Retail workers prepare as Sacramento CA indoor mask mandate ends

California’s universal indoor mask mandate has once again been lifted for vaccinated residents. But with the coronavirus still present in Sacramento County, customers, workers and business owners now face a patchwork of masking rules and etiquette.

Some businesses have already started letting vaccinated customers and workers come in without masks, going by an honor system. But others are choosing to maintain their indoor face coverings policy.

“California may have changed their rules, but we haven’t,” Refillery and lifestyle store Of Land and Sea in Oak Park posted on social media Tuesday.

Many are still deciding whether to change their indoor policy, and to what. While California and Sacramento County have lifted the universal mask mandate, individual businesses can implement their own restrictions.

Throughout the pandemic, essential workers such as grocery store clerks and retail sales people have been some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19. For disproportionately low-wage workers of color, some are in positions requiring they interact with hundreds of customers and coworkers each day.

Though vaccine availability assuaged some concerns, highly transmissible variants like omicron pushed COVID-19 cases to unprecedented heights in Sacramento, infecting both boosted and unvaccinated residents. Now, major retailers like Walmart and Amazon are shedding their face covering rules for vaccinated workers.

COVID-19 “still poses a genuine risk to those who work in public spaces,” said Jacques Loveall, president of UFCW8-Golden State, a union representing grocery workers in California.

“The fatigue citizens have in coping with the pandemic have led to what is perhaps a premature elimination of mask mandates,” Loveall said in a statement. “Nevertheless, we continue to advocate wearing masks as a means to protect ourselves and others.”

Adolfo Elisandro, a worker at LUSH at Arden Fair mall, said customers are currently required to wear a mask and sanitize their hands before entering. Employees haven’t been told those safety measures are going away just yet — which Elisandro said is a relief.

Elisandro’s sister and close friend both got COVID-19 recently. He is trying to keep a positive outlook, but “when I think about it too much, I do get scared.”

“My friends and my family all think it’s a little too soon (to lift masking requirements),” Elisandro said. “But there is not much you can do about that.”

California has been here before.

Last summer, the state briefly lifted its universal indoor mask mandate. But a little over a month later, as the delta variant of the coronavirus surged across the state, Sacramento County issued a new health order in July requiring masks inside. While local health officials had hoped to eventually lift the order in the fall, cases skyrocketed during the winter due to the omicron variant.

The still-high level of COVID-19 cases in Sacramento County are what’s stopping Birkenstock Midtown co-owner Toni Budworth from changing their indoor masking rules. She said Tuesday that the store will still require customers and staff to wear masks regardless of the state’s new guidance.

“I’ve been looking back to when we were required to have fewer people at the store (and) when we were limiting how many people could be inside, the case rate was this high,” Budworth said. “So it seems strange not to have any limitations.”

The seven-day average case rate in Sacramento County is about 38 cases per 100,000 — a similar level to surge levels last summer, and higher than summer 2020. During the peak surge this winter, the weekly average case rate was more than 245 cases per 100,000.

Budworth said the store is trying to be accommodating to all customers. People who show up without a mask will be offered one, or they can have their fitting outside.

“I’ve had customers this weekend ask if we would still require masks this week, and when I told them yes they said, ‘Oh, thank goodness,’ “ Budworth said. “I’m sure not everyone feels that way … but far more people have been grateful about the mask wearing.”

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers equity issues in the Sacramento region. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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