PORT ANGELES — As COVID-19 cases dip and state masking requirements are set aside, Feiro Marine Life Center at Port Angeles City Pier wants their visitors to keep their masks on for an hour each week.
The center, which features a variety of displays of sea creatures from the Pacific Northwest, now offers a Saturday morning session where masks are still required, allowing people who may be immunocompromised or otherwise at risk from the novel coronavirus a chance to experience Feiro.
The weekly session is scheduled from 11 a.m. to noon. Visitors age 2 and up will be asked to remain masked and the center’s staff and volunteers will follow suit.
KN95 or N95 masks are highly recommended, but other high-quality, well-fitting masks will be accepted.
The North Olympic Peninsula lifted its mandate for proof of vaccination for those who want to eat and drink indoors in bars and restaurants on Friday and the statewide masking mandate expired on Saturday.
Masks remain required in some settings, including medical facilities, long-term care facilities and public transit.
Individual businesses are allowed to set their own masking rules.
Feiro Executive Director Melissa Williams said the marine life center mask-on hour was an attempt to be inclusive for those who need to protect themselves.
“We know it will be very challenging to maintain a mask policy in the absence of any official mandates,” she said. “And I think many of our volunteers and certainly a lot of the general public are ready to let go of their masks, but we know there are many people in our community and who visit our community who are at high risk for severe complications from COVID and other respiratory illnesses.
“This seemed like a good way to accommodate their needs and still make the exhibit open and enjoyable for everyone.”
Proof of vaccination will not required and masks will remain optional during other regular springtime hours, which are noon to 4 p.m., Thursday through Monday. Feiro’s expanded summer schedule begins after Memorial Day.
Many of Feiro’s staff and volunteers likely will keep their masks on, even if not required, Williams said. She said she expected many visitors will do the same.
“We’re certainly not going to complain if someone comes in wearing a mask,” she said.
The Saturday session was chosen to accommodate the largest potential audience, Williams said. The hour before the regular opening was selected to minimize the risk to compromised individuals.
“We definitely want the high-risk hour to be at the beginning of the day before you have a bunch of people breathing in your space,” she said.
Williams admitted that the mask-on session was an experiment, but she said she hoped the extra hour would be well utilized.
“We’re not quite sure what to expect yet, but we certainly hope that people will come and that they feel this is a good option for them and it doesn’t shut them out of recreational opportunities,” she said.
“I imagine we will see some families and others who feel they need to be masked indoors.”
On Saturday,Tamara Galvan, facilities director for Feiro, watched as a handful of people took advantage of the inaugural mask-on session. She said the special hour fit in with the center’s mission of marine education.
“It’s nice to try to accommodate people with where they are,” she said. “You don’t want them to think they can’t come in. Here’s a space where hopefully you’ll feel more comfortable.”
Feiro guest services specialist Disa Wilson said the mask-up session was an important option for aquarium visitors.
“I’m kind of excited that we’re doing this for the public. I’m happy to do it,” she said.
“I’ll still be wearing my mask — I have an immune system problem so I might as well protect myself as well.”
Photojournalist Keith Thorpe can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 59050, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.