A woman walks past a downtown business with a sign requiring customers to wear masks Thursday in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A woman walks past a downtown business with a sign requiring customers to wear masks Thursday in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

As masks come off, Snohomish County locals have mixed emotions

Some are nervous. Some are relieved. Snohomish County’s health officer and top elected official will keep their masks on.

EVERETT — “Nervous.” “Thrilled.” “Left behind.”

The state’s mask mandate lifted Saturday at the stroke of midnight, churning mixed emotions in Snohomish County.

For Lynnwood resident Layla Bush, the milestone means finally seeing “people’s beautiful smiles again.”

“I’m triple vaxxed, immunocompromised and absolutely thrilled about the end of the mask mandate,” Bush said, adding that she was diligent about masks until she got vaccinated. “Now with vaccines and an increasing number of treatments for COVID, I’m ready for masks to be off.”

For some, the step signals a new, optimistic chapter of the pandemic — one that looks and feels more normal.

For others, it feels like a flashback to last summer, when Washington lifted restrictions only to clamp back down amid a massive surge in infections fueled by a new variant.

June Evers, a Marysville artist living with a chronic illness, said they and their family and friends who also have compromised immune systems “feel hurt and left behind.” According to state Department of Health data, case rates are still above what officials have considered safe for the majority of the pandemic.

“Some of us are starting to feel like our community wants us dead as long as it means they don’t have to wear a little piece of fabric on their faces for a small period of time in their day,” said Evers, who will continue masking. “I’m aware of how little it helps when the majority is not doing the same, but I’m still doing my part.”

Disability rights activist Lei Wiley-Mydske, who lives in Stanwood, echoed the sentiment. Immunocompromised folks, she said, “don’t have the luxury of unmasking, and we really don’t have the luxury of other people unmasking so soon, either.”

Local COVID infections are still rapidly declining. Over the course of about eight weeks, the county’s two-week case rate has plummeted from 3,556 per 100,000 to 145, according to county data. Local hospitals, once packed with about 230 COVID patients, were treating just 20 on Friday.

“Choose your metric, and those have all been coming down in parallel,” Snohomish County Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters said this week.

Now the Snohomish Health District is winding down its COVID response, shifting responsibility to individual people, organizations, school districts and the health care system.

County-run vaccine and testing sites have been serving fewer and fewer people and will close at the end of the month.

“Ultimately, I think all entities and organizations need to transition to self-reliance around this,” Spitters said.

Still, Spitters and the county’s top official, Executive Dave Somers, said they’ll both continue masking in public regardless of any mandates. And they’ll be monitoring COVID activity to gauge whether restrictions need to be reintroduced.

A sign requiring customers to wear masks hangs in the window of the Historic Everett Theatre on Thursday. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A sign requiring customers to wear masks hangs in the window of the Historic Everett Theatre on Thursday. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

“It’s not like masks are making a political statement,” Somers said. “But they’re trying to keep loved ones healthy and alive. And I myself have a person in my family who is going through treatment and is in a vulnerable state.”

Even people eager to ditch masks where they can should keep some on-hand.

Face coverings are still mandated in health care, long-term care and correctional facilities. Plus, the federal Transportation Security Administration is extending its mask mandate until April 18. That covers airplanes, public buses, trains and transportation hubs.

Bothell mom Lindsay Mosteller said her preteen is still doing virtual school. When vaccines are available for her younger kids, she said, “maybe then we will feel a little less nervous about it all.”

The sunsetting of the mandate isn’t a “bookend on the pandemic itself,” Spitters said. “It’s not the wholesale elimination of masking, but a targeted relief from it. And we encourage people to see it that way.”

Businesses can also decide whether to continue their own mask requirements. This week, popular downtown cafe Narrative Coffee posted a lengthy explanation on why it will remove its in-house mask requirement.

“We feel pretty confidently that any choice of any policy at this point is imperfect and will necessarily leave somebody out and that’s a rough feeling,” the coffee shop wrote.

Patrons are free to continue masking up, the shop said, and “we will not tolerate any negative comments toward folks who choose to wear masks in our spaces either.”

Strawberry Patch Cafe displays a message asking customers to wear masks Thursday in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Strawberry Patch Cafe displays a message asking customers to wear masks Thursday in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Some locals who are sticking with masks are preparing to be the odd man out in some public spaces.

“People may look at me, but I am doing what I feel is best for me,” Everett medical assistant Angie Knox said. “If I am in a mask all day at work, I feel like I should be at other places as well. If they lift the mandate at health care places then I will feel that I can go without a mask indoors.”

Yoga instructor Donna Witte, 71, said she’ll keep masking up if she doesn’t know the vaccination status of those around her.

“I hope I’ll be respected for this choice and not be called names and ridiculed,” Witte said. “The divisiveness around this issue is stunning and sad.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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