Small businesses react to lifting the mask mandate in LA

Businesses make wearing masks optional for vaccinated individuals, after an update in CDC guidelines. Opinions regarding the new rules remain divided.

Los Angeles County is enabling a new mask mandate starting Feb. 25, which will no longer require individuals to wear masks in indoor public places as long as they show proof of vaccination.

“As the county continues to experience reduced COVID-19 spread, it is appropriate to consider fewer required safety measures,” the L.A. County Department of Public Health said in a public statement. “Public Health is modifying the Health Officer Order to allow establishments, businesses, and venues verifying vaccination status to offer optional masking for fully vaccinated individuals.”

Back in September 2021, the LA County Public Health added vaccination verification requirements at high risk settings. Since Oct. 7th, 2021, businesses and venues have been required to verify that all customers above five are fully vaccinated and if not, they must show a negative COVID-19 test within the last two days. Employees are allowed to submit a negative test every three days. Unvaccinated individuals still need to wear masks indoors, a rule that is in place throughout the state.

Annenberg Media spoke to South LA businesses on their opinions on the new mask mandate that will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday Feb. 25.

Anthony Fanara, the owner of Palermo Italian Restaurant, expressed his support for the lifting of indoors mask mandates, saying the decision to put on masks should be up to the individuals instead of being an obligation.

“None of my employees or their family members have suffered from anything that I know of,” Fanara said about health concerns for his employees and their family members.

Similarly, Jorge Teixeira, the owner of Awesome Coffee, believes it is time that we lifted the mask mandates, given that “the danger has been going down”, but said that he will still enforce indoors mask wearing among his employees at the store.

Within LA County, there are around 1,985 new cases reported Friday. The county has had a total of almost 3 million cases. The daily positivity rate averages around 2.4% according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

Teixeira said Awesome Coffee is committed to the maintenance of cleanliness of utensil racks, doors and tables besides hand sanitization. Awesome Coffee usually closes at late hours, around 10:00pm to 12:00am, which has attracted coffee-goers who seek a quiet place to work for a long period of time. Teixeira said that it is unreasonable to make his customers wear masks while working indoors.

As an employee of Little Jewel of New Orleans, Matthew Bourgeois had mixed opinions on the new protocol. Regardless, Bourgeois is optimistic about the lifting of the mandate.

“I still enjoy being able to take my mask off and smile at people,” Bourgeois said. He said he also has little health concern for both himself and the people he is living with, given they are all in their mid thirties and have been double vaccinated.

However, he wants to take extra precautionary steps by conversing with his elderly father and stepmother before visiting them next time about the fact that he will be exposed to many people everyday without wearing a mask. Bourgeois added that there has not been any updates from the owner on the frequency of testing for the employees, given the team got the news on Friday morning.

“I worry about my dad, my stepmom, they’re just hitting their 70s. They’re both vaccinated and everyone is doing fine,” he said. “We’re just going to cross our fingers and see how it goes.”

A greater health concern is seen more among senior restaurant goers. Lottie Cleveland, baker and owner of Ms. Lottie’s Cornbread Mix, has been feeling uncomfortable and frustrated at unvaccinated community members who do not wear masks. She receives mostly online orders and usually delivers the home-made bread herself.

Given her business model is not tied to a brick-and-mortar store, she doesn’t think her customer base will be affected by the new mask mandate. However, the lifting of mask mandates makes her fearful for her and her sister, who is already above 60 years old.

“I want to make sure I’m protected, especially because I live with my sister”, Cleveland said, besides emphasizing that she will continue to test frequently, now that people do not wear masks indoors in public places.