Return to Bay Area mask wars on day one of new coronavirus warrants


SAN JOSE – When the two unmasked men walked into the Recycle bookstore and pulled out their smartphone cameras, acting store manager Ryan Cage knew exactly what he wanted to do.

– Here we go, he said aloud. “You have to put on a mask or you can’t be in the store.”

These days, apparently, these are fighting words.

Over the next half hour, insults flew, captured and uploaded by both sides.

The social media showdown over the store’s mask tenure was the latest in an ongoing cultural war against COVID-19 that escalated Tuesday – the first day of the Bay’s latest mask requirements Area to combat an increase in infections of the highly contagious delta variant.

The anti-mask campaign has continued in recent weeks, also targeting the LEGO store and the Disney store at Valley Fair Mall in San Jose. Both stores already had their own mask mandates as children under 12 are not eligible for vaccination. Larger protests, some with several dozen people, have erupted in Los Angeles County in recent weeks, including at Century City Mall where anti-masks carried signs and store workers locked doors.

“It’s terrifying to work in retail now,” Cage said. “How much trauma are we supposed to go through? We are just trying to make money for our families.

At Recycle Books, during the altercation filmed on Friday, exasperated clerk Fern Alberts asked the men to “stop playing with people who have to do this for a living.”

“Do you have to be a masked Nazi to make a living?” One of the men asked, laughing.

“I am worried about my health,” she said.

“Are you really? Where’s your hazmat suit?” He replied.

The men posted the video on a YouTube channel and called it “Nazi mask of the working class becomes NUTS”.

While debates over masks often boil down to personal freedom from public health, the confrontations a year and a half after the start of the pandemic have become nothing less than political theater. At the bookstore, one of the men picked up a book on Karl Marx and waved it around.

For Cage, the whole experience was dehumanizing.

“They see you as an accessory. You are used to giving them more social capital or Internet capital, ”he said. “There is no penalty. When we said, “Look, we’ll call the cops,” they were like, “We don’t care.” “

Recycle Books kept its own mask mandate intact, even after California abandoned most of its pandemic restrictions, including mask rules, on June 15.

But now, again, they and other companies have no choice.

The region’s latest mask warrant went into effect Tuesday in seven Bay Area counties – Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Sonoma – after an increase in the number of new cases and new research has shown that vaccinated people can spread the virus.

At Valley Fair Tuesday afternoon, where signs were displayed in many stores, most shoppers complied and wore masks. Those who didn’t either were either surprised by the ever-evolving mask mandates or deliberately challenged them.

At Nordstrom, neither James Taylar nor Danette Meachem wore masks when browsing the sunglasses case.

“We got vaccinated for a reason: to stop wearing a mask,” Meachem said.

“I am vaccinated,” Taylar added. “I feel like I’ve done my part.

They both work out, take zinc and vitamin C tablets every day, and are skeptical of any research that shows they are at risk of getting sick or transmitting COVID-19.

They do not tolerate bullying by anti-masks, and they wear their masks to put them on when asked. The Nordstrom clerk in the sunglasses case, who was wearing a mask, said she was not about to do a scene and would leave any execution to store security.

Anna Okruashvili, 22, was also not wearing a mask as she walked through the lobby of the mall to the exit. She wasn’t aware of the new rules inside.

“I thought it was OK not to wear it if we are far from each other,” she said. “If I was in a small space, I would wear it.”

She is pregnant and unvaccinated, she said, and is convinced that she will avoid the virus because “it is about your immune system and leading a healthy life.”

In the days leading up to the anti-mask activists’ visit to LEGO and Disney stores, several other children’s stores in the same wing at Valley Fair received anonymous phone calls from people asking them about their mask policies. .

“We are paid minimum wage. Don’t harass teens, “said a Build-a-Bear shop worker, who declined to name her because she feared conservative groups would harass or” dox “her online. .

Last Friday’s meeting with the men without masks from Recycle Books was the second time that employees had been accosted there. Two days earlier, two women arrived with computer printouts they said validated their challenge, what Cage called “legal gibberish.”

Their only purpose, he said, is “to get pictures. They want us to look bad. They want to have their clips so they do everything to harass us and make us react. “

The group called Easy Believism on YouTube could not be reached on Tuesday, but in a statement to ABC7 News he said he was encouraging like-minded anti-masks to follow his lead in others. retail establishments and to use as an excuse that they are medically exempt from wearing masks. The group said they don’t believe in the science that masks can protect people.

“We’re not saying COVID isn’t real. At this point, we are against mask warrants, ”the statement said, adding“ we are not against anyone, we are just against lies ”.

Since the confrontation, Recycle Books has received massive support from its customers, who are not surprised that the store has been targeted.

“We’re a liberal bookstore,” Cage said. “It’s going to be full of people reading the studies, dressing up and doing what they can. They saw it as a perfect opportunity to uplift people. “

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