JANESVILLE

On Monday afternoon at Woodman’s Food Market, it would have been tough to tell whether people in Rock County were starting to pivot to a new mask-free era.

The aisles of the Janesville supermarket weren’t choked with people on the early weekday afternoon, but roughly 9 of 10 customers wore face masks in the store Monday. All store employees continued to mask up.

Store manager Steve “Shorty” Smith said the scene was a bit different over the weekend. He estimated at least 40% of the store’s customers Saturday and Sunday shopped without a mask. It’s the first time in months that Smith said he has seen so many uncovered faces in Woodman’s.

The shift to maskless shopping came just two days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pivoted on COVID-19 health guidelines with an abrupt announcement Thursday that it is now safe for people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to stop wearing masks in most public places.

At noon Friday, less than 24 hours after the CDC’s announcement, the Rock County Public Health Department fell in line with the CDC’s advisory and lifted its own countywide public masking mandate.

Smith said Woodman’s fielded phone calls from customers “every five minutes” Friday from customers wondering if they still needed to wear a mask in Woodman’s.

“When I went to lunch on Friday it was one way. The public health order was in place,” Smith said. “When I got back from lunch that day, it was all the other way. It happened fast,” Smith said.

On Monday, a predominantly older crowd was still by and large wearing masks while perusing the aisles.

Smith said older customers have tended to continue masking up since the CDC shifted guidelines last week. But he pointed out a younger customer—a 20-something man in a track suit who on Monday stood maskless, scanning groceries at a self-checkout.

He said since late last week, he sees at least half of people age 25 to 55 now shopping without masks.

Based on the county abandoning its masking mandate last week, the mask-free man wasn’t breaking any local rules—whether or not he was vaccinated against COVID-19.

Smith, who wore a mask Monday afternoon, said Woodman’s still would like its customers to mask up, but he said after the county dissolved the local mask mandate Friday, the Janesville store no longer is actively enforcing a customer masking requirement.

“It’s the customer’s option,” Smith said.

Brenda Zigler, a hairstylist who runs Cutting Loose, a salon on Glen Street near downtown Janesville, still only allows one customer in at a time—a pandemic-era policy many salons have adopted. On Monday, the salon’s front door still had a sign that read “MASKS REQUIRED THANK YOU.”

But now, whether masks are worn in Zigler’s salon is a matter of mutual comfort between customers and her. Zigler said she is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but she wants to keep wearing a mask. And since the CDC and county announcements last week, she said all of her customers so far have opted to continue masking up.

Zigler said she had cultivated a clientele over the last year that has trusted and appreciated all the work she has put into cleaning and sanitizing spaces and keeping strict public health guidelines in place. Zigler thinks it might take weeks before it becomes clear whether the bulk of her customers are comfortable in a mask-free salon.

“We’re just in an awkward, transitional phase right now, which we knew we were going to have eventually,” Zigler said. “So far, I’m still masking, and my clients are, too. We’re just going to go gentle, give it a little time and continue to reevaluate.”

Janesville resident Carolyn Jacobsen-Chauncey was walking out of Hometown Pharmacy in downtown Janesville on Monday afternoon with a stapled pharmacy bag and a powder-blue cloth mask covering her mouth and nose.

Jacobsen-Chauncey said she works at a local big-box retailer where she spends most of her day outdoors, tending plants in the store’s garden center. She still wears a mask when she does jobs inside the store. And when the garden center gets crowded with customers, she still masks up even after the guidance change last week.

Jacobsen-Chauncey, who is 65, said she got her COVID-19 vaccine this spring after spending weeks “really working” to book an appointment. She said she has chronic pulmonary and breathing problems, which health officials say are among risk factors for developing more severe COVID-19.

Jacobsen-Chauncey said she plans to wear a mask in public until she sees infection rates drop off to near zero in many places around the U.S.

“I believe this stuff is real, whatever politicians say. My grandmother’s dead now, but she was a little girl in 1918, 1919. She lived through the awful flu pandemic of that time. She was a little girl, but she told me she had all kinds of memories of how terrible it was. That’s always stuck with me,” Jacobsen-Chauncey said.

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