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Bars in Eugene Struggle to Enforce Mask Mandate

Rachael McDonald

Oregon’s new mask mandate is causing problems for some businesses, especially bars. 

Casey Lynch co-owns The Big Dirty in downtown Eugene, the site of a viral video of maskless patrons last weekend. He says he’s thankful for the mandate, but it’s hard to enforce.

“Seventy percent of the people are wearing the masks, I would say; 30% of the people, you gotta watch,” Lynch said. “But unfortunately, 30% of 270 is still a large number of people...it’s hard to really get a whole grasp of how, logistically, you would do that.”

Lynch says the labor shortage, dwindling federal help and high tension around masking all make safely running the bar more difficult.

“It seems a little ridiculous to put all of the enforcement on the establishment, when we’re powering through this thing just like everybody else. We don’t wanna be here during these conditions, we have to be here during these conditions.” Lynch said.

Specific to Lynch’s problem is the presence of alcohol, and how much harder it is to reason with someone who is drinking and dancing than someone who isn’t.

“When we’re staffed, we’re about five people on the floor; security, one at the door, two running the music--which is a full-time job, running music and lights--and then bartenders, who are three rows deep,” Lynch said. “They’re tasked with maintaining some semblance of normal to make sure everybody’s having a good time so we can all get paid, and then bringing up literally the hottest buzzword issue ever, to people that are imbibing alcohol.”

The Big Dirty has only been open for four weeks, and the video was taken on the first day after the new mask mandate was announced. Hand sanitizer and masks are always available, said Lynch, but you can only prepare so much.

“The circumstance is, we’re a brand-new business that was hemorrhaging money for two years ‘cause we were shut down for COVID, and then we get open and we’re doing everything we can,” Lynch said.

Lynch said he wants people to be able to enjoy a night out, but that they need to be willing to follow the venue’s rules.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure people are safe,” Lynch said. “Bear with us; all new things take time and everyone is working as hard as they can and on behalf of all bar and business owners, I want to say, thank you for coming out, but we really need everyone to follow the rules.”

Lynch says he hopes people will take the mandate seriously, and help keep each other safe. 

Jen is an intern for KLCC, through the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism. This is her first radio news job. She is Oregon-born and raised and loves writing, reading and recording. Her favorite things to write about are community and social justice issues, LGBTQIA+ news and history, and cultural deep-dives.
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