Ellie Ocel/The Broadside
As COVID-19 became increasingly politicized throughout the United States, so too did every tool for COVID-19 protection. Face masks were one of those ever-so-politicized tools.
American citizens saw firsthand how every politician had an opinion about face masks. Anti-mask politicians often believed face masks did not work and were not necessary, or even went as far as to say that COVID-19 itself was blown out of proportion.
Though Central Oregon was directly impacted by American politicians, the majority of people in Central Oregon abstained from wearing masks because of personal values rather than political ones. The most common reasoning Central Oregonians gave for not wearing a mask or wearing a mask incorrectly was simply that they felt safe without it.
All sources in this article were interviewed in Bend. Each person was allowed to remain anonymous to ensure that their statements fully represented their opinion.
In downtown Bend, the indoor mask requirements were usually respected. However, not everyone chose to wear a mask correctly; many people were found with a face mask covering only their mouth.
A woman wearing a mask below her nose said she would not wear a mask at all if the businesses did not require face coverings.
“I’m over it,” she said.
The woman clarified that she was not against masks when the first mask mandates began in March of 2020, but now felt safe without a face covering and thus did not want to wear one.
Another woman who was not wearing a mask inside said she generally wore a mask around people who were not in her close circle, but not always. She did not feel unsafe without a mask at any point in the pandemic, and chose to wear a mask only when she was sick.
“Just be you!” she said, in regards to whether or not people should wear masks. She believed people should only wear a mask if they felt it necessary.
An unmasked man who was outside in a crowded space said that because he was vaccinated, he was not too worried about COVID-19. He claimed that he tried to stay as distanced as possible, but with his vaccination and the outdoor air he felt safe regardless of how close he was to others.
In contrast to the locally owned businesses of downtown Bend, corporations like Walmart have had trouble enforcing mask requirements. Fewer people were following mask requirements in Walmart than downtown Bend. Most of the unmasked or incorrectly masked people in Walmart held one of two perspectives: the belief in individual choice, or the feeling of safety without a face covering.
“I believe in freedom,” an unmasked teenage boy said. He elaborated that people should be able to make their own decision on whether or not to wear a mask; he would not let anyone else choose for him.
“I feel perfectly safe without [masks],” an unmasked woman said. This sentiment of safety not being dependent on face masks was a common perspective of unmasked people in Bend.
Another perspective came from a different unmasked woman. She made her pandemic choices off of what would allow her to abstain from wearing a mask.
“I got my vaccine so I wouldn’t have to [wear a mask],” she said, “I have a strong immune system, so I wasn’t really worried.”
The woman clarified that she had always felt safe without a face covering because of her immune system. Before vaccinations were available, her husband had contracted COVID-19 but she had not. This fact solidified the woman’s trust in her immune system.