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With Delta cases on the rise, masks make a comeback at local businesses

MORGANTOWN — For the first time in more than a year, Quantum Bean Coffee began feeling safe enough to welcome in maskless customers.

However, it didn’t take long for that feeling of relief to vanish — and for masks to make a comeback.

“We never brought back seating since the first round of COVID, so we’ve been take-out-only since the beginning of this whole thing,” said Samuel Bonasso, owner of the coffee shop. “So that’s just not coming back, but we have re-instituted our mask requirement for entry.”

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, largely due to the Delta variant, signs requiring masks are hanging in the storefronts of several businesses once again. Quantum Bean is just one spot bringing back precautions after a brief hiatus. 

Caitlin O’Connell, manager of River Birch Cafe and Riverview and Brew, both in the Wharf District, said precautions have mostly stayed the same through the duration of the pandemic.

O’Connell said the businesses slowly began allowing vaccinated employees and customers to come in maskless; however, mask requirements have since been reinstated for employees.

“We’ve just been watching our numbers to see when we’re going to require the guests to wear masks again,” she said.

Rachel Dower, co-owner and stylist of Cooper James Hair Salon in Cheat Lake, shared a similar story about how the salon is responding to the uptick in cases. 

With West Virginia University students returning to campus and children returning to school, Dower said the salon decided it would be best to reinstate mask requirements inside the studio. 

“We just felt like it was safer for everybody involved,” she said.

While some businesses are beginning to implement precautions early, others are basing their next steps on state guidelines and suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

That is the case for the WOW! Factory, a pottery store in Star City. Monica McGraw, studio manager, said the studio continues to require masks for unvaccinated guests. Although it is is operating at full capacity, staff works to socially distance groups as best as possible. 

“Depending on how things progress, we just kind of roll with whatever’s going to keep our staff and our customers safest and create the most relaxed, fun, creative environment for them while still being safe,” McGraw said.

Vaccine rollouts presented a light at the end of the tunnel, but the spike in cases has created concerns around what might come next for local businesses — including the potential for another shutdown.

“I think it’s something that any business owner thinks about,” Bonasso said. I don’t think shutdowns are going to be the answer to our issues, so long as we can follow some simple rules.”

O’Connell said mainly students work at River Birch Cafe and River View and Brew, which has led many employees to question what would happen if another shutdown was implemented. She said she fortunately doesn’t feel the business would be too heavily impacted if this were to occur.

During the pandemic, River Birch saw a significant increase in carry-out sales and retail, which allowed them to stay afloat throughout the initial shutdown. As vaccines became more widely available, the cafe saw a more-than-1,000% increase in sales in April.

“One thing that most people don’t have access to is a very-expensive coffee machine,” she said. “Even if that’s the only selling point, at least we can do it with a smile and try to just make people feel safe while we’re doing it for them.”

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