'It's honestly a relief': Many happy to see mandates end, but some continue to mask up
Just as suburbanites' attitudes toward masks has varied greatly over the past two years, so too did their reactions to the end of the state's indoor mask mandate Monday.
Customers at Rise N Dine Breakfast & Lunch restaurant on Milwaukee Avenue in Wheeling shared that divide, while co-owner Ivan Arriola hopes the end of Cook County's proof-of-vaccine mandate in particular will reverse a downturn in business since it began Jan. 3.
"We honestly didn't think it was going to slow that much because of it," he said of the vaccine mandate.
He and his business partners took over the restaurant in June 2019 and were doing great until the pandemic struck, Arriola said. They took advantage of the recent slowdown to renovate the building, but now they are looking forward to operating without restrictions again. Arriold even extended the restaurant's hours to a 3 p.m. closing.
Diners Chris Brown of Mundelein and David Payne of Lake Zurich said there was nothing new about eating in a restaurant without a mask, and they don't think their attitude toward wearing one elsewhere would change immediately.
"I'm probably going to keep wearing a mask for my own peace of mind," Brown said.
"If it's a crowded place, I'll wear a mask," Payne agreed. "But I try to stay out of them for now."
But to Oleg Meltser of Buffalo Grove, the end of the mandates is long overdue. Illinois' requirement was in stark contrast to foreign cities he and his wife, Albina, have visited recently in Russia, Finland and Turkey.
"The reason we're here, the greatest country in the world, is for the freedom it gives us," he said.
Jacquie and Mike Moran of Wheeling said they were excited about the end of the mandate but found mask-wearing was still the habit for many they saw Monday morning at church and at Walmart, as well as at a hospital, where it remains required.
John Roehrick of Wheeling, who was working out on a recumbent cross-training bike at Avolve Fitness in Buffalo Grove, said he found the mask mandate stupid and didn't wear one most places. But he is happy to no longer face confrontational exchanges in grocery stores and elsewhere.
"It's just a matter of time before it's over," he said of the pandemic. "I'm not really worried about it."
A fitness trainer on duty Monday at Avolve said he still prefers to wear his mask a little longer, but it has not been unusual to see people working out without face coverings. In fact, he believes the business picked up new customers in recent months from nearby gyms that had more rigid policies.
At the neighboring Garden Fresh Market in Buffalo Grove, signs on the doors continue to ask customers to wear masks to protect employees and their families. The vast majority were complying.
Manager Golan Mor said mask-wearing in grocery stores has always been more for the safety of employees than the customer, who is in and out quickly without close contact with many people.
"We'll keep our signs up as a nudge for customers to wear a mask and highlight that it's more for our employees' protection," he said.
The Gail Borden Library in Elgin had signs prominently placed on their doors and in the lobby Monday declaring masks now optional.
"I'm happy to opt out," library visitor Michael Vazquez said. "It's been long enough."
At Sweet Berry Cafe in South Elgin, server Mandy Miller said it was strange not wearing a mask to work for the first time in such a long time.
"I got so used to my face being hidden that I feel like I'm not smiling enough now," she said.
Miller added that she doesn't have reservations about not wearing a mask.
"It's honestly a relief," she said. "It was getting tough by the end of each day."
Owner Dan Mataragas, who opened the business in 2013, said he thinks lifting the mandate may make some people feel safer about going out again.
"I know I'm speaking for everyone when I say we all just really want to go back to normal," he said. "I think by the governor lifting the mandate, it lets the general public know that we're moving forward and hopefully it alleviates some concerns."