News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters says ‘no big deal’ to mask rule change

Up and down the streets and in and out of businesses small and large, The Nugget found the same thing Saturday when it canvassed the town regarding the March 12 lifting of the Oregon mask mandate: a laissez-faire attitude.

There was no huge collective sigh of relief or celebration. One restaurateur said: “I thought about having a mask-burning ceremony on our patio, but then thought the better of it. I don’t need the one or two customers who would be offended to spoil it for everybody,” she said. “And it’d be my luck that the deck would catch fire.”

Ray’s Food Place: no signs of any kind; no employees masked; 31 of 97 patrons masked.

Bi-Mart: no signs; three masked employees, 14 of 55 customers masked.

Oliver Lemon’s: no signs, but free masks available at both entries; no shoppers masked.

Habitat Re-Store: no signs; staff unmasked; four of 39 customers masked up.

Wearing of masks in Sisters appears now to be your choice, no imposition. That does not mean the matter is closed and forgotten. To the contrary. Paulina Springs Books has been one of the more concerned businesses in town since the early days of COVID-19, with some of the more proactive mitigation steps among their fellow merchants.

“We have basically given up,” said Lane Jacobson, owner. “We will go with the flow.”

He went on to recount the abuse his store and employees have endured as they tried to enforce their policies.

“We had people curse at us, throw masks at us. Walk out and slam the door.”

The sign on their door, small in size, now reads: “Masks Recommended” and he and all his employees remain masked. Bookstores, especially small independent ones like Jacobson’s, have been on the leading edge of compliance with mandates, he told us.

Across the street at Sisters Coffee Co., the four counter workers all flashed a unanimous high five or thumb-up when we asked how it felt to be free of masks. The lone kitchen worker who appeared from her work space masked seemed unaware that she was wearing it.

Not so much the two customers who came in and promptly donned their N-95 masks. They seemed keenly aware that they were in the sole minority, and were perhaps wondering if they would be conspicuous. None of the roughly 30 customers seemed to notice or care. That was the prevailing attitude wherever The Nugget stopped.

The butcher on duty at Ray’s expressed his relief at being able to forego masking. When we pointed out the number of masked customers, he said: “About the same percent of non-mask-wearers last week when the mandate was still in effect.”

He seemed to be making the point that for the better part of the last three months folks in Sisters have been following their own advice and rules.

Shopper Michael from Tollgate, in an N-95 mask, could see that we were doing an informal survey and offered that he doesn’t believe we are out of the woods yet. That’s the same position of St. Charles Health System and the prevailing position of nearly all health care professionals. Michael said, “How the pendulum has swung. Yesterday maskers were shaming the unmasked, and today I feel like I’m the one being shamed.”

N-95s continued to be less than 10 percent of the total, in contradiction of best mask practices offered by the CDC and WHO.

Rosemary, who lives in Pine Meadow Village, said, “I will be wearing my mask for a long time. I used to care that others didn’t. Now I don’t. I’m immune-compromised and I’m not taking any chances.”

She was simultaneously pleased that the mandate had ended, believing that mask fatigue was taking a toll on society and civility.

Ted Clark, who lives in the Cloverdale area, said he hadn’t worn a mask for months and when he was asked, he simply walked out the door.

“No mask, no entry weren’t fighting words,” Clark said. “I just took my money somewhere else.”

There was palpable relief at Sisters Athletic Club, where members found it difficult to exercise when masked. However, of the 11 working out when we visited, two remained masked. One member expressed hope that this would bring back members who suspended or dropped their membership.

Chris, who works in a gallery, was surprised at the numbers who came though the door not knowing the mandate had ended Friday night at 11:59 p.m. She summarized the general mood and demeanor of what happened at midnight Friday.

“People are just getting on with their lives,” Chris said. “I get a lot more talk about $5 gas than COVID.”

Medical facilities of any size and many federally run systems like airports and airlines are still under masking mandates. Don’t burn them yet. Chief Roger Johnson of Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District is trying to work out the intricacies of the mandate given that an ambulance is a “medical facility.” But does it apply to the whole of the building?

From observation, it appears that the lifting of the mandate has happened in Sisters with little fanfare and much respect.


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