Erik Dolson had reached his limit as he stood outside Trader Joe’s in Bend.

The 70-year-old Sisters resident held up a handmade sign next to his car in the parking lot that read, “Love ya Trader Joe’s, but won’t be back until everyone must wear a mask!!!”

Oregon health officials have said wearing a mask indoors in public areas was an effective way to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But as infections continue to spread amid minimal hope the crisis will end soon, not everyone chooses to wear a mask.

To gauge how many people wore face coverings, The Bulletin staff fanned out at grocery stores in Bend, Sunriver and Redmond for 30 minutes on Thursday. From the unscientific survey, more people wore a mask than didn’t.

Roughly 53% of shoppers entering eight grocery stores from 5 to 5:30 p.m. Thursday were masked. Mask wearing was highest at Trader Joe’s and Newport Avenue Market in Bend, where 78% of shoppers entering each store wore masks. It was lowest at Fred Meyer in Redmond (23%) and Walmart in Bend (35%).

Some, like Robert Allen Van Hoose II, doesn’t believe in them. While waiting for his father to shop at the Walmart on Third Street in Bend, Hoose sat in the shade outside.

“I don’t wear a mask because I don’t believe it,” Hoose said. “I think it is absolutely a government hoax to make money and make people scared. There’s something else going on.”

As of Friday, COVID-19 had killed 491,113 people worldwide, 124,749 in the United States, and 202 people in Oregon, according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Tracker. More than 9.6 million people across the globe have tested positive for the virus.

At Food 4 Less in north Bend, customers entered and exited through the same door. Those who wore a mask vs. those who didn’t were about evenly split.

Phil Jessen, a 68-year-old Bend resident, wore his mask because he had seen the news.

“All of a sudden, today, there’s like thousands of new cases all across the U.S. I was, like, better safe than sorry.”

At Fred Meyer in Redmond, customers dashed into the store near downtown, many without masks.

One of those shoppers was Michelle Robinson, 31, a Redmond resident who works in the mental health field and wore a mask in the store. Robinson said she feels safe shopping even though many around her choose not to wear masks.

“I wear one all the time,” Robinson said. “I work in a high-risk population. So if I were to bring something in I wouldn’t be fine with that. I’m not going to take the chance with someone that I work with.

“I just keep my distance and do a lot of hand-washing.”

Back in Bend, at the Safeway on the east side, about 47% of the shoppers wore a mask.

Davis Dudley, 23, said he wore a mask to protect his grandparents, who are in their 80s. He said he likes to visit them frequently and wants to protect their health.

Dudley, the head of in-house manufacturing at Blackstrap, a Bend-based outdoor apparel maker, said he also wore a mask because he is proud of the work his company has done. Blackstrap pivoted earlier in the pandemic to make face masks in addition to the balaclavas, hats and other gear in its product line. The company donates one mask to a local health care provider or other organization in need for every mask it sells.

“We just wanted to do our part in these times,” Dudley said.

At Newport Avenue Market, for every person who didn’t wear a mask, three did. Ropes guided shoppers toward the aisles.

Lynn Cauble, 48, who works in marketing and sales for Redeux Consignment in Bend, said she wears a mask when she goes into the store. Most shoppers wear masks, but some do not, she said.

”I am OK with that,” Cauble said. “I am all about herd immunity at this point of our lives so I am OK if people are not wearing a mask. I think that is one of the tickets to resuming normal life in terms of schools, kids, normalcy, in terms of what we used to do. So it doesn’t offend me if I see people without a mask.”

At the Sunriver Country Store at The Village, about half the customers were not wearing masks Thursday evening.

Families wandered through the plaza on foot, bicyclists struggled to find an open spot in the racks, and the parking lot was packed with cars showing license plates from Oregon as well as California, Washington and Idaho. Despite the pandemic, tourist season continues to ramp up.

A mother and her two small children stopped at the designated entrance of the Sunriver Country Store and pulled out three masks from her purse. When the trio exited the other door, the mother collected the face coverings as they headed to the car.

About 66% of shoppers entering the store put on masks, bandannas or other face coverings before stepping through the automatic sliding doors.

“It’s common sense,” said Jacob Houim, who was visiting from Centralia, Washington. “I do it for everyone’s safety.”

While he was glad to see people wearing masks as they went into the store, he was surprised to see people walking around The Village without them and passing by strangers at much less than a 6-foot distance.

Maintaining a 6-foot physical distance from others and frequent hand-washing are two other low-tech ways to combat the COVID-19 virus. At Trader Joe’s, where Dolson stood with his sign, workers still limit the number of shoppers and sanitize the carts.

Dolson brought another sign with him Thursday, one he uses when he’s at Costco.

“Trader Joe’s has been my pantry,” said Dolson. “I’m pissed. I think it’s a civic responsibility to wear (a mask).

“I think they are being selfish. We share the air. Their selfishness could cost me my life.”

This story was reported by Garrett Andrews, Zack Demars, Mike Gordon, Jackson Hogan, David Jasper, Julie Johnson, Michael Kohn, Mark Morical, Gerard O’Brien, Brian Rathbone, Suzanne Roig, Jody Lawrence-Turner and Makenzie Whittle.

Reporter: 541-633-2117,

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