ALEXANDRIA, Va. — After more than a year of requiring customers to wear masks while shopping, Virginia and Maryland businesses now have the green light from their governors to remove that requirement.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan lifted the mask mandate for people who are fully vaccinated, effective Saturday, May 15.
Some business owners and managers, like Diane Bird who manages The Old Town Shop in Alexandria, jumped at the opportunity to take off their masks.
“Absolutely thrilled," Bird said. "It's just so nice to be able to see people's faces."
She also posted the governor's executive order in the store, letting customers know if they're fully vaccinated, they don't need to mask up.
“About damn time," said Ronald Boyce, a young father, who was out walking around Old Town Saturday with his son and wife.
Other business owners didn't feel quite ready yet to stop requiring masks. Multiple shops in Alexandria kept their "masks required" signs up in spite of the lifted mandate.
The owner of The Spice and Tea Exchange said they plan to continue requiring masks for the next month and then re-evaluate if they feel ready to let staff and patrons visit their shop without masks.
For them — it will change the way they can do business. The owner said their store is experiential. Customers are supposed to be able to smell and taste spices and tea, so when they feel safe to not require masks, it will really help.
“It's still a little unsettling for me to not wear a mask right now, because we don't know exactly how effective the vaccine is," one woman wearing a mask said. "And we don't know that the people that aren't wearing masks are fully vaccinated.”
Bird said she will not be asking customers to prove they're fully vaccinated — she'll take their word for it.
She's optimistic that people will act safely and that removing the mandate will help business.
“That's I think a win-win for everybody," she said. "You know, people will feel comfortable. And we'll see the traffic which we're seeing already, which is fantastic. I think everybody is just ready.”
Many walking around Alexandria Saturday were just excited that this "new normal" finally feels like it's back to normal.
“I'm happy to see that has been lifted, that my wife and I can, you know, spend time with our friends and family," Boyce said. "It's a good day.”
Gov. Northam is also lifting the remaining COVID restrictions in two weeks, on May 28.
Gov. Hogan lifted all remaining restrictions May 15, although Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are being more conservative in their rollbacks.
In D.C., some restrictions roll back next week (May 21), with more expected in the coming weeks.