“It’s past people having different opinions. It’s almost like people have different realities.”

To mask or not to mask – that is the question many are facing as they venture back into the public arena since the coronavirus outbreak.


Many businesses have reopened and with that arises questions about whether people should leave their home, go to work, wear a mask, don gloves, excessively wash their hands or stay six feet apart. And everyone seems to have their own approach.


Jake Brashears falls on the cautious end of the spectrum, ordering his groceries for pick-up, wearing a cloth mask while near people and practicing social distancing.


“It’s past people having different opinions,” Brashears said. “It’s almost like people have different realities. Some people are operating in one world and I’m operating in another. I can’t control them, but I can control me.”


Brashears runs a booth along the Destin Harbor, from which he captures and prints souvenir photos of people and their fish as charter boats return. He lost nearly two months worth of business because of the pandemic.


He had to return to work in May – but he did so with a plan.


“Anytime I interact with people, I’m good about the hand washing,” Brashears said. “I’m a big believer in the social distancing thing. As they’re hanging the fish, usually I’m right in the middle of the crowd; now I’m 5 to 10 feet away. Those little steps make a pretty big difference.”


Working on the Harbor, though, Brashears feels alone in his perspective.


“It feels like I’m the only one playing the game,” Brashears said. “The other people I’m interacting with don’t really care that much. It’s a little weird if I do walk around with a mask, you almost get looked at like an alien. People are like, ‘Whoah, what’s wrong with this guy?’ I’m like, ‘I’m just trying to be 10% safer. What’s so bad about that?’”


The docks were crowded Memorial Day weekend with people leaving social distancing in their wake. Brashears suspects he might be a full-time mask wearer around the Fourth of July.


While Brashears isn’t in poor health, his reasoning is simple – he takes it seriously.


“I’m not on Facebook; I don’t watch cable news,” Brashears said. “I’m a reader and I’m reading stuff from scientists, epidemiologists, public health officials. If you call a doctor and nurse and you ask them what you should do, you get different advice than if you turn on TV or your buddies on Facebook. I try to only get information from only what I consider to be credible sources.”


Like Brashears, Jan Reppert is cautious. For the most part, the Destin resident is still self-quarantining.


When the coronavirus outbreak first made the news, Reppert didn’t think much of it – until Hal Aiken, a friend of a friend, was hospitalized after contracting the virus.


“It opened our eyes,” Reppert said. “You just don’t know who you’re right next to that could be sick.”


Reppert and her boyfriend are both in their late sixties, she said, so she feels like they should be careful. They have gone to Lowe’s a few times to buy items for their home projects.


“We were very cautious about going back, but we wore a mask; we wore our gloves,” Reppert said. “We just felt like, we haven’t been in contact with a lot of people, but you still don’t know. When we get the groceries, we wipe them down – you don’t know who has touched them. We wore the gloves, but we left them in the car or threw them away. The main thing is not just to protect ourselves, but to protect other people.”


Reppert believes masks have a purpose. She made her first one out of a sock, though has since upgraded to a washable cloth mask.


“Even though it might not help anything, it alerts people that you’re being self-conscious about people getting close to you,” Reppert said. “We were at Lowe’s or somewhere one day, and this guy was in there and he didn’t have a mask on. He was coughing and sneezing. He was looking at us like we were weird. The last time we were in the store, we noticed less and less people were doing it – even the employees.”


If customers in a store are in too close of proximity, Reppert will leave, she said. While she doesn’t want to condemn anyone for their choices, she does wonder if people are making the right ones.


“What really disturbed us is we’d see people in there with their small children,” Reppert said. “You know how children are – they touch everything. That kind of upset us that they’re not taking precautions, but everyone has to do what they feel right for them.”


After seeing the masses on the beaches and at Crab Island, Reppert elected to stay home Memorial Day weekend.


“We’ve decided we’re going to give it a few more weeks before we venture out, because we love going out and having a few drinks at a bar and listening to music,” Reppert said. “We’re older, but we’re still young at heart and enjoy those things.”


Pastor Ryan Burgess acknowledges many people are leaning one way or the other in terms of precautions, but he found Gathering Church’s solution somewhere in the middle. It reopened three weeks ago.


“In these situations, it’s hard to target, ‘This is the perfect thing to do,’” Burgess said. “There is no perfect reopening plan. What’s been helpful is to use that mentality and go, ‘Let’s just find what is not right. Let’s start with that.’”


While in some areas it might be necessary, Burgess didn’t think they should shut down church for six months or reopen without any changes. The church hasn’t yet fully reopened the children’s ministries and has removed some of its seating for social distancing, instated new cleaning protocols and asked people in the high-risk category or experiencing coronavirus symptoms to continue watching services online.


Burgess thinks many people aren’t comfortable returning to normal. The Church’s attendance is down, averaging about 30% of the normal number – but growing, he said.


Like many others, Burgess has returned to some of his routine places.


“I personally feel comfortable going back to the gym and back to church and taking these steps at this time,” Burgess said. “As far as my own personal health, I’m not concerned. If there’s concern there, it’s that I don’t want to get something and give it to someone else. I think everyone just has to come to their own conviction on that. I don’t know that any of us can say what the right line is. If you’re honoring what the government is giving you, you’re not doing something wrong.’”