Businesses, Individuals Clash Over Mask Rules

Image courtesy Sebastian Gurdel
A recent video showing a group of demonstrators trying to get inside the Burbank IKEA without wearing face coverings has been viewed nearly 4,000 times. After several members were allowed inside, the group moved on to hold another demonstration at a local Trader Joe’s, which closed during the protest.

Burbank’s recent announcement that face covering requirements would be enforced with fines was an initiative prompted by community outcry. But while many residents applaud the city for its actions, not everyone is pleased.
Operating largely on social media, some members of the Burbank community have argued against the move, or mask rules in general. A now-deleted Facebook post by Burbank eatery Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill gained attention from residents and news media for its fiery response to the city’s announcement.
“The Burbank City Council is hiring Mall Cops to enforce this mask mandate because the AMAZING BURBANK PD is refusing to enforce this,” the post read. “WE WILL NOT BOW DOWN TO THREATS & FEARS and WE STAND AGAINST the Burbank City Council and their unconstitutional … act.”

Burbank officials recently announced they were contracting with Willdan Engineering to issue citations to those who refuse to don a mask when asked to so. Fines start at $100 and can be as much as $500 after several citations.
The Burbank Police Department and its union have previously told the City Council that they worry that having sworn personnel handle enforcement of face-covering rules, which come mainly from Los Angeles County and state officials, would be a strain on resources and create tension between the public and the police. The discussion led to the city contracting with Willdan, which also provides a similar service for Hermosa Beach.
Baret Lepejian, owner of Tinhorn Flats, said in a phone interview that though he agrees that the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions should wear masks, he believes requiring face coverings to be worn outdoors is “criminal.”
“The City Council should really, really, really be ashamed of themselves,” he said. “I don’t know what their end goal is, outside of control and fear, but this has nothing to do with public safety.”
The overwhelming consensus from medical experts and academic organizations is that face coverings, particularly cloth and surgical masks, can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus when worn correctly. A county health order requires people to wear face coverings when there is a potential of coming in contact with others not in the same household.
Many Burbank residents have voiced support for the city’s enforcement of mask rules, with hundreds signing a petition asking the city to pursue the initiative. In interviews, multiple residents depicted mask-wearing as a patriotic habit or an act of service.
“By wearing a face mask, I’m telling you and showing you that I care about you and I want you to stay healthy,” Katie Ward said via phone. “And for those people who believe it is an affront of civil rights, I just don’t feel they have a complete understanding of what their rights are and the people whose rights are really being infringed upon.”
Ward, who will celebrate being a decade cancer-free in November, added, “I didn’t make it through these past 10 years to just get taken out by a totally, completely preventable virus.”
Lepejian said that, while his staff members wear masks and gloves, he won’t pressure customers to. He added that, though many people have encouraged a boycott of his restaurant, the controversy hasn’t affected his business.

For the most part, opposition to face coverings appears to be sparse and unorganized — and, when public, quickly condemned. But recently, a small group held demonstrations at local Burbank businesses over the requirement.
On Oct. 11 — nearly a week before the city’s new enforcement went into effect — roughly a dozen protestors approached the Burbank IKEA, aiming to enter the business without wearing face coverings. According to Capt. Denis Cremins of the BPD, who briefed the City Council on the incident later that week, police met with the demonstrators to explain their First Amendment rights and the store’s position on face-covering requirements.
According to the IKEA website and signs reportedly posted in the area, all customers are required to wear a face covering to enter the store.
Several of the demonstrators claimed they had medical exemptions to the face-covering requirement, Cremins explained, and were allowed to enter the store.
The county health order allows a face covering exemption for people who have been told not to wear one by a medical professional.
A video that has been posted to YouTube under an account named “Sebastian Gurdel” appears to show part of the demonstration. In the video, a group of unmasked people — several of them wearing “Make America Great Again” hats — approach and talk with IKEA employees outside the building.
After about two minutes, several of the group members were allowed to enter the store. One woman shouted something at the crowd, but was quickly drowned out by a chorus of booing from other customers in line.
“Folks, we are ensuring that everyone is [temperature] checked and social distancing,” one of the IKEA workers can be heard saying, addressing a small crowd of onlookers.
The demonstration was a “nonevent” after the group members entered the store, according to Cremins, with the demonstrators leaving soon after.
About two hours later, he added, most of the same group appeared at a Trader Joe’s on East Alameda Avenue. Instead of letting the demonstrators into the business without masks, the managers closed the store while the roughly three-hour protest was held.
The demonstrations were peaceful and police made no arrests, according to BPD spokesman Sgt. Derek Green.
But the person who filmed the video of the IKEA demonstration said he was frustrated with both the people who refused to wear face coverings and the business’ management. Corey Dobbs, who asked to be identified by his alias out of retribution from anti-mask activists, said in a phone interview that he didn’t see IKEA personnel taking the demonstrators’ temperature.
Dobbs also argued that, because many people who have COVID-19 are asymptomatic, someone could have a normal temperature and still spread the virus.
It appeared, he added, that the demonstrators believed “their freedom is more important than our lives, that the mild inconvenience of wearing a mask is such an encumbrance to them that they feel they need to come and demonstrate.”

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