Mercer Island residents, business owners weigh in on mask mandate, vaccinations

Governor says current situation is severe.

With masks required to be worn in most public indoor settings and at large outdoor events, regardless of vaccination status, Gov. Jay Inslee said on Sept. 9 that people need to understand that the current situation is severe.

“More people die of COVID every three days than died on September 11 in the terrorist attacks. This is not a time for little tiny baby steps,” he noted in a press conference.

Sarah Bluvas, Mercer Island’s economic development coordinator, said the city and the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce are working in tandem to keep businesses apprised of ongoing mask changes on the city website’s Let’s Talk page and through email.

Over at the Island’s Barrels Wine Bar, co-owners Joe and Tina Kennedy said they think the mask mandate is a smart move and it hasn’t made much of an impact on their business. They feel it’s crucial that more people get vaccinated.

“Of course we don’t have 500 people gathering outside either, but we would encourage everyone to wear them where it is required to do so,” said Joe, adding that Barrels requires customers to show proof of vaccination in order to sit inside or on their outside parking lot patio.

“We have lost a few customers — a couple got a little belligerent — but the overwhelming response is, ‘Thank you for doing this. We feel much more comfortable knowing everyone here is vaccinated,’” he said.

Because of the policy, one customer gave Barrels its first one-star Yelp review.

“But our thinking is we survived 2020, we’ll survive a bad Yelp review,” Joe said.

Also on the Island, Pogacha restaurant owner Brad Cassidy doesn’t think his business has suffered since the mask mandate went into effect. Customers have told him that they don’t feel it’s that big of a deal to mask up.

“People will say they are ‘tired and fed up with this pandemic,’” he said. “Everyone comments, or at least 95%, can’t believe people won’t get vaccinated.”

While taking a break from walking around Mercerdale Park on a recent afternoon, Island resident Leslie Rubenstein said she’s fine with wearing a mask whenever she’s inside a business.

“It’s a bummer that we have to go back to it because people aren’t getting vaccinated, that’s my feeling,” she said. “I don’t want to go into a grocery store where people aren’t wearing them or go inside anywhere. We have to wear them at the gym, which is no fun — but if we do, I do.”

Local resident Gary Robinson weighed in on the mask mandate, noting that he doesn’t like wearing a mask, but he does wear one because it protects him and others with whom he comes in contact with.

“There is only one way to get back to normal and that is to kill the virus. Masks help. We need all the help we can get,” he said.

According to the Mercer Island Police Department blotter, there was a physical altercation on Sept. 1 between two coworkers over mask and vaccination status in the 7900 block of Southeast 28th Street. It was reported that after they were separated following a disagreement about one of them not being vaccinated, one individual “fake coughed two times, and the other proceeded to kick him once near the ribs.”