What It Was Like To Be Pro-Mask People In An Anti-Mask Tourist Town

by SharonKurheg

Joe and I are both very much on #TeamMask. We believe in science and medicine and have made sure we understand precisely what facial masks do, and don’t do, in the age of coronavirus. Besides all of that, we each have a handful of issues that put us at higher risk for complications, should we ever catch the virus. So if we’re somewhere where we won’t be more than six feet away from others at all times, we always wear a mask to protect others, and hope that others will wear masks to help protect us.

I’ll share that I think it’s a shame mask use for COVID has become so much of a polarized and politicized thing when we’re talking about watching out for each other’s health. But Gallup has been keeping tabs on the country’s mask use and as of their latest survey, and yes, it’s definitely a “thing.” 97% of Democrats say they wear a mask in indoor settings and 64% in outdoor settings, if they can’t social distance, while Republicans’ responses were 70% and 23%, respectively (Independents were 85% and 43%).

So where did we go for our first vacation since February? Helen, Georgia – a small town located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia.

Helen, GA is located in White County (Yes, really. I did a double-take when I found that out), which is very strongly conservative. In fact, nearly 82% of White County voted Republican in the 2016 Presidential election. If the signs in Helen’s residents’ yards and the billboards on their roads are any indicator, I suspect that’ll be the case for the 2020 election, as well.

So let’s just say it’s probably not a coincidence that they don’t wear a whole lot of masks in Helen, GA. 😉

Now, we figured this was going to be the case. We were well aware that a small town in northern Georgia probably wouldn’t be as stringent about wearing masks as we would typically be comfortable with. I mean, when we go to Walt Disney World or Universal, they’re both in a county that mandates masks, so we expect people there to wear masks. In Helen, GA? Not so much. However, as Joe wrote when he explained why we picked the area we did, we went in with multiple “Plan Bs” in mind and yep, we did have to use some of them.

We arrived in the area on a Friday and went home on Tuesday. The cabin where we stayed was pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but Helen was only a 15-minute drive away and we visited, at least for a little while, on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Helen is very much a tourist town – it has a Bavaria theme, complete with an Oktoberfest every fall (Well, except for this year. Thanks, coronavirus). It was bustling all day Saturday and half of Sunday, and pretty much a ghost town on Monday. We planned our activities accordingly.

  • We had lunch in Helen on Saturday and made sure we ate outside. The tables were not as far apart as I would have liked, but that was mitigated by virtually none of the servers wearing a mask correctly, if at all ;-). Still, it was outside, which was the most important in terms of current COVID safety. Having to use the restaurant’s restroom was an effort in “how fast can I do everything and get myself out of this room that has no ventilation and out of this building that has few windows and way too many people in it?”
  • After lunch, we walked around town for a little bit. We tried to socially distance outside as much as we could but were oftentimes no more than 3 or 4 feet from others, most of whom were maskless. Our friends wanted to go into a few stores; Joe and I stayed outside…him because he’s not much of a shopper, me because of too many unmasked people in each place (ironically, most stores had signs on the door that said masks and social distancing were required, yet even the workers wore no masks or wore them under their noses or chins).
  • On Sunday we went to other places around town – we visited the least impressive historic site we’ve ever seen (all outdoors), hiked to Anna Ruby Falls (all outdoors), visited Babyland General Hospital (where Cabbage Patch Kids are “born.” Don’t judge…they require masks inside, to protect the “kids” LOL), and stopped off at a brewery that was indoors but newly opened, with adequate ventilation and tables well spread out.
  • Sunday night was another restaurant, where we again ate outside. This German place had several picnic tables set up in their parking lot, all well-spaced from each other.
  • The friends we had rented the cabin with had been to Helen many times before and said that Monday should be empty. It was. We spent most of Monday afternoon in Helen and it was a JOY. Tourists really clear out on Sundays and the town is tranquil during the week. So I was able to go into the stores, look around and not worry that I was “gonna catch the ‘rona any second.” 😉 Even if the other people in the stores weren’t wearing masks, there we few enough of them where I could keep my distance.
  • Monday night dinner in Helen was, again, outdoors.

It’s been two weeks since we were in Helen and we have no symptoms of COVID-19, so I suspect we made it out unscathed ;-). Seriously though, it seems as if our plan worked:

  • We only ate outside
  • We avoided going into places that were full of people not wearing masks or social distancing, and waited until there were times when it was quieter inside.
  • Weekdays in tourist towns ROCK!

Helen, Georgia was an excellent lesson in how to do a relatively safe vacation in a potentially unsafe place, during a potentially unsafe time.  We have tentative plans for a road trip this fall, and will probably use several of the same techniques and “Plan Bs” that we learned from this trip.

Feature Photo: VisitHelen.org

#stayhealthy #staysafe #washyourhands #wearamask

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary



Gene September 8, 2020 - 12:58 pm

My apologies on behalf of my fellow Georgians. As my Georgia Tech professor used to say, “The next time you go off campus, remember that the AVERAGE IQ is 100”.

SharonKurheg September 8, 2020 - 1:03 pm

Nah, it has nothing to do with their being from Georgia. The couple we were with are from GA (one’s a native, one’s just been here for forever and a day LOL) and are #teammask and #teammedicine. It’s just what people believe in and inf;uenced by. Has little to do with IQ.

In fact, I know some very smart people who are anti-mask. I question their judgement, but not their smarts.

Lacie September 8, 2020 - 2:15 pm

I wish more people believed in science and medicine! Can’t believe this is even an issue. I’ve been searching for studies to show my friends that cloth face masks are effective in reducing the spread of viruses, but I’m not very good with the internet, do you know of anything like that which could help me?

Thanks and safe travels

SharonKurheg September 8, 2020 - 4:06 pm

Not off the top of my head, no. What I’ve learned is here and there, from various Google searches. Maybe that will work for you as well. Good luck!

AlohaDaveKennedy September 8, 2020 - 4:03 pm

About those surveys – Democrats constantly harp on Trump and Republicans about masks, so one might expect them to say in surveys they use masks indoors and outdoors. But when the cameras are rolling, as with Pelosi in San Francisco, the truth is revealed. Same thing happened with Cuomo said he said he was self-quarantined in his basement until it was caught running out and about looking at real estate.

SharonKurheg September 8, 2020 - 4:09 pm

The surveys don’t matter – they were just to prove my point. What politicians have done matter even less as far as I’m concerned. Bottom line is, on the whole, generally, even among my own family and friends and observations, people who lean right are less apt to wear masks than those who lean left.

Especially in a small tourist town in northern Georgia.

Donna Hart January 25, 2021 - 1:57 pm

We are supposed to spend a week there the last week in February. I had a feeling it would be a “dangerous” place. Now I am convinced. We have gone nowhere and done nothing for a year, but as much as I would like to go to Helen, I plan to convince my husband to cancel this year. We won’t be able to eat outdoors. We could do takeout but I don’t relish the thought of eating the virus. That has killed plenty of people. If I have to cook, I may as well stay home.

SharonKurheg January 25, 2021 - 2:03 pm

You’re welcome. For what it’s worth, this article is from VERY early on, but since they know the virus is spread through the respiratory system, you shouldn’t have any problems with food


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