California and LA County lift indoor mask requirements, NELA businesses pivot

society of the spectacle
The outside of Society of the Spectacle in Eagle Rock, CA. March 3, 2022. Alex Lin/The Occidental.

Following an announcement from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Feb. 28, LA County has eased the masking guidance for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Since March 4, wearing masks indoors has been strongly recommended, though no longer required. Since March 11, masks have been optional at schools and childcare locations; select high-risk environments such as public transportation will still require masking at all times. Two years since the start of the pandemic, given this updated guidance, NELA businesses have been faced with the decision of whether to continue require indoor masking for its employees and customers.

According to Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS), the relaxed mask guidance is possible because COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have dropped significantly in California.

“Cases are down significantly, by 66 percent,” Ghaly said at a Feb. 28 press conference. “Hospitalizations, we’re almost just about half of where we were two weeks ago.”

Richard Loew, president of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council (ERNC), said as of March 3, the ERNC had not yet discussed this updated guidance in meetings nor is it yet taking a stance on indoor masking.

“If March ends up being a month in which we’re still seeing elevated cases of people dying, then maybe it is an issue that the ERNC should discuss and maybe push Garcetti and other city leaders to do more than what the county had requested,” Loew said.

Alejandra Ramos, retail associate at Do it Best Hardware on York Boulevard, said all staff at the store have been vaccinated and the store will make it optional for staff or patrons to wear masks going forward.

“It’s whatever works for everybody, as long as we’re peaceful about it,” Ramos said.

Amy O’Connell, owner of Society of the Spectacle, an eyewear shop on York, said the staff will continue to wear masks, but customers can choose if they want to mask up.

“For me and our business, we will still wear a mask just due to the fact of how close we get to each other, [helping people] trying on glasses,” O’Connell said.

Vivian Ku, owner of Joy on York and Pine & Crane restaurants, said via email her businesses are phasing to more relaxed COVID-related policies because positive test rates are now below one percent in LA county.

“We are no longer requiring guests to wear masks in the building, but are still requiring proof of vaccination to dine-on-site,” Ku said via email. “We will probably remove the proof of vaccination requirement next and then finally remove masks ourselves.”

Still, some stores are choosing to stay masked. Adriana Yugovich, co-owner of Pop-Hop Books & Print on York, said via email both staff and customers would need to be masked, and that participants at events in Pop-Hop would need to show proof of vaccination.

“We are a space that centers community, so we are prioritizing our immunocompromised friends and neighbors,” Yugovich said via email.

Patricia Rigney, an Eagle Rock resident, said she believes the indoor mask mandate should continue for the health of individuals who cannot yet get vaccinated, such as very young children.

“We don’t know who’s not vaccinated,” Rigney said. “We know how well masks work. Is it really that hard to wear a mask? No. It’s for the greater good of society, for the ones that can’t get vaccinated.”

Loew said people may be reluctant to put masks back on following this easing guidance if COVID-19 cases rise in the future.

“I think that going back and forth is much more of a problem than just saying ‘we’ll wear masks all the way out of [the pandemic],'” Loew said. “I think we’re a little premature [in lifting the mask mandate] personally, but we’ll see what happens.”

Nicole Vick, a public health professor at Occidental, said she believes the eased mask guidance is a reasonable step in getting back some semblance of normalcy.

“As a regular person, I’m probably going to be a lot more cautious than everyone else in regards to masks– I’ll probably wear it for a little longer,” Vick said. “But as a public health professional, I know for a fact that [policy-makers] have taken extra precautions, they’re looking at the data, the cases and are making informed decisions on the next step.”