LA grocery workers worry unvaccinated people will take advantage of CDC’s relaxed mask guidelines

By Kathryn Barnes

California health officials are at odds with some major retail and grocery chains that adopted the CDC’s relaxed mask guidelines without state approval.

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks in most indoor and outdoor places. The announcement caused Trader Joe’s, Walmart, and other retailers to allow vaccinated customers to enter without a face covering in states and local jurisdictions that dropped their mask mandates.

In a press conference today, however, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the state will adopt federal guidelines on June 15 — so there’s a month to boost vaccination rates — and that businesses operating in California are expected to adhere to the plan.

For some, removing masks is a celebrated step in the right direction. 

“These guidelines make sense,” says Paula Cannon, a professor of microbiology and immunology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. “It follows the science. They're saying fully vaccinated people are not at risk to themselves or other people, and therefore life can get a little bit back to normal.”

But Daniel De la Cruz is not happy about the news. He works at a Food 4 Less in South Central LA, and is worried that unvaccinated customers will think it’s okay to walk in maskless.

“We're located very near two major hotel chains, where I think some of the population may not be in great mental health and have the resources available to get vaccinated,” he says. “We’re having a hard time getting them to comply as it is. I just don't think this will help make us feel safe.”

Although he’s fully vaccinated, he believes there’s still a risk he can get COVID-19 and pass it to his family, some of whom are immunocompromised.

“[My community is] very distrustful of what the government has to say,” he says. “They've put us in danger many times. And we have QAnon conspirators that come to our grocery store. I've been coughed on, a lot of us are traumatized.”

Cannon tries to assure De la Cruz that the vaccines are extraordinarily effective at keeping him and his family safe, and wearing his mask will add an extra layer of protection. 

For now, Cannon will keep her mask on too. Not because she’s afraid of catching the virus, but because she wants people like De la Cruz to feel safer at work.

“I will now be thinking, every time I go into a grocery store, there's a Daniel here,” she says. “He's been vaccinated, but he's still got a lot of concerns. And so me wearing a mask takes a little piece of the anxiety out of his or her day.”