Islanders react to mask-free life as things return to normal

Business owners on Mercer Island are also excited to see customers return in greater numbers.

As Washington begins to reopen and masking in public is no longer guaranteed, Mercer Island residents have different opinions about whether this is a good step to take.

“I myself went to Costco yesterday and I put a mask in my pocket, and thought, ‘I’ll just see how it goes.’ I got about 20 feet in, and there wasn’t any individual trigger, I just put the mask on,” Mercer Island resident Jennifer Prewitt said. “I don’t feel comfortable emotionally.”

While Prewitt and others remain concerned about unvaccinated people and the spread of COVID-19, others are ready to start returning to a more normal way of life.

Former longtime resident Liz Callahan, who remains connected to the Island, said she feels ready for the state to reopen and is confident in the vaccination rates in the area.

“I’ve been fully supportive of the way Washington handled [the pandemic], but then as I was traveling I realized how much more vibrant an area is when people are comfortable being about,” Callahan said. “I really thought maybe the approach here in the Seattle area was a lot more risk-averse than it needed to be.”

Business owners on Mercer Island are also excited to see customers return in greater numbers.

Laurie Raisys, owner of Island Books, said she’s seen how difficult the pandemic has been for people.

“We’ve had people come in the bookstore and cry because they were so happy to be in there,” Raisys said. “We had lots of people, especially over 60, who would call and would just chat your ear off because they were lonely and bookstores have always been these community places.”

Vaccinated customers are allowed to go mask-free in Island Books. Although Raisys said most people do not wear a mask in the bookstore, she trusts them to be safe and feels comfortable being unmasked.

However, some people don’t feel comfortable relying on the honor system. While Prewitt said she feels safe around those she knows, she’s still concerned about being unmasked in public.

“It’s very hard to predict who is going to get vaccinated and who is not. I don’t know how we’re supposed to feel comfortable with that, just the honor system,” Prewitt said.

On Mercer Island, 90.4% of residents over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated, according to King County data. Over the past 14 days, there have been six new cases on the Island.

Despite high vaccination rates and low numbers of positive cases on the Island, Prewitt said she is concerned about COVID-19 variants like the delta variant.

“Even if there was 100% [vaccine] participation in-state, the waves of variants that might come through are still cause for concern,” Prewitt said. “I won’t be surprised if when fall comes they decide to go back to stricter measures.”

As of now, the city of Mercer Island plans to continue reopening facilities and restarting programming.

As businesses also begin to return to some version of normalcy, Raisys said she is happy that Mercer Islanders have continued to support Island Books.

“I’m excited that people are starting to come back out, obviously as a business owner, I’m excited that people are still supporting our store, coming in to shop, they’re reading,” Raisys said. “I think those are all really important things for our community to survive.”