Oregon is officially “open for business.” Governor Kate Brown has lifted all of the state-mandated Covid-19 restrictions and Oregonians are now free to flock together in large groups, maskless, wherever they want for however long they want while they do whatever they want.
Of course, because most of the people in Oregon are good, kind people, they are still masking and distancing and limiting their trips out into the world. After all, our state hasn’t quite yet made it’s vaccination goal, and there is that pesky Delta variant out there. It’s better to be safe than sorry, right?
Oh. Sorry. My bad. Y’all probably didn’t hear me over the deafening roar of the crowd as thousands of Oregonians, no longer burdened by having to pretend to care about other people, flocked (maskless, natch) en masse to….well, just about everywhere over the last couple of days.
I don’t know why I thought it might be different. It’s not like I’m new here. I’ve lived in the most liberal and the most conservative parts of this state. I know that the county and city municipal lines might as well be [???] based on the way behavior changes as you leave Portland and Eugene for their suburbs and the suburbs for the remote fishing, farming, and logging towns. I saw a truck still flying it’s MAGA and Thin Blue Line flags while I was driving to the store today and it was not an anomalous experience.
Still, somehow I thought maybe, maybe the stores and other businesses might still be requiring shoppers and clients to wear masks and to distance. And maybe some of them are, but the store I went to today? It. Was. Not.
I went to one place today. I’m not going to tell you which place I went, but if you guessed that the name of the establishment rhymes with Shred Flyer, you would not be wrong.
The store was still sporting all of it’s “you must wear a mask and practice social distancing if you want to enter our store” signage. It was not, however, doing anything to enforce those rules. While I was picking up my meds, the pharmacy tech told me that state law actually does require people to wear masks in pharmacy sections of stores. She also told me that when her team had asked management for signage or a security officer to help enforce the rule, management had refused and told the pharmacy techs and pharmacists to just do it themselves.
What. The. Actual. Frick. Yo.
The store was doing so little to enforce the rules that I saw multiple employees running around without masks on, even while helping customers.
It shouldn’t surprise anybody, then, when I tell you that almost nobody in that store was wearing a mask. I think I spotted 5-6 other people wearing their masks and y’all, it’s the start of a holiday weekend. The store was crowded.
Not only were hordes of people milling about sans masks, they were also milling in groups—groups that would split up and then yell at each other from different ends of the aisles (sometimes even from different aisles altogether). And none of them were even trying to practice social distancing—not with each other and definitely not with anybody else. I haven’t been bumped into this many times since…I honestly don’t know when. I was starting to feel like a pinball.
There were a couple of times when I almost broke down into an anxiety attack. It took everything I had to keep myself together so I could finish my shopping and get the hell out of there. And, really, the only thing that helped was fear. The fear of knowing that the mask I was wearing wasn’t going to do anything to protect me from the masses of unmasked Covid deniers/non-carers who might be filling the air with huge bursts of their droplets of doom as they shouted and called out to each other. The last thing I needed was to be taking huge gasping breaths of germy air.
I mean, yes: I am fully vaccinated. And yes, I was doing my best to keep my distance and to keep my store trip as short as possible. But that only does so much—especially when you are stuck in a crowd of people who, well, aren’t.
And honestly, I’m not entirely sure what bothers me most about all of this. Part of it is just knowing that I am not personally ready to brave that sort of environment again any time soon. But part of it is seeing how many people are pretending like nothing has happened.
How many of them don’t keep up with the news or the science on the efficacy of vaccines and the severity of the Covid variants that are out there? How many of them are Covid deniers? And worst of all—how many of them just do not give one flying flip if they help spread the disease?
There’s no way to know for sure. As much as I like to pretend otherwise, I am not omniscient.
Still, it felt a whole lot like most of the people in that crowded store fell into that last category. And I don’t know what to do with that.