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Not everyone ready to go maskless in NC, now that governor’s COVID-19 mandate is gone

·5 min read

Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday that it’s now safe for people to move around in public without wearing a mask, but at the flea market at the State Fairgrounds on Saturday morning it was clear not everyone is ready for that.

While many people moved about The Raleigh Market without face coverings, others continued to wear masks, even outside. Pat Parker of Raleigh pulled hers on as she got out of the car to do a little shopping.

“I’m going to keep my mask on,” Parker said. “I’m middle age, and I want to make sure I keep healthy.”

The governor issued his first executive order requiring face coverings last June. Masks had to be worn in public places where physical distancing was not possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which at that time had killed more than 1,250 people in the state.

On Friday, Cooper lifted mask and social distancing requirements in most settings, after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are fully vaccinated could resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing. Cooper said indoor mask requirements will remain in effect on public transportation and in child care centers, schools, camps, prisons and certain health care settings, such as nursing homes.

The state Department of Health and Human Services also recommends that people who have not been vaccinated continue to wear masks.

Virginia Hopkins of Raleigh has been vaccinated and wasn’t wearing a mask at her outdoor booth, SuddenShrines, where she sells old paper, vintage hardware and folk art from around the world. The governor’s announcement should be good for business, Hopkins said, if it makes people feel more confident going out more.

But Hopkins says she’ll continue to wear a mask indoors so others feel more comfortable.

“A mask really isn’t protecting you,” Hopkins said. “It’s protecting the people you’re around.”

Crowds shop at the Raleigh Market at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, May 15, 2021.
Crowds shop at the Raleigh Market at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, May 15, 2021.

The Raleigh Market bills itself as the state’s largest flea market, and it’s impossible to summarize what people will find on a given weekend. There are antiques, collectibles, and art and crafts, but also cowboy boots, beef jerky, cologne, Tupperware and giant artificial sunflowers.

Like other businesses, the market shut down in March 2020 when the coronavirus began to spread through the state. When it reopened in June, business picked right back up, said Alex Martinez, who buys and sells vinyl albums at R.A.W. Records.

“It just came back to life,” Martinez said. “People were desperate to come out.”

Martinez wore a mask around his chin and instinctively pulled it on when someone approached, as a courtesy, he said. While he thinks the governor’s decision to lift the requirement is overdue, he says people will remain cautious around strangers.

“People still have that mentality,” he said, as Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” played over his sound system.

Cooper cited the rising number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 as a reason for lifting the mask and social distancing requirements. As of Friday, about 46% of adults 18 and older in North Carolina had been fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The sign for Executive Order 147 from June 2020, requiring face masks in public when social distancing is not possible, is still displayed at The Raleigh Market at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, May 15, 2021. Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday that it’s now safe for people to move around in public without wearing a mask.
The sign for Executive Order 147 from June 2020, requiring face masks in public when social distancing is not possible, is still displayed at The Raleigh Market at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, May 15, 2021. Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday that it’s now safe for people to move around in public without wearing a mask.

Face coverings still required inside

But that still means a majority of adults are not fully vaccinated, and many retailers and other businesses are not expected to drop their mask requirements right away.

On Friday evening, hours after the indoor mask mandate was dropped, the Target on Grove Barton Road in Northwest Raleigh still had signs on the front doors about mask wearing and social distancing. Customers and employees continued to wear masks throughout the store.

On Saturday, Target’s corporate website, which was updated Friday, said the stores still require face coverings and implement other safety protocols like disinfecting shopping carts between uses.

Cooper’s latest executive order says that private businesses may still require face coverings for employees or customers and are not discouraged from doing so.

Also Friday evening, though two weeks after the outdoor mask was lifted, some adults and children at Baileywick Park in North Raleigh were wearing masks. Vaccinations were only been made available to children ages 12 to 15 a few days ago, and vaccine is not yet available for children 11 and younger.

Saturday afternoon in Raleigh, many people still wore masks outside on city streets — downtown, at Five Points and at a bus stop on Creedmoor Road. Masks are still required on buses.

The fairgrounds building at The Raleigh Market still had signs at all the entrances saying face coverings were required inside, though compliance was far from universal Saturday.

Brian Moyer of Raleigh said he’s been in favor of going maskless outdoors for a long time but isn’t sure about inside yet.

“I’m on the fence,” Moyer said. “Personally I think they’re opening a lot of stuff too fast.”

Moyer, who sells Legos, Thomas the Tank Engine sets and other toys at an outside booth, described himself as a staunch Republican and said he’s skeptical when experts suddenly change their recommendations. He’s been vaccinated since March, but he says not enough people have gotten the shots to allow everyone to crowd into restaurants and other places without masks.

“I know everybody wants it,” he said. “I just think they need to slow their roll a little bit.”

But Amanda Pierre-Louise of Raleigh says she is ready to be done with masks. Pierre-Louis, who sells ComfiLiving bedding on Amazon, has been at The Raleigh Market since April to get rid of a product line she’s discontinuing and says she’s noticed fewer people wearing face coverings outside over time.

“A majority of the population are ready to get back to normalcy,” she said.

Pierre-Louise says if people feel uncomfortable out in public, they should stay home. As for her, she’s a “hugger” who can’t wait to do what comes naturally.

“I love hugs. I love people,” she said. “And that’s just how we’re built. We’re social beings, and right now we’re not living as such.”