Local businesses react to new mask mandate

A sign detailing Local Boyz Cafe’s current rules requiring a mask for service. Local businesses have had to be more direct with their signage since the CDC has announced that people who are vaccinated no longer need to wear masks inside or outside.

Kelsy Valentine, News Contributor

Even after the Center for Disease Control announced changes to the nationwide mask mandate surrounding COVID-19, most local businesses in Corvallis are choosing to keep their mask guidelines in place.

The CDC changed their mask mandate on May 13 after several months of individuals receiving COVID-19 vaccines to say that businesses no longer need to make fully vaccinated individuals wear their masks while shopping. The Oregon Health Authority released a statement on May 18 that echoed the same new guidelines.

Kate Porsche, the economic development manager of the Corvallis Benton County Economic Development Office explained that while there initially was excitement surrounding the lifted mask mandate for vaccinated individuals, some businesses are also concerned about how to review the vaccination status of their customers.

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“Businesses are, effectively, being asked to be gate-keepers, which is understandable from the OHA perspective, but a very awkward spot for businesses to be in,” Porsche said via email.

The manager of Local Boyz, Garry Weyhrich said that until things are more open, they’ve chosen to continue to keep the mask mandate in place.

Weyrich said that they’ve even hung up two signs for their customers. The old one says ‘For your safety of our employees and loyal customers, no mask, no face shield, no entrance, no service, no food. Thank you for your cooperation.’

Now, Weyrich said they have a new sign that says, ‘Please wear a mask. It’s none of our business whether you’ve been vaccinated or not.’ They still have both signs posted at the restaurant.

“We don’t want to put our people at the front counter in a position where they have to ask someone for information and go through all that,” Weyhrich said. “We’re just telling everybody they have to wear a mask, or they can’t come in.”

The Inkwell Home Store has also chosen to continue to enforce the mask mandate for their business for the time being.

“So, for now, we have decided to continue enforcing the mask mandate for all customers and staff,” Kristin Rudolph, the store manager of Inkwell Home Store said. “We made that decision just until we’re at a point where there’s higher overall vaccination [rates] for the state. We just felt like, for our store, it was better to continue to have a single standard for all customers and all employees.”

Rudolph also added that one of the reasons Inkwell chose to keep their mask mandate in place for all customers is because of Oregon’s requirement that businesses who lift the mask mandate must verify vaccination.

“I do think it does make it a little bit difficult to fit people’s personal medical decisions on whether they choose to get vaccinated or not because us enforcing the mask mandate now calls that into question—specifically Oregon requiring businesses to verify vaccination,” Rudolph said.

According to Porsche, these concerns about checking cards and asking employees to control entry may be reflected by other businesses as well.

“We have been hearing a mix of how businesses will respond—some are choosing to continue the mask mandate in their establishment regardless of vaccination status, and some are choosing to review and confirm vaccination status to remove masks for entry,” Porsche said. 

For this reason, Weyhrich said, in his opinion, the government should have continued to enforce the mask policy themselves, rather than putting the responsibility onto business owners.

“We all seem to be in agreement that they should have either dumped the mask mandate completely or left it in place because there’s no way to know who’s vaccinated and who’s not,” Weyhrich said. “Unless you get that card, but it’s easily faked and they can say ‘I forgot my card,’ they can say whatever they want, and what are we supposed to do, argue with them?”

Most people, so far, have reacted well to this change in the mask mandate. According to Rudolph, for example, her employees have been supportive of wearing masks.

“Our staff reacted really positively to us continuing to enforce the mask mandate for all customers and employees, so, in our experience, that is what our staff has been comfortable with,” Rudolph said. 

This optional mandate is only supposed to be temporary and local businesses are directed to follow the OHA guidelines when deciding what is best for them.

“We are suggesting that businesses determine a policy that works best for the circumstances, their employees and their customers,” Porsche said. “The current guidance is interim only until the state is able to reach the 70% vaccinated target set by the governor, which we are getting closer and closer to everyday.”

As of May 31,45.08% of Oregonians are fully vaccinated.

Until the mask mandate is lifted, or any changes are made to it, businesses will continue to be able to choose for themselves if they want vaccinated individuals wearing masks, and Corvallis citizens are encouraged to support local businesses regardless of their decision. 

“Locally my message is this: support our businesses, with your patronage, your dollars and in their decisions about masks,” Porsche said. “And if you haven’t, get vaccinated so we can open our economy back up!”