Californians turn against each other amid 2nd coronavirus shutdown

Dee Lescault, owner of MUTI Hair Design Studio in Sola Salon Suites
Dee Lescault, owner of Muti Hair Design Studio in Costa Mesa, is having to close her studio again, which she reopened for only 13 days. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Dee Lescault got the bad news from her landlord. Her Costa Mesa hair salon had reopened on June 1 after being dark for months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, dealing a painful economic blow to the 66-year-old stylist. And now, Coronavirus Shutdown 2.0.

"Is it asking too much to wear a mask?" Lescault tweeted in a rush of anger. "You can't have a healthy economy without a healthy community. Get a clue please."

At least she said please. Social media exploded this week with furious, often expletive-laced outbursts after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that California must largely close for business yet again because of a spike in COVID-19 cases statewide that shows no sign of easing. On Tuesday, the state reported its largest one-day total of new cases, along with sharp jumps in hospitalizations and deaths.

Over the course of the four-month pandemic, Californians have focused their anger at the governor and other politicians, county health officials and the current resident of the White House. But now, in the early days of yet another shutdown, they are turning on each other like never before.

Because, when it comes to the coronavirus, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

The first shutdown was bad enough, throwing millions of workers out of jobs, canceling graduations and in-person June weddings and forcing families to bury loved ones without the solace of funeral services and the comforting embrace of supportive friends. Then George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, unleashing a nationwide flood of fury aimed at police brutality and systemic racism.

And now, the federal program that offered out-of-work people an extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits is about to end unless a divided Congress votes to re-up it. The California Employment Development Department, which handles unemployment claims, is overwhelmed. The struggling economy has just taken another body blow. And hundreds of thousands of parents will have to keep their children at home for remote learning for the foreseeable future.

And those people strolling toward you on the narrow sidewalk aren't wearing masks? What the ...?

"I'm angry with people that refuse to protect others," Lescault said Tuesday, as she and her partner went to collect plants and anything else they'd left behind at Muti Hair Design Studio. "They're being selfish and ignorant and they're not paying attention."

Nathan Mott is general manager of Built, a gym in Manhattan Beach that shut down this week by order of the state and is struggling to stay afloat. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Don't tell that to Bahre Freeman, a personal trainer at Built, a neighborhood gym in Manhattan Beach that shut down this week and is struggling to stay alive. "We're pissed off at Gov. Newsom," he said. "Small businesses are going to close that are never going to come back. ... Is this gym gonna be able to survive if they have 60 days more of no revenue?"

Virus-light traffic zipped by on Highland Avenue. Freeman tugged at a black bandanna that kept slipping down his nose. He talked about a client, a lawyer, who had to take a pay cut because of the pandemic and can no longer afford training sessions. He fumed at "cookie-cutter responses" to the coronavirus that he says punish everyone, whether they live in a particularly hard-hit area or not, whether they're following federal safety guidelines or not.

"I don't want to kill your grandma. I don't want to kill my mom," he said. But "everyone is under this notion that they're doing this" — shutdown orders and mask mandates — "to save us. But they're not looking at the long picture. The long picture is that small businesses will close. Only major conglomerates will be able to stay open."

The latest surge of infections began in the last month or so, as cities began reopening, restless virus shut-ins got tired of making sacrifices for the greater good, and people began socializing again, standing way too close at family dinners and outdoor barbecues, eschewing masks and inhaling each others' droplet-laden breath.

People have drinks and dine on the outdoor patio at La Boheme in West Hollywood. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

On Monday, Newsom announced that all restaurant dining rooms, bars, zoos and museums in California must close. And in counties that have spent more than three days on the state coronavirus watch list, the closures are even more widespread. Among the businesses that must close again are gyms, houses of worship, barbershops, hair salons and malls. Offices with nonessential workers also must shut their doors.

The watch list fluctuates from day to day, but in recent weeks it's been stubbornly long. On Wednesday, 32 counties were on it, including all of Southern California: Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

Twitter is not happy — #RecallGavin2020 has trended this week, and the social networking service has become a fulcrum of finger pointing.

"Just wear a [expletive] mask, people," actor Coby Ryan McLaughlin tweeted. "I wanna get back to work. I want my kid to be able to socialize at school. I wanna sit in a bar with my lady and have a drink. Stop being an [expletive]. Especially you, Florida. (And you, too, California)."

The show McLaughlin was on shut down because of the virus. He's unable to travel from his home in Los Angeles to Georgia, where he frequently works. His 9-year-old daughter will be learning from home in the fall because many school districts are keeping their campuses closed to help stop the virus' spread.

"Just wear a [expletive] mask, people," actor Coby Ryan McLaughlin tweeted. "I wanna get back to work.
"Just wear a [expletive] mask, people," actor Coby Ryan McLaughlin tweeted. "I wanna get back to work. (NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via)

"It really in my opinion shines a light on the amount of entitlement we have as a society," McLaughlin said. "Wear a mask, don't go to [expletive] house parties. Just chill out. Follow the rules for once and don't make it this huge political issue."

Those in the wear-a-mask camp got lots of pushback from conservative social media users who shared images of thousands of people converging on Hollywood for a Black Lives Matter march and demonstration in June.

"But the dems said we can’t get it at a protest," one user posted in response to a video of the massive protest. "Just the beach or a bar or restaurant. Home Depot and Walmart are safe."

The mask wars were fought this week in real life, too. On the same day Newsom announced the wider shutdown, the Orange County Board of Education voted to recommend schools reopen in the fall without mandatory masks for students or increased social distancing. The vote by the largely conservative board ignited an immediate uproar. As one antimask speaker at a subsequent Board of Supervisors meeting declared: “We here in Orange County are the heart of the resistance.”

On Tuesday night, Marciano Analco stood under the shade of an umbrella, scraping ice to make raspados, plastic cups filled with shaved ice in flavors like limón, tamarindo and strawberry. The 47-year-old, who wore gloves and a blue bandanna mask that looped around his ears, had been hired by a group called Defund South Gate Police Department, to serve protesters outside of South Gate city hall.

When the shut downs first began, Analco's business struggled. He had no choice but to work, to try and "at least sell a little." In recent weeks, things felt like they were starting to normalize. "Now, we're starting over," he said.

At times, while working, he said, he's encountered people who aren't wearing masks. It worries him for his own safety — Latinos are among the hardest hit by the virus. But he doesn't want to end up in a confrontation over it.

"People need to be following the rules," he said. "If masks are required, people need to use them. It's not comfortable, but we have to use it for the protection of everyone."

Bella Colbert couldn't agree more. She's 16, stayed mostly inside for the past four months and kept sane by looking ahead to school in the fall. To real classrooms for her junior year at Glendora High. Actual teachers instead of Zoom replicas. Friends.

Now, however, that's not going to happen. On Tuesday her school district announced that distance learning would continue next month with plans to move to an in-person hybrid model when it's safe. Colbert isn't mad at the school district, she said. She's mad at the world.

"Summer should have been spent by making the best efforts to decrease the curve and spread of coronavirus, to allow future generations of our society to earn an education as everyone else," the Glendora teen said. "Instead, it was spent by disobeying orders and spreading a plague of death that could've been prevented..."

Or as UC San Francisco epidemiologist and infectious-diseases expert Dr. George Rutherford put it: "I think wearing a mask and trying to follow a few simple things isn't the end of the world. We're not signaling the end of Western civilization here. This is pretty benign stuff."

Out of 36 people Rutherford saw on the street while driving home Tuesday, he said, only seven were wearing masks.

"What the hell is going on?" he asked. "Wear masks, period. That's it. You walk out of your house, have a mask on."