Workers on Tuesday took down COVID-19 safety signs, gym-goers declared a group fitness class a “mask-free zone” and shoppers weaved in and out of stores in Belmont Shore without digging through purses to find a face-covering.
Today marked a new chapter in a more than year-long trial of patience, anxiety and isolation after health officials issued strict requirements in March 2020 to stop the spread of a deadly virus.
The state has now officially lifted most requirements for masking, social distancing, capacity and closures, with many residents ready to welcome a summer much different than the last.
“Today’s the day we’ve been waiting for,” Mayor Robert Garcia declared in a video message on Twitter.
“Thank god this is over,” said John Harman on his way into a Belmont Shore dry cleaner.
“We can finally get back to something like normal,” Maggie Felton said as she left a 24-Hour Fitness in Orange County.
June 15, the day unofficially dubbed Reopening Day across the state, also brought some shoulder-shrugging, as well as continued hesitance to fling masks aside for good.
“I feel naked without it,” said Steve Goodban, a Signal Hill resident, as he walked out of Philz Coffee on Second Street.
The coffee shop is no longer requiring those who are vaccinated to wear masks. However, Goodban kept his mask on, saying he plans to “read the room” to gauge the comfort levels of those around him.
“I want to make sure everyone is comfortable because not everyone feels the same about lifting the mask requirements,” he said.
Workers at Whole Foods at 2nd & PCH were still requiring masks early Tuesday because they hadn’t yet received direction from corporate headquarters. The same was true at a number of salons and other businesses.
At CVS in the Bixby Village shopping center, a sign informed customers they must still wear a face covering; across the parking lot at Target, a new sign was tacked to the door: “Face coverings are strongly recommended for guests who are not vaccinated.”
Masks will still be required at the Aquarium of the Pacific as well, but patrons will no longer need temperature checks to enter.
“We are continuing to monitor this,” spokeswoman Claire Atkinson said in an email, encouraging people to check the website for updates.
Ralphs near the Traffic Circle is no longer requiring masks, but John Gordon, who said he is fully vaccinated, intends to keep wearing it for a bit longer.
“Better safe than sorry,” he said.
Around the region, state leaders marked the day by picking 10 people from a lottery of those who are vaccinated for a hefty $1.5 million prize, with other incentives being offered at the local, regional and state level. In Long Beach, close to 67% of residents over 16 have been vaccinated.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were also set to host the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, with the stadium cleared for full-capacity seating for the first time since March 2020. And at the famed Langer’s Delicatessen-Restaurant in Los Angeles, a number of leaders gathered early in the morning to mark a grand reopening.
“It feels a little more comfortable—like we’re back to normal,” said Joveny Macias, whose family came to the Potholder Cafe in Downtown Long Beach for breakfast Tuesday morning.
A hostess at the popular local spot said she noticed “people are loosening up a bit.”
But worries still remain.
Outer Limits Tattoo owner Kari Barba said she’s waiting for updated rules from the state on what’s required for employees before any changes to mask requirements, adding that it’s just easier to ask everyone to wear a mask until then.
The state’s occupational safety standards board most recently released guidance that said that employees could go maskless if everyone in the room was fully vaccinated, but adhering to that standard could create confusion and potentially alienate customers, Barba said.
“We didn’t want to go through that with everyone who walks in here, asking them if they’re vaccinated,” Barba said. “We didn’t want to embarrass anyone and do that. It’s just safer this way.”
Similarly, despite Tuesday’s milestone, the owner of the 562 Razor Barber Shop in Zaferia, Martin Ledesma, said he is still hesitant to lift masking requirements.
“It feels weird when someone is right behind you [without a mask],” he said. “It’s gonna take a while to get used to being around people without masks.”
Staff writers Jason Ruiz, Cheantay Jensen, Brandon Richardson, Alena Maschke, Anthony Pignataro and Kelly Puente contributed to this report.