As Nevada County businesses reopen, mask requirements cause strife | TheUnion.com
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As Nevada County businesses reopen, mask requirements cause strife

As “Open” signs are popping on and businesses are steadily reopening their doors, doing so with COVID-19 social distancing and safety precautions in place, one issue seems to be causing more strife than others — masks.

Along with common measures like maintaining 6 feet of distance, frequently washing hands and not engaging in unnecessary physical contact, masks are being strongly encouraged in COVID-19 safety info sheets hanging in many storefront windows.

That encouragement got sterner last week when Gov. Gavin Newsom put in place a mask mandate amid a rise in cases across the state.

Several local businesses are trying to follow that mandate, but some have run into various degrees of backlash from patrons.

“More than half of our customers every day are really upset about it,” said Victoria Vignau, manager at Lazy Dog Chocolateria on Grass Valley’s Mill Street. “It’s hard. You just got to have your customer service voice on, and the customer is always right kind of thing. You have to be kind, and sometimes that’s hard because they don’t want to hear it. The people who feel like they don’t need to wear masks, they are very passionate about it and get in your face about it. It’s hard, because you want your customers to come back and be happy with their experience.

“It’s a tough position, because it’s not our fault. We don’t want to make them do it, but it’s what we have to do to stay open.”

When the mandate first went into place June 18, SPD Market in Grass Valley attempted to draw a hard stance when it came to requiring their customers to wear a mask, but the policy became contentious very quickly.

“We do have it posted on the door, per the governor’s order, that face masks are required to come in here,” said store manager Greg Wasley. “We do know there are certain restrictions that some people don’t have to wear a mask, i.e. medical conditions or breathing conditions or whatever else. We will not ask people who don’t have a mask if they have a medical condition. That’s none of our business.

“We are expecting people to treat everybody in the store, employees and customers, with respect. … We’re trying to work with everybody, but we know everyone has different values.”

DIFFERING RESPONSES

Not all businesses are being met by the same amount of backlash as others.

The Book Seller in Grass Valley strongly encourages masks, and store manager Angie Kelsey has found most customers are accepting of the policy.

“For the most part, I’ve seen the community is pretty accepting of these parameters,” Kelsey said. “I haven’t had anybody have any issues with anything. I don’t know if I’ve been living in a bubble, but it’s been kind of nice, because I haven’t had any problems.”

For many business owners and their staff, they are just taking it one day at time and doing the best they can to stay up on an evolving set of guidelines.

“It’s ever going,” said Wasley. “Talking to customers, trying to educate them (on our policies), keeping our employees educated on what’s changing with the county, the health department or the state or whatever, and keeping everyone’s morale up. … It’s been a challenge. A real challenge.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (like grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

Robin Davies, CEO of the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, said for the most part member businesses are in compliance and following the guidance set forth by county and state health departments. Davies also urged kindness and respect between those on opposite sides of the mask debate.

“We’re a small community. What happened to our kindness, our community kindness?” Davies said. “This community has always had a big heart and embraced each other, our quality of life, our style of living and we’ve embraced our diversity. We’re all passionate about our community, we have very diverse perspectives and we’re passionate about our perspectives. But when it comes down to the bottom line, we all want what’s best for our community, it’s just that we have diverse perspectives.”

Nevada City Mayor Reinette Senum made headlines locally and in the Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle after a social media post that questioned the governor’s authority to mandate masks be worn in public.

“As you go about your day today, KNOW there is NO LAW that Orders you to Wear a Mask. Our Governor does NOT have that unilateral power to make such orders. While I know the HEADLINES over the last couple days have stated something entirely different, that is because journalism is dead,” Senum said in the post to her personal Facebook page, which was accompanied by a YouTube video. “Again, THERE IS NO LAW THAT STATES YOU MUST WEAR A MASK. Ask our local Police chief or officers. They will not, and cannot, cite ANYBODY for not wearing a mask because the law does not exist.”

The statement has received both condemnation and support on social media.

‘UNMASKED VERSUS MASKED’

Owners of lodging establishments in Nevada City have said Senum’s statement does not represent the community as a whole and has caused concern for potential patrons.

“We have received emails from people who live in the Bay Area, and have been following the protocols, who are concerned that Nevada City is following the guidance of our mayor, and are not willing to risk the safety of their family to come to a community that is not taking the COVID precautions seriously,” said Outside Inn and Inn Town Campground owner Erin Thiem.

Deer Creek Inn owner Ruth Poulter has received similar emails and one cancellation that she said was in part due to Senum’s statement. Poulter estimated the Inn suffered a $45,000 loss in revenue during the months they were shut down, and noted things have been slow since they reopened.

“That income is gone, absolutely gone, and for someone in her position to make a comment like that, that is going to hurt local business, it just blows your mind,” said Poulter, who noted the Deer Creek Inn is following COVID-19 safety precautions and health department mandates.

Thiem wants her potential customers to know, “We believe in what we do; we have led by example in how we have approached the public health mandates from the get go. We will continue to do that and we want our customers to know we’re taking every precaution necessary to meet the best interests of not only their needs, but our needs, the staff’s needs and the community’s needs.”

The Nevada City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cathy Whittlesey said she hasn’t had any business complain about mask backlash, but stated the chamber is urging businesses to follow the governor’s order.

Senum said the mask situation is “a highly complicated matter” during a Wednesday phone interview.

“We have the county that is forcing businesses to be the mask police, which is a terrible place to put them in,” she said. “It’s an awful position. We are now also creating a petri dish of vigilante’s on these Facebook groups and they are targeting businesses. It is unmasked versus masked. I’m seeing the hostility going both ways.”

Senum said the solution comes down to giving local leaders the decision-making power.

“We bring the local control back to us,” she said. “We bring the authority (to us). So we can have our decision making done right here in our own hands, the policy making in our own hands. We can’t do that anymore, so of course we’re going to have this, because guess what? The policies that the state and governor are making do not fit our needs.”

Grass Valley Mayor Lisa Swarthout denounced Senum’s social media statement and called for people to be kind to each other during Tuesday’s Grass Valley City Council meeting.

“I’m going to end this discussion with the same thing I have been putting out to people for the last however many weeks,” Swarthout said near the meeting’s end. “Wear a mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing and please be kind to one another. We’re just getting back on our feet in downtown Grass Valley and some of our businesses are actually quite busy because there is a lot of pent up demand for people to be shopping, so please be respectful.

“If someone asks you to wear a mask in their store, if you choose not to shop in that store because of it, please don’t stand at the door and yell at them. It really serves no purpose, it’s embarrassing and creates a lot of ill will. I find it hard to believe that the hill we’re willing to die on is masks; there are so many more important things in the world. So please be kind.”

To contact staff writer Walter Ford, email wford@theunion.com or call 530-477-4232.


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