It is with a mix of emotions that residents of Canby and neighboring communities greet the long-awaited lifting of the statewide mask mandate in most indoor public spaces Saturday, March 12, followed by the end of the governor’s Covid-19 emergency declaration a few weeks later — signaling the nearest return to normalcy weary Oregonians have seen in over two years.
For many, the change brings a sense of relief — and even satisfaction.
“Because of how many people protected themselves and followed the mandates, as well as getting the vaccine, Oregon’s low levels of cases and deaths compared to states of similar size were very encouraging,” said Steven Weldon said on the Current‘s Facebook page. “Those of us who did our job need this.”
Oregonians have long endured Covid restrictions that are among the strictest in the nation, and will be one of the last to see their statewide mask mandate go away.
And, while the rules have sparked frustration, anger and even protests, state officials and others have been quick to credit them with helping Oregon achieve the United States’ sixth-lowest Covid-19 death rate per capita.
Several commenters said they would continue to wear a mask in public spaces even after the mandate is lifted.
“Not caring if you infect others or not is disrespectful,” said Cher Rol. “I do not want to share any kind of germs with anyone that could result in their illness/death.
“The elderly or immunocompromised will continue to be at risk, so will wear a mask for now to protect them.”
Karen Bloomquist Uhl felt the sharply declining infection numbers warrant the end of the mandate, but said she will continue to wear one because of a compromised immune system and someone who works with immunocompromised children.
“I’ve been healthier wearing one because I don’t get exposed to others’ colds and flu,” she said. “With all the viruses, people tend to be most contagious before they know they are sick. Working with the public, I was exposed a lot.”
“I hope people in this area will be kind to those that continue to wear them and also explain that to their children to be kind,” said Netty Curtis. “Those with compromised immune systems may continue to choose to wear them.
“The rude comments of calling people sheep or state they are living in fear are not necessary. Mind your own business and leave others alone that are doing what they need to do to be healthy.”
Some pointed out that the cutting remarks have often been a two-way street.
“I’ve gotten called a murderer for not wearing mine,” Emily Chapman said. “You’re right that people should do better.”
Most hailed the end of the mandate — and were perfectly willing to adopt a “live and let live” philosophy.
“I’m going with a don’t judge rule,” Sean Kirwan said. “Don’t judge me, and I will not judge you.”
“I’ll say the same thing I’ve been saying since day 1: If you feel that the mask is going to save you, then please, by all means, wear it for you,” agreed Jason Ault. “But don’t shame me for my thoughts and opinions on not wearing one.”
Several commenters said the lifting of the mandate was long overdue.
“This virus is no more harmful now than having the flu or pneumonia,” said Teresa Way Dickson. “We didn’t ever wear masks for them.”
(While the deaths from Covid-19 far surpasses that of any flu season since the Spanish influenza outbreak more than a century ago, data shows that new interventions — especially the vaccine — have indeed made the virus’s risk lower than that of normal flu for the vast majority of people.)
While much of the frustration around masks boils down to inconvenience or the loss of personal freedom; for others, the impact went much deeper.
“As someone with autism, I say that the mask mandate has been the most discriminatory ‘law’ I’ve ever encountered in America,” said Adan Magana. “It essentially made the entire state inaccessible.”
Still others had even more unique experiences.
“I contracted a stye in my eye twice and had to visit my eye doctor to get treatment,” said Scot Crum. “He said he treated a high volume of patients because the bacteria exhausted up into our eyeglasses and infected the eyelids.”
“Can’t wait!” said health care worker Christie Powlison. “Now if only I didn’t have to wear a mask all day at work at the hospital.”
Several commenters reminded that masks will still be required in a few places: flights and public transit, for one, due to overarching federal law, and health care facilities such as hospitals, clinics and nursing homes.
“Regardless of if you are there for an appointment or visiting a loved one — the mask is non-negotiable,” said Jen Culver Lemuz. “If you refuse to wear it and still want to a visit family member, you will not be allowed in the facility.”
For many, one of the most visible places that the end of the mask mandate will manifest will be in the halls and classrooms of public schools.
Starting Monday, March 14, masks will be optional in Canby schools for the first time since they reopened for in-person instruction more than a year ago.
“We know that some welcome this news while some will have concerns,” CSD Communications Director Kristen Wohlers said in an email to families this week. “Some will choose not to wear masks, and some will continue to wear face coverings for a variety of reasons.
“In Canby schools, our priority is kindness and respect in order to honor each individual’s decision around masks. Please join us in this effort.”
The end of the mask mandate and schools will bring other rule changes concerning some testing protocols and contact tracing.
Take-home tests are available for students and families through their schools while supplies last and also from the federal government.
Students are still urged to stay home if they are sick, especially if their symptoms include a fever, cough, chills, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, diarrhea, vomiting, skin rash or open sores.
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