It was less than one month ago—June 30, to be precise—that with COVID cases on a steady decline in the state, Governor Kate Brown lifted the statewide mask mandate in an official move to reopen. Many stores almost immediately followed suit—from New Seasons to Target to Powell's, masks were gleefully abandoned by many employees and customers, though some still wore them voluntarily.
But this week, in the wake of rapidly rising cases, Multnomah County’s new recommendation that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals wear masks in indoor public spaces, and the Oregon Health Authority's statewide recommendations for indoor masking after the CDC announced the same, many stores are reconsidering.
With authorities stopping short of a mandate, the decision rests with individual businesses whether to mandate, recommend, or ignore masks. But already, local stores are responding.
Some are already changing policy. “Starting tomorrow, Green Zebra will be requiring all customers wear masks,” Green Zebra employee Nathan Rice confirmed on Wednesday, with masks also required for staff.
Portland clothing brand Wildfang had relaxed masking rules following the governor's lifting of the mandate, but is returning to requiring masks at all stores in Portland. "We are moving back to masks at all our retail outlets in the city," says CEO Emma McIlroy. "We made the choice for everyone's safety, following the recently updated CDC guidelines."
New Seasons stopped short of returning to a mandate, but the local grocery chain did say it will “strongly recommend, but not require, face masks for all customers regardless of vaccination status."
Powell's too has declined to return to a mandate for now, though posters have been placed noting the new Multnomah County recommendations at the entrances to stores. "
All employees are strongly encouraged to follow the recommendation from Multnomah County Health and Powell’s has KN95 masks available for all employees working on site.
"We have placed posters noting the recommendation at the entrances to our stores. All employees are strongly encouraged to follow the recommendation from Multnomah County Health and Powell’s has KN95 masks available for all employees working on site," Powell's marketing coordinator Emily Brodowicz said in an email.
Yet many local retailers—among them the independent bookstore Broadway Books—never removed mask requirements in the first place. “We had a few people on staff who had kids under the age of vaccination, and with variant worries, we kept the mask requirement,” says Chris Miller, a Broadway Books employee. “We also have a lot of older customers.”