After wearing a face mask for nearly a year, Kim Bertram admits she's tired of it.
"It's been such a long time," she said. Like so many other Minnesotans, she yearns to feel a sense of normalcy in seeing faces without coverings.
And yet the retired social worker from Rochester had mixed emotions this week when the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people could shed their masks in most public places and Gov. Tim Walz officially lifted the statewide mask mandate Friday.
The news was unexpected, causing many to rejoice. Others found it jarring.
"We're still in a pandemic. COVID kills people," said Kat Donnelly of Minneapolis as she kept an eye on her two young sons while they scampered in Minnehaha Regional Park on Friday.
Her 6-year-old son recently was exposed to someone infected with COVID-19 at his after-school program, she said.
Although Donnelly is vaccinated, her sons are too young for the shots. So she'll continue to wear a mask.
For others, like Bertram, who wants the freedom of being unmasked but can't trust that everyone around her is vaccinated, the decision will be more nuanced.
"I don't know that we'll ever get to herd immunity," she said. "I'll have to be mindful of where I go. I won't go to an indoor concert. I'll keep my distance and I'll choose to eat in outdoor spaces instead of indoors."
Joel Martin, owner of Farmington Barber in Farmington, was never a fan of masks.
"I've been looking forward to taking them off since we put them on," he said.
Yet concern for his customers' safety kept him following the state mandate.
"I'm standing over people, so I could leave droplets on them," Martin said. "I figured I would be the first and last to wear a mask because of what I do."
On Friday, despite the lifting of the state mandate, Martin and three customers wore masks inside the shop.
"I don't know if we've gotten the all-clear yet," he said, explaining that people are a bit confused about what to do a day after the governor's announcement.
Whether he continues wearing a mask, however, likely will depend on what makes his customers comfortable.
Across the shop, hair stylist Pat Shirley said she has no intention of removing her mask or allowing her customers to sit in her chair without one. She's 81 years old.
"I don't know who has been vaccinated and who hasn't," she said. "I want to be safe."
Brent Davis, of Rosemount, feels the same. Waiting for a haircut, he said not only is he concerned about infecting his unvaccinated 8-year-old son, he worries about virus variants that could be more infectious, deadly and better able to evade vaccines.
"I'm kind of in the wait-and-see camp," he said.
Wearing a mask isn't always comfortable, he conceded. "See, my glasses are fogging up," he said. Still, Davis would have preferred that the mask mandate remain in place
So does Idman Mohamed of Lakeville, who decided not to get vaccinated because she's pregnant.
Her mother, who has an underlying health condition, also is unvaccinated.
"They should have waited until summer to remove the mandate because people will forget that the virus is out there," she said.
But after more than a year of living behind masks, many are eager for the change.
"The mask is a symbol that we're still in a pandemic," said Ryker Rofshus of Albert Lea as he walked through the Mall of America. "I think this is a good step toward normalcy."
Like many strolling through the mall, Rofshus wore a mask. He hadn't heard that the governor lifted the mandate, and signs at various businesses still said masks were required. Some visitors wore masks under their chin. A few shed them entirely.
Lexi Kroska, 23, of Elk River, was happy to be free of hers. "It feels fantastic," she said as she rode the mall escalator with her friend, Erin Potter-Rank, 25, of Inver Grove Heights.
"I feel awkward," Potter-Rank interjected. "She has to keep telling me that I'm OK."
In some parts of the state, the political tussle over masks can finally end.
For many folks in Worthington, a city of about 13,000 people 175 miles southwest of the Twin Cities, the mandate felt unnecessary, said Chad Cummings, a City Council member. "We got treated like the Twin Cities and we're not the Twin Cities," he said.
Although infections at the local meat processing plant spiked last year, Cummings said the town has kept the virus under control for the most part.
For some, "wearing a mask was even more grueling after being vaccinated," he said. "Every day you would see fewer people in stores wearing [masks]."
Some people, however, will continue to wear them for a long time, he said. For those who don't, he believes they'll be responsible and stay home when sick. "We need to get things back to normal," he said.
The virus may continue to pose risks, but getting in a car every day also is a risk, Cummings said.
"You can't live in a fear bubble," he said.
Still, shedding the mask will be tough for others.
"It's been part of our daily lives for so long," said Sam Abujouda of Brooklyn Park, who kept his mask at the ready around his neck while walking near the Minnehaha Falls overlook with his three kids.
He's vaccinated but wants the added protection of a mask.
"Maybe when 65% of Minnesota is vaccinated will I feel OK to take it off," he said. "But it will be hard to get rid of it."
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788