After 620 days of on and off mask mandates in Oregon, it comes to an end on Friday at 11:59 p.m.
We stopped inside about 20 businesses in and around Downtown Bend Friday afternoon, all of which told us they will not require masks starting Saturday.
Most owners and managers tell us the choice will be left up to customers and whatever makes them the most comfortable.
Seeing the smiles of customers is something Liz Boisineau, general manager of Lark Mountain Modern, has missed with a mask mandate in place.
“We are just excited to be able to see people’s faces,” Boisineau said. “We are not going to be requiring masks. If people want to still wear them, feel free. That’s what I’ve told my staff too, if you guys want to keep wearing them, do it. Those of you that don’t, don’t.”
California-based clothing company Title Nine opened a location in downtown Bend a year and a half ago, and will also allow customers to choose if they want to mask up or not.
Like Boisineau, store manager Renee Schmidt says it will be the first time employees get to learn the faces of their customers.
“It’s a huge part to see the face and see the smiles and connect with customers, absolutely,” Schmidt said. “I can’t wait for that.”
Locals like Aaron Jennings can not seem to wait either.
“I’m excited,” Jennings said. “It’s been way too long, way too overdue. What was it, like two weeks in the beginning?”
As for the Oregon Health Authority, director Patrick Allen says COVID trends in Oregon are down, but there is not telling what will happen next.
“You worry about emerging variants,” Allen said. “You worry about different kinds of circumstances coming up.”
Those possibilities are down the road, for now, Saturday means a step towards normalcy and a new phase for the pandemic.
“We’re just stoked,” Boisineau said.