From ‘mask police’ to ‘vaccination card police,’ how LA food workers are handling California’s reopening

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Fifteen months after the coronavirus pandemic, California is fully opening today. Capacity limits and requirements for social distancing and masks are lifted in most places.  

However, the U.S. has now hit 600,000 deaths from the virus. But its spread has significantly slowed, especially in LA County, where more than 56% of the population has been fully vaccinated. 

Throughout the pandemic, KCRW talked with Angelenos about their fears and concerns, or lack thereof. Now Greater LA checks back in with a few of those people: Daniel de la Cruz, who works at the grocery store Food 4 Less, and Oliver Alpuche, who owns the downtown LA bar Redline. 

Alpuche says that today’s reopening is a double-sided coin. “We're so excited to finally be able to rebuild from being shut down for 15 months. But we don't know how it's gonna go. We've been through this before, where we gear up to open fully, and then we get shut down again. So it's been a roller coaster, and we literally are taking it day by day.”

De la Cruz says he is feeling optimistic about today but worries that there aren’t clear guidelines for what his Food 4 Less, which is owned by Kroger, should do going forward. “Are we taking down our plexiglass shields? … [Management has] been very non-communicative with their workers. So we're just a little on edge right now.”

De la Cruz says his fellow store employees will continue wearing masks and they’ll ask customers to do the same. Unmasked customers will be asked if they have vaccination cards.  

“We went from being the mask police, and now we're going to be the vaccination card police, which is going to be really difficult for us to do,” he says. 

Since de la Cruz was last on KCRW, many of his coworkers have gotten vaccinated. 

When KCRW spoke with Alpuche in January, he was mainly worried about mounting debt and continuing to pay the bills. But now, he says, “We actually have an opportunity to try to work it off. And we have an amazing community that supports us to stay alive.”

Alpuche says the staff is small at the Redline, so they’re all vaccinated, and inoculated customers can go maskless. “But if you're not vaccinated, we are letting you know that it's up to you, but that they [need to] take full responsibility for their actions.”

De la Cruz says that the vaccination rates in LA County are reassuring, with 56% of the population being fully vaccinated. But he is still concerned about variants that could potentially cause COVID case numbers to spike again. “A lot of us still don't believe that indoor bar-going is the way to go right now. And we're excited. I know [I want to go dancing], to put on my dancing shoes, but it's like replacing one fear for another with these variants.”