What is the new normal? Routt County residents, businesses reflect on life without a mask
Taylor Osborne cried for 10 straight minutes when she heard the news – no more masks.
The Laundry management team played the Routt County Public Health Meeting on a computer in the Steamboat Springs restaurant, but Osborne was focused on cooking and couldn’t listen. His manager came to tell him that the mask’s warrant had been lifted, and Osborne said his reaction was powerful and immediate.
“It was extremely emotional for me,” said Osborne. “I felt like a flower blooming again.”
Osborne wears a hearing aid and relies on lip reading to communicate with others, so mask requirements forced her to change jobs. She went from working as a waiter and bartender at Italian restaurant Mazzola, where she frequently interacted with customers, to being a chef at The Laundry, where she said she often felt isolated from the public.
Osborne also suffers from complications from multiple sclerosis and, as an immunocompromised person, she was nervous about being around crowds of people, even on essential trips, as she thought COVID-19 could be a problem. automatic death sentence for her.
“I thought I was going to die of COVID if I had it,” Osborne said. “I was more lonely than most people ever imagined, because it just traumatized me.”
After hearing Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton read the county’s motion to rescind the local order, Laundry staff members gave up their duties to run and hug Osborne, who they knew had suffered a more difficult year than most.
“There was cheering and crying all over the restaurant,” said Kell Kaiser, general manager of The Laundry. “There was a sense of relief, like maybe the pandemic was finally coming to an end.”
Although the public health orders were issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Routt County Board of Health, employees at local businesses said they often felt responsible for enforce the rules, especially the mask’s mandate.
“A lot of the responsibility for enforcing these public health orders fell on the companies and their employees, and it wasn’t necessarily easy,” said Marc Swanson, owner of Steamboat Ace Hardware. “Most people were cooperative, but there were some people who were really upset that they had to wear a mask and they were letting us know.”
Ace Hardware employees who dealt with customers refusing to wear masks were tasked with offering a mask to the customer and then offering to shop for the customer, but the store sometimes had customers refusing to follow the rules. , including a man who had ripped his mask off her face. and threw it across the counter to the employees.
“There were a few times when people got really upset, and we wanted to have law enforcement help,” Swanson said.
While law enforcement officers were often contacted if customers became aggressive or refused to leave a business, employees said being the first line of contact for customers who often came from places with COVID rules -19 less stringent was a stressful role to play.
“Mentally, it would cost our staff dearly to get yelled at by people for enforcing the rules we had to follow to stay open,” said Angela Sherwood, human resources manager at Rex’s Family of Restaurants. “There have been a lot of additions to our reception staff to explain why we have these rules.”
While customer reactions have varied, some employees said out-of-state customers are often uninterested in Colorado’s rules for them.
“I had people from other states saying where they were from, and I should tell them they’re here now and please put on a mask,” said Paula Effinger, a high school student from Steamboat Springs. and waiter at Johnny B. Good’s Diner. “They said they didn’t want to, and I just had to say ‘that sucks, you kind of have to do it.’ ‘
While frontline workers often suffered from customer frustration, restaurant owners said financial losses forced them to lay off employees, resulting in additional stress.
“We laid off quite a few people who had to leave town because they couldn’t afford to pay their bills and live here anymore,” said Dave Eliason, owner of Backdoor Grill, O’Neils Tavern and Grill. and How Ya Doin Pizza and Mange.
Eliason said its operations saw their revenues drop by about 35% during the pandemic.
“It was hard for others to tell us we weren’t allowed to open our businesses,” Eliason said.
To hide or not to hide
Mask requirements depend on whether someone has been vaccinated or not, and some local residents have said they were hesitant to take the COVID-19 vaccine at first, citing concerns about potential side effects .
“I was a little hesitant and wanted to see how he treated people,” said Samantha Colohan, a resident who had COVID-19 in 2020 and worried that the vaccine would reflect symptoms of the disease itself. even.
The day before Routt County lifted her tenure, Colohan signed up to receive her first injection of the Moderna vaccine, which she said she felt comfortable after seeing many of her members. family and friends receive it without problem.
In the meantime, Colohan still wears her masks, even when she is outdoors and away from others.
“I’m a little paranoid about (COVID-19) again,” Colohan said.
John Mosher has received a dose of the Moderna vaccine and is expected to receive his second in two weeks, but said he has not yet decided whether or not he will continue to wear his mask after being fully protected.
“Masks clearly help prevent transmission,” he said.
Others said they plan to wear their masks for the foreseeable future as many residents around the world have not had access to the COVID-19 vaccine and are concerned about the virus spreading during travel.
“It’s so easy for me to put on a mask and walk into a store, I don’t see why,” said Grant Berke, a 15-year-old who stood in line at Safeway to receive the vaccine’s first photo. COVID Friday.
Companies adapting to a new normal
Routt County is expected to have a busy and busy summer as many are eager to leave their homes and get out, but businesses and local residents are still figuring out how to move forward.
While all staff are fully vaccinated, Fuzzywig’s Candy Factory has chosen to keep its 10-person capacity restrictions in place for now.
“We wanted to honor the safety of people who always want to take a step back and wear their masks,” said Audrey Zwak, Fuzzywig’s Managing Director.
While other companies shared mixed views on how their policies will change, many employees said they learned lessons from COVID-19 that they plan to pass on in the future.
“We learned how to adapt to different situations with the weather and how to keep people safe in a new circumstance,” Eliason said. “There is good that came out of it.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email [email protected]