Wary and weary, LA largely accepts restored mask mandate

By Shawn Hubler, Livia Albeck-Ripka and Matt Craig

By Shawn Hubler, Livia Albeck-Ripka and Matt Craig

NYTimes News Service

At the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday, where jazz musician Kamasi Washington was headlining, some in the crowd were wearing masks, even though they were not required to do so.

With COVID-19 cases on the uptick again, Los Angeles County on Sunday became the first major U.S. county to revert to requiring masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Those who were masked at the Hollywood Bowl were being extra cautious — the new mandate did not apply at outdoor concerts or in any other outdoor spaces.

Thirty miles away, the scene was far different at a sports bar in Santa Clarita, in northwestern Los Angeles County. At one moment Sunday afternoon, not a soul could be seen wearing a mask inside, employee and patron alike. Two men drinking beer at an outdoor table said they were not even aware the rules had changed.

One county. Two of a multitude of reactions.

The county, America’s most populous, is a freeway-linked galaxy of 88 cities and 10,039,107 residents. It is ultrawealthy and ultra-poor, mega-urban and mega-suburban.

In parts of liberal Los Angeles, the new requirements for masks were applauded as a wise course of action. In parts of conservative Los Angeles, the rules were a nuisance that some ignored, illustrating the problem for health officials in rolling back a piece of the state’s celebratory reopening in a county where a kind of sun-kissed cacophony is a way of life.

On Sunday morning in Beverly Hills, there were masks on many faces as people streamed into cafes, patisseries and brunch spots. To some, enforcement was lax.

“I noticed a few people that were not wearing masks,” Maritza Alvarado said as she sat outside Urth Caffé with her niece, both of whom said they were vaccinated, and who were sipping pink banana strawberry smoothies. “The people who have not been vaccinated are preventing us from living our lives.”

As other counties statewide are now recommending mask-wearing indoors and debating whether to follow the lead of Los Angeles County officials by making the recommendation mandatory, the varying reactions to the mandate could be a sign of things to come in parts of California.

At a hardware store in Agoura Hills near the Ventura County line, three customers entering separately in bare faces were offered disposable masks by workers in the span of 20 minutes. One of the three — a bearded veteran buying a single light bulb — put the mask on, but he was not happy about it.

“The emperor wants us to have masks on again,” the man said.

It was an apparent reference to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall election in September — and who had nothing to do with the Los Angeles County mandate. The decision was a local one, made by the leaders of the county’s Department of Public Health, out of concern for the highly transmissible Delta variant, which has led to a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in recent days. California gives counties the option to impose tighter restrictions locally than the state requires.

As the man’s comment illustrated, some in the county are eager to blame Newsom, and the jumble of shifting recommendations and requirements at the local, state and federal level has made it easy to do so. Confusion and anger were evident Sunday over the mandate, as well as over the divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Carol Hopkins, a server at the Original Saugus Cafe in Santa Clarita, waited on tables of patrons escaping the 100-degree heat outside.

Hopkins, who is vaccinated and wore a black mask, said it was unfair that others in Santa Clarita — one of the most conservative cities in Los Angeles County — had refused to get vaccinated, making life more difficult for hospitality workers like herself.

“Why,” she said, “do I need to wear a damn mask?”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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