Filipino parents, business owners weigh in on masks, social distancing ahead of CA reopening

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

WITH the grand reopening day of California less than a week away, Californians may start to feel that life is back-to-normal after more than a year of coronavirus-related lockdowns and restrictions.

After 15 months of public health restrictions and wavering instructions from officials, the state-mandated COVID-19 guidelines will come to an end on Tuesday, June 15. That means that Californians can expect things to look relatively normal again.

While masks won’t be required in a lot of places for fully vaccinated people, they still will be required in certain public settings.

According to the state’s “Beyond the Blueprint,” on June 15 and beyond, masks will still be required on public transit (planes, ships, trains, buses, ride-shares, etc), transportation hubs (airports, terminals, train stations, etc), indoors at K-12 schools and child care facilities and all health care and long-term care settings and clinics.

Masks will also be required at state and local correctional facilities and detention centers as well as homeless shelters and cooling centers.

Counties will still have the option to impose their own public health guidelines and restrictions, but only if they’re stricter than what the state is requiring.

For Los Angeles County residents, the grand reopening is a great sigh of relief; however, many are unsure of how to go about normal life after a tumultuous 15 months of confusion, fear and uncertainty.

The county was once the hub of coronavirus cases and death surges, but this week, it announced that it would be aligning with the state’s June 15 reopening.

Filipina American Aida Tolentino has been waiting for this day since the first day of lockdown back in March 2020. An accountant and mother of two in Lakewood, California, Tolentino noted the pandemic’s effect on her children and feels that the grand re-opening of the state is the start of returning to normalcy.

“My kids are teens so it’s been hard on them not being able to go out and see their friends,” Tolentino told the Asian Journal in a recent interview. “They’ve been really good about being careful about social distancing and masks, but I can tell they were struggling.”

Tolentino said that she and her husband made efforts to implement stay-at-home activities and games to keep their teens occupied, but there’s no alternative to actual socialization. Her children will resume in-person learning in the fall, but she wants them to be prepared for in-person interactions and socialization.

When it comes to wearing masks, she said that her family will still continue to wear masks when in indoor public places like movie theaters, gyms and malls — places that may not require people to wear masks at all times but are usually crowded.

“To be honest, I think we’re just used to the masks at this point. This past year made me realize how effective they are since nobody in my family, thankfully, got sick at all. So come June 15, I don’t see us, at least my family, discontinuing masks or social distancing cold turkey,” Tolentino shared.

Tolentino’s family is all vaccinated, but she said that she is still apprehensive about possible COVID exposure and infection, especially given that only about half of the state is fully vaccinated among those who are eligible for shots.

In a press conference on Thursday, June 10, Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services, said that 54% of eligible people in the state are fully vaccinated. Ghaly said that those who aren’t fully vaccinated would still have to wear masks at all indoor settings and businesses.

It’s unclear how that will be monitored because Ghaly said that the state is “not requiring businesses to, for example, have somebody at the door checking for vaccine status as a way to comply.”

Noting that a vast chunk of the state is not yet vaccinated, including those aged 12 and under who have not been cleared for any of the vaccines, Ghaly reminded residents to be mindful of potentially unvaccinated friends, family members, neighbors and people they interact with in public.

“We know that the risk for COVID-19 exposure and infection will remain in California until we reach higher levels of community immunity, we know that about 15% of our population across the state — those are young people under the age of 12 — are not themselves eligible to be vaccinated,” Ghaly explained. “So we have a whole cohort of Californians who remain susceptible.”

Meanwhile, businesses still have the power to enforce social distancing requirements, capacity limits and closures, according to the state’s amended coronavirus guidelines.

Liza Fernandez, a Filipina American independent hairstylist and makeup artist based in Rancho Cucamonga, said that June 15 will change neither her public safety protocol nor her business practices.

Fernandez, who travels to clients in need of her services, said that she is still only seeing fully vaccinated clients and chooses to wear a mask while working; she also asks her clients to wear masks when appropriate.

“For those of us in the beauty industry who provide grooming services, we’ve had the strangest year,” Fernandez told the Asian Journal. “I know a few others who work like me and go see clients independently — meaning we don’t work in a salon — we’ve had a lot more freedom with what we could do.”

Throughout the pandemic, Fernandez has been seeing clients in their driveways and backyards. She’s recently started providing indoor services, but she doesn’t see herself deviating from pandemic-related practices yet.

“My clientele has been very respectful of my guidelines and rules and so far they have been honoring my decision to stick with these rules,” Fernandez said, noting that her clientele is majority-Asian.

“I still do the same sanitizing practices as I did in the early pandemic and I think my clients appreciate that. In this line of work, being clean and organized is essential, and with the pandemic and everything, it’s made a lot of us even more careful,” Fernandez said.

Mirroring Fernandez’s sentiments, Gina Medina-Torres of Ontario, California, said that she and her family have been slowly going to public places again. But like so many Californians, they are still on the fence about some of the lifted restrictions.

“We have been going out to restaurants and bars, but we still try to be as careful as possible: wear masks unless you’re eating, choose an outside table if you can, bring hand sanitizer and stand a good distance away from others,” Medina-Torres told the Asian Journal, noting that her husband is vaccinated but her children (all of whom are under 12 years old) are not.

“It’s still up in the air for us since they [her children] are not vaccinated yet. They could be a carrier or they could even get sick and it’s just best not to risk it. I think it’s great that the state is opening up again, but I hope that doesn’t give people the idea that we can just be irresponsible,” Medina-Torres shared.

Klarize Medenilla

Klarize Medenilla is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at k.medenilla@asianjournalinc.com.

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