxxed “the ultimate knuckleheads.” The politics of the issue are becoming less civil and seem to run contrary to the goal of incentivizing more vaccinations. An August 2 podcast of the Los Angeles Times has experts “concluding that shaming does not work, so why do it?”

Sisters is a long way from Washington, DC. People here tend to pride themselves on common sense or what some characterize as a small-town, laissez-faire attitude. That might be changing. Richard, a retired doctor in Sisters (last name intentionally withheld), is staunchly against COVID-19 — not all — vaccinations and can eloquently make his case, which he admits is in the narrow minority. He says he no longer feels welcome in his church as the only unvaxxed congregant, although he still attends, masked, with regularity.

Sandy and Moira King, who moved to Sisters from Seattle in May, were the only two of 57 indoor and outdoor patrons at Sisters Coffee Co. who were masked Saturday morning when we visited. After some coaxing they were able to admit the tension they experienced, feeling conspicuous in choosing to mask up.

“Nobody says anything to us,” Moira said, “but I assume everybody thinks we’re some kind of nutcases.”

Gabe Ellis, a plumber, said that he no longer arrives on a service call without first checking with the customer about their mask wishes. He sees more and more customers greeting him at the door in a mask. He has his on for every call and only removes it when invited, a change in only the past two weeks.

The Paper Place was full of a mixed lot of masked and unmasked shoppers. Those willing to engage used the word “frustration” almost unanimously when describing the changing masking environment.

“Mask fatigue might be reaching its boiling point,” said a frustrated Jan Gibson from Bend, trying her best to wrangle the masks on her three pre-teen girls.

The frustration shows no sign of ebbing any time soon as cases and hospitalizations mount.


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