Employees at downtown EL stores talk about students and customers’ mask habits

Spring is in the air in East Lansing, and Grand River Avenue looks very different than it did a year ago.

As mask mandates are rescinded and the weather begins to break, some store workers in downtown East Lansing have noticed a change in the mask-wearing habits of the student population.

“I noticed pretty much as soon as (Michigan State University) lifted the mask mandate in the dorms and all of that, pretty much immediately… (mask wearing) increased dramatically,” Quark! said employee Levi Jaroszewicz. “Well, I would say more people still have a mask on when they come in and some don’t, but those are definitely the ones who don’t.”

As of March 6, MSU only requires masks to be worn in classrooms and research labs. The choice to relax mandates on campus is due to the downward trend in COVID-19 cases in Ingham County: as of the week of March 22, there are currently 156 new cases including three in the intensive care unit, according to the Ingham County Health Department.

Catching up with classmates at Peanut Barrel to buy hammocks that can be hung beside the Red Cedar River to study in peace, the town is buzzing with student activity eager to take advantage of the warmer weather.

For Moosejaw employee Leah Ring, masking has not been a requirement in Moosejaw since October 2021. She said the number of people entering the store masked or unmasked is negligible.

“For the most part, we don’t have a lot of students – we have a lot of regulars and locals who come a lot,” Ring said. “They, on occasion, do and don’t (wear masks). It’s a bit of a mix, but most of the time they don’t wear masks.”

While some businesses don’t have a strict masking policy, store owners and front-end traders have their own comfort levels when dealing with shoppers without a mask, Jaroszewicz said.

“I feel comfortable even though the number of people not wearing masks has increased slightly,” Jaroszewicz said. “Mainly because it’s a very scientific store, and most people who come here are already pretty involved in the scientific community and other than that, you have to be vaccinated to go to MSU. This will make most people in this area safer.

Booster injections have been required at MSU since the first two weeks of the spring semester to protect against new strains of COVID-19, as the booster has been shown to be effective in defending the immune system. More than 76% of MSU students have been vaccinated as of Feb. 22.

“I know MSU requires vaccination statuses, so that could also play a role,” Ring said. “I know that’s why I don’t wear a mask, it’s because I’m fully vaccinated and boosted, so I’m pretty confident that people who come here are also vaccinated to some extent and if they don’t are not, they would wear a mask.”

Some stores that have never had a masking requirement, such as Insomnia Cookies, have not noticed a change in masking levels.

“Because we’ve never really been required to wear masks here, I feel like we’re seeing the same number of people wearing masks,” said Insomnia Cookies employee Eva Fredricks. “I think most young people still wear them but…some people wear them, some don’t.”

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David H. Henry