VANCOUVER, Wash. — On Saturday, both Oregon and Washington lifted their indoor mask mandates. Private businesses are now free to make their own mask-wearing rules.
At Beaches Restaurant & Bar in Vancouver Saturday, customers waited excitedly for a table, most without masks on.
“It's very strange to talk with people you don't know, face-to-face without a mask on and just having it back to normal,” said customer Stevie Frank. “It’s fun.”
Beaches staff members handed out leis to customers instead of masks. For manager Ali Novinger, it felt like a day worth celebrating.
“Everybody's excited, for the first time in almost two years we don't have to wear a mask today,” said Novinger. “It's just been a long time coming when we can just see our guests, they get to see us and everybody's excited about that.”
Novinger said employees and guests who still want to wear masks are free to do so.
While mandates are now lifted, restaurants and other businesses can still use discretion as to whether or not they'll require customers and staff to mask up. Portland restaurant Gado Gado posted on Instagram that they'd be keeping their masking and vaccination polices in place for now. So did Oma's Hideaway, saying, "We look forward to the day when we feel comfortable changing our masking policies but that day isn't here quite yet."
Despite lifting state mask mandates, health officials suggested certain people take extra care when deciding whether or not to wear a mask in public places. They included those who are immunocompromised, live in a multi-generational home or are unvaccinated.
“This is obviously a transition time for a lot of people,” said Dr. Emilio DeBess, senior health advisor for Oregon's COVID-19 response. “If I go to a place where there's a large gathering, I'm going to wear a mask.”
Many restaurant owners caution that those in the hospitality business will still be struggling financially, even with the mask mandates lifted.
“It took us two years to get to this point and it's going to take us more than a couple months to get out from under it,” said Greg Astley, director of government affairs with the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association.
Astley said only half of their members received Restaurant Revitalization funds they applied for. He said while masks are gone, he hopes customers recognize the struggles that still remain.
“A lot of places are short-staffed right now, a lot of places are dealing with supply chain issues,” said Astley. "We hope that there's some understanding and grace as people come into their favorite restaurants or even hotels."