On March 31, or possibly sooner, Oregon will officially lift its mask mandate for indoor public places—one of the last states to do so. The Big Lift could come sooner if a low-end maximum hospital bed COVID occupancy rate of 400 is reached.
The question of what happens next sets up our fantasy retail question. This excerpt from an Oregonian report frames it:
Once requirements are lifted, employers and businesses may continue to establish their own mask requirements to protect employees and customers.
Forward to the what-ifs. What if Lowe’s lifts the requirement and Home Depot does not? What if grocery retailer Fred Meyer keeps the mask requirement and Safeway lifts it? Under the new paradigm, it will be every business for itself.
(Author’s note: This piece is pure conjecture. Business decisionmakers are in meetings across the state to discuss how they’ll respond to the end of the mask mandate.)
Meanwhile, this excerpt from a Portland Monthly report touches on an important political dynamic:
What might change: Required mask usage in indoor settings, like grocery stores, movie theaters, gyms, restaurants and shops. This is likely to vary by county, according to public health guidance, and also by business, according to the preferences of owners. Some left-leaning jurisdictions in the country, including King County, Washington and Chicago, have mandated that proof of vaccination is needed to patronize these businesses, but Multnomah County has not followed suit, and neither have other Oregon counties.
There you have it. In “left-leaning” localities, businesses may calculate their post-mandate strategies based on political demographics. This odd, unscientific fact opens the field for speculation.
In Oregon, will we see retail mask-lifting in Trump-voting rural areas, while along the liberally dominated Interstate 5 corridor businesses cling to masks like nutcase Biden voters who spent 2020 driving masked and alone in their cars?
Might we see the aged and those with underlying medical conditions opt for still-masked or proof-of-vax establishments in the deep-blue precincts, while younger, less vulnerable customers, fed up to the gills with pandemic fatigue, flock to wide-open, maskless outlets on the outskirts?
Imagine: Spring has sprung. You need a new leaf blower and some potting soil for the garden. Where you gonna go, a Portlandia neighborhood hardware store where Stasi-style door checks are part of the experience and masked zombification continues its lurch through life? Or, will you opt for the spiffy, mask-free big-box in the Trump-leaning suburb of Happy Valley?
In deference to their heavily Democrat base of Portland shoppers, might the Burlingame Fred Meyer (theoretically) still require face masks, while over at the nearby Lake Oswego Safeway in Clackamas County, concern on the faces of shoppers contemplating higher prices under Biden’s disastrous economic policies will be in full view?
One thing is clear: the omicron variant of COVID swept over Multnomah County. Experts estimate that a full 50% of county residents contracted the highly transmissible variant, and in so doing presented widely disparate degrees of the severity of illness. This in a county that overwhelmingly swore allegiance to the credo: “If masks are mandated, only outlaws won’t wear masks.” Compliance was near-complete; the only happy faces I’ve seen at the Burlingame Fred Meyer in the last two years were on the Keebler Elves.
Prevalent masking had little effect on omicron transmissibility. We can’t know if the vaccines lessened the severity of omicron infections—though the “experts” assure us that they did.
In what seems like more welcome news, the mandate for indoor masking will be lifted for the Oregon public school system on or about March 31st too. Rumblings about vaccine requirements for admittance have local conservatives and anti-vaxers gearing up for a showdown.
Back on the retail front, very soon, we think, to mask or not to mask will be a decision made by private sector entities, not government.
I was fully vaccinated in February 2021, declined the booster, and came down with omicron two weeks ago. Every family I know or friend I have has had a brush with the variant. Finally getting COVID was like having a bad cold or a mild flu.
I’ve made my decision. Whether coffee, beer, or two gallons of satin paint for some springtime exterior touch-up, I’ll go where the masks come off.