The Vancouver Farmers Market showed the first signs of an approaching autumn on Saturday, from the bursting end-of-season heirloom tomatoes that overflowed from produce stands to bouquets of chrysanthemums and dahlias in fiery shades of orange and yellow.
And the market was busier than usual, with patrons taking advantage of the lingering summer weather. Feather Swain, working at a booth for Yacolt-based jewelry crafting business Forge + Fire, said she’d been busy all morning handling regular customers and a big order.
“I’m literally sweating selling jewelry. What are the odds?” she said.
But the changing season served as a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic remains omnipresent, even as it pushes far into its second year.
Signs posted at the entrances of the market, located at the corner of Eighth and Esther streets in downtown Vancouver, encouraged patrons and vendors to wear face masks and continue to practice social distancing.
“Please help us keep our market safe and healthy!” a sign posted next to a hand sanitizer station stated.
Despite the encouragement, around half the customers and vendors at Saturday’s market were unmasked. According to Jordan Boldt, executive director at the Vancouver Farmers Market Association, there’s not much that market staff can do besides offering encouragement and reminders.
“Obviously we have a statewide mandate for indoor masking. Since we’re outdoors, that doesn’t directly apply to us,” Boldt said. “We’ve not mandated masks across the market yet, just because we don’t have the real power to enforce that.
“It’s really tough because we’re on a public street,” Boldt added. “We have a surprisingly limited amount of control.”
On Aug. 23, Washington’s indoor mask mandate went back into effect less than two months after it was originally lifted. For grocery stores and other indoor shops, face masks are now mandatory for both staff and customers.
Clark County Public Health officer Dr. Alan Melnick reported Friday that COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing in the county. Last week, the county averaged 225 new diagnoses every day — more than 10 times the rate in early July. Clark County has a vaccination rate of 59 percent.
“We’re not heading in a good direction,” Melnick said.
This time last year, face masks were mandatory in outdoor aggregate settings, including the market. Market staff had also set up a controlled entry system, limiting the number of people who could enter the market at any given time.
According to Boldt, there are not currently any plans to return to the controlled entry system.
“We’re really hoping we’ll not have to go back to that,” Boldt said. “We’d much rather see a mask mandate than a controlled entry.”
He also said that staff don’t intend to check on the vaccination status of patrons. Dozens of restaurants and bars in the region have announced that they’ll start checking for vaccine cards upon entry.
“I don’t intend to go to that unless we absolutely have to, for a couple of reasons,” Boldt said. “It really becomes a logistic burden as a nonprofit.
“If a checking mandate comes into place for all public places, then it will apply to us,” he added.