OKEECHOBEE — On Saturday, for the first time in more than a year, Publix employees and shoppers were able to choose for themselves whether to wear a mask. The result was smiling faces everywhere you looked. After the CDC changed its recommendation last week saying fully vaccinated individuals no longer needed to wear masks or social distance even indoors, Publix Supermarket lifted its mask mandate beginning Saturday, May 15. One employee said she was thrilled. “It is so hot wearing a mask all day. I can finally breathe again.”
Although there were always some who disregarded the mask rule, the majority of customers honored the request to wear a mask, whether they agreed with it or not. Now, it is not a requirement if you have been vaccinated, and no one is asking to see your vaccination card.
For more than a year, the lower half of faces have been hidden. This has caused problems in so many ways. For those who cannot hear and rely on lip reading, the masks have been an insurmountable obstacle. Maybe people they have a close relationship with know sign language, but the people they run into every day are not going to automatically know how to sign. Psychologist Mellisa Shepherd said, “For those who suffer with depression, not being able to see smiles on the faces of the people they are talking to has contributed to depression and can provoke anxiety. They can also cause claustrophobia in those who are prone to it.”
When asked how they felt about being able to shop without masks, locals responded in various ways. Some said they never wore a mask anyway.
“Nothing different here,” said Tommy Shorter. “I’ve been doing that anyway.”
Dick Mottinger believes his ability to walk past the unarmed teenager washing carts near the door proves there was no requirement to wear a mask at Publix, "No they did NOT require masks to enter they just had signs saying masks were required. I've been walking right past the signs in several states for more then a year now just as million of others have been doing. I have never worn one and never will!"
But some, like Corey Wheeler were more excited about the reprieve, “We went to Walmart yesterday for the first time without masks. It was strange. I noticed I was staring at people and they were staring at me. Everyone seemed happier and then I realized that was because I could see their faces and expressions. I noticed the same thing when the kids went back on Monday without masks. They were grinning and giggly. The bad part was when my son asked me ‘does this mean Corona is over now!’ It’s hard to explain that it’s still here and we still have to take precautions, We just aren’t wearing the masks anymore.”
Jamie Joanne said she liked seeing the happy faces of those around her.
Tina Cole-Alba, who has hearing difficulty said, “I love being able to see peoples' facial expressions again. And hearing them speak clearly. When you’re hard of hearing this means a lot!”
Bishop Michael Fisher Sr. agreed, “I’m hearing impaired, hearing aids in both ears! It helps when you can see their lips and facial expressions.”
Sarah Boynton said, “My daughter has hearing loss and depends a lot on lip reading , it’s definitely been challenging for all of us.”
Not everyone is a fan of the new policy though. Joanna Kite, who works at Walmart said, “Not a fan of it at all! Once fully vaccinated I will still wear my mask everywhere until it’s officially over.”
Chris Lisee said, “As a nurse , working with HIV, TB and hepatitis, I know the value of masks. I will continue to wear one. It’s a personal choice.”
Jeanne Stokes said, “I will continue to wear a mask until I feel like enough have been vaccinated! I have health issues and have been vaccinated! But will wear a mask until others have theirs!”
Janet Miller summed it up well. Rather than fighting over who is right and who is wrong, she said, “I love it. Exactly how it should be. You do you all. I will do me. That’s how it should be.”
The movie Annie has a song in it called You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile. Finally we are fully dressed and can show our smiles to the world again.