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'It's about the community': Lompoc residents express support for face-covering mandate
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'It's about the community': Lompoc residents express support for face-covering mandate

As Amber Meyers approached the entrance to the Vons supermarket in Lompoc late Tuesday morning, she adjusted her cloth face covering to ensure it was in its proper position.

Meyers, like most of the other patrons, complied with the store’s request that all shoppers wear the coverings as a way to limit the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Although Meyers noted that her mask often causes her glasses to fog, she said those brief moments are a small price to pay.

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“I don’t think it’s too big of a restriction on everybody to try to help everyone else out,” she said. “It’s not about you; it’s about the community.”

That outlook — of the greater good outweighing individual feelings — proved to be popular among other community members in the final hours before face coverings went from recommended to required for most communal areas.

The city of Lompoc followed the lead of Santa Barbara County on Tuesday and, like other cities in the county, began mandating that most people wear face coverings while in public spaces. The order, which became effective at 5 p.m. Tuesday, is set to continue through June 30, unless it is modified before then.

Mayor Jenelle Osborne, who has worn masks during public meetings since the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up locally in March, noted the city’s new mandate is part of the county’s plan to mitigate infections as more places — such as retail stores, restaurants, government offices and churches — reopen after extended closures.

“I wear and recommend a mask to protect others who are or may be vulnerable, and not myself,” said Osborne, who is participating in the county’s "Protect. Respect. Wear Your Mask." campaign.

“Unfortunately, every day there is a possibility I may be infected and yet show no signs of COVID-19,” she added. “I would be very upset to learn that I had transmitted it to someone when a simple thing such as wearing a mask can protect other’s health and assist in reopening our county.”

The new county and city mandate does not apply to children younger than 13. Further, masks with one-way valves that permit easy exhalation cannot be used to comply with the order. Violation of the order could constitute a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, jail time, or both.

The Lompoc City Council on Tuesday night voted 5-0 to use about $2.3 million that the city has in clean energy credits to provide a one-time $150 rebate to each of the city’s residential and commercial electric customers. The move was made in an attempt to financially assist community members who may be experiencing hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meyers, who moved to Lompoc this month, said some of her siblings were hospitalized in Nevada due to COVID-19. Between those familial struggles and preparing for her new job at an assisted-living facility, Meyers said she considers the face masks to be very important.

“I’m all about this now,” she said, pointing to her own face covering.

Norman Skau, who works at Lompoc Valley Medical Center’s Comprehensive Care Center, said he felt the city made the right move to require the coverings. Skau, 61, said he was particularly concerned about a second wave of the virus re-emerging later in the year.

“Like people in a grocery store — they’re spitting all over the food product, they’re spitting on each other,” he said. “Normally that’d be fine. But because of the virus and [the fact] you don’t know that you have symptoms for up to 48 hours before [symptoms show], I just feel it’s safer.”

Don Rojas noted that he hasn’t enjoyed wearing a mask while performing his job duties at McDonald’s, but he said he didn’t have a problem with the city mandate.

“It’s super-hot in there and I find it irritating,” he said of wearing the mask at work, “but if this is to better the whole community, I guess it’s cool.”

Some groups of people around the state and country have pushed back against being required to wear the face coverings, with many of them disputing whether an ordinary — non-N95 or surgical mask — face covering actually provides the level of safety that the wearer may assume it does.

Lompoc resident Chris Barclay said Tuesday that such arguments miss what he feels should be atop the priority list during this pandemic.

“The biggest thing, I think, is that we should do whatever we can to make people feel comfortable, our feelings aside,” he said. “There’s a lot of fear going around and if we can help people be less afraid, that’s what we should do. [Wearing masks] could be one of the things, but maybe telling a joke or trying to make somebody smile, letting somebody get ahead of you in line, looking out for the elderly — I think that’s the most important thing.”

Barclay noted he had a simple reason for using a mask: “I’ve noticed people feel better when I'm wearing one, so that’s why I do it." 

Although Deborah Davidson lives in San Luis Obispo County, the delivery driver treks to Lompoc five days a week for her job. She is hopeful the mandate will lead to more people wearing face coverings. 

“They’re subjecting themselves and other people to possibly getting COVID,” she said of people who don’t wear masks. “[The mandate is] a great idea and it should stay in place for a while, until they feel that we’re past the epidemic part of it.”

According to the order initially issued by Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg, businesses must require all employees, contractors, owners and volunteers to wear face masks while in the workplace and at off-site work locations. Exceptions are made for some situations.

Tracy Brenner, who owns a cannabis dispensary in Lompoc, said she doesn't particularly care for the face coverings — “I don’t like that I can’t see people’s faces” — and said she felt like the fear of COVID-19 may have exceeded its actual danger.

Still, she said she'd comply with wearing a mask in public and was hopeful others would do the same.

“I do it because I’ve got to follow the rules," she said. "If people feel safer with them, that’s great."

Coronavirus Series: Local impact and reaction to COVID-19 on the Central Coast

We are working hard to get answers about the impact and reaction to the coronavirus in Santa Barbara County, this is a collection of those stories. Do you have a question about coronavirus in Santa Barbara County? The Santa Maria Times news staff will work to answer your questions. Post them to our Facebook page, or email MCooley@SantaMariaTimes.com.  You can support the work of local journalists working hard in your hometown by signing up for a News+ Membership online

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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