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Unmasked residents cautious, celebratory

News Photo by Julie Riddle From left, Angela Taflinger, Addalee Taflinger, Kaylen Taflinger, and Joy Kowalski hunt for beach glass at Mich-e-ke-wis Park in Alpena on Tuesday.

ALPENA — In stores, on sidewalks, and all around town, Alpena residents went maskless on Tuesday as mask mandates officially ended in Michigan.

For some, the change validated what they’d been thinking — and doing — for a long time.

For others, their masks still close by, the lifted restrictions seem premature.

Residents agreed, however, on one topic, at least — the need for civility between those who continue to mask and those who don’t.

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News Photo by Julie Riddle Visitors to Alpena Anne, left, and Steve Parks set out on stand-up paddleboards from Bay View Park in Alpena on Tuesday.

Alpena resident Elizabeth Blandford, walking in town on Tuesday, didn’t know mask rules had changed. She didn’t wear a mask on her walk, but indoors, she plans to continue to wear one as a precaution, she said.

She’ll feel ready to go unmasked when the pandemic is officially over.

“But it might not be, ever,” Blandford said.

Until then, she won’t accost anyone else for not wearing a mask and is disappointed that people can be — and often are — rude to one another on the topic.

“It doesn’t hurt me,” Blandford said of wearing a mask, “and it doesn’t hurt anybody else.”

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Alpena visitor Steve Parks isn’t ready to set aside caution, he said on Tuesday, as he mounted a stand-up paddleboard at Bay View Park in Apena.

Another round of virus variants is likely, and likely to infect those who aren’t taking precautions against it, he said.

He’ll continue masking, even though he and his family are vaccinated, because he’s “trying to be thoughtful about people who have not had the wherewithal to get vaccinated,” Parks said. “I don’t think it’s over.”

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“I think it’s wonderful,” said Alpena resident Joy Kowalski of the lifted mask mandate as she searched for beach glass at Mich-e-ke-wis park on Tuesday morning.

A registered nurse who has been immunized, Kowalski said she feels safe without a face covering and hasn’t worn a mask for a long time, except to visit her mother in the nursing home. Restrictions there have not changed, so she can’t yet enjoy leisurely, unmasked visits with her mom.

COVID-19 concerns are overblown, Kowalski said. She remembers being tested but not told to stay home when schoolmates contracted polio and tuberculosis in her youth.

She and her family, all vaccinated, aren’t anti-mask, but they disliked the politically charged nature of some mask debates.

Angela Taflinger, visiting Kowalski from Tennessee, said her home state lifted its mask mandate months ago.

“There’s no sense in walking around with fear,” Taflinger said. “God gave us a life for a reason. You’ve gotta be cautious, but you’ve gotta live life.”

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