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San Diegans frustrated on first day of California's mask mandate

Wednesday was the first day California’s new mask mandate goes into effect. But are people complying and how are front-line workers dealing with the mandate? KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado spoke with local shoppers and the union that represents thousands of retail employees to find out.

It’s the week before Christmas. Shoppers on Wednesday are busy preparing for the holidays and now they are required to wear masks indoors, in public places, regardless of vaccination status.

People may be divided on mask-wearing but both sides are frustrated.

"I’m absolutely sick of it," said San Diegan Drew Williamson while shopping at his local Vons. "I mean, at this point, it’s like, 'What are we doing here?' You know, until someone makes me do it I’m not going to do it,"


He said he won't patronize a store where masks are enforced. But others saw it differently.

"The pandemic is still around. People are dying," said Fatoumata Aw, adding that it's upsetting to see people standoff with employees over masks. "I don’t know why people complain about it. If masks help with this threat, everybody must do it to keep everybody safe."

Discarded mask
Carlos Castillo / KPBS
A discarded mask in grocery store parking lot in San Diego, Dec. 15, 2021.

Grocery and retail employees are often put in awkward situations having to enforce mandates, and that is a problem, said Todd Walters, the president of Local 135 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The UFCW represents 10,000 grocery, drugstore and retail workers in San Diego County.

"Our members are just as frustrated with COVID and the pandemic as everybody else. They have no choice. They can’t work from home," Walters said. "With this new mask mandate, they're stuck in the middle between people that are probably frustrated and angry, who don’t want to wear masks. Yet our workers are the ones on the front lines that are having to see those folks when they’re angry and it’s not their fault."


Retail workers are already being hit hard by this COVID-19 wave, he said. Just in the last two months, about four members have died from the virus, case numbers are up by a third and they’re bringing it home to their families

"So, it’s very real to them and I just think the public needs to understand that it’s not their fault," Walters said. "Please don’t take it out on them. We’re all on them. If you’re asked to wear the mask just put it on."

Cal/OSHA, the state agency that regulates workplace safety, will soon decide whether to impose fines on businesses that do not enforce the rule on employees.