Los Angeles County reinstituted a mask mandate Saturday night for public indoor settings in response to the Delta variant spreading throughout the area, leaving business owners indignant and exhausted by the mixed messaging.
"As of midnight on Saturday, it is a reality. So anybody in L.A. County has, whether you're vaccinated or not, has to wear a mask if you're indoors. So that is now our reality, our new reality," Angela Marsden, owner of the Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill in Sherman Oaks, Calif., told Fox News. The restaurant owner made heads and hearts turn with her viral video criticizing California’s double standard on its COVID restrictions last winter, and once again she said she's choosing to defend her community from government overreach.
The reverse in policy comes despite 61% of the county’s residents already being fully vaccinated.
"We had basically one month of complete freedom of being able to be indoors and not have to wear a mask," she said.
In many respects, California is ground zero for the government’s COVID-19 vaccine messaging, as officials continue to implore and incentivize their constituents that it will save their own lives and the lives of others. But Marsden said the response many of her patrons have to the ever-shifting regulations is nothing but confusion and angst.
"It's creating anger. It's creating confusion. And, you know, the funny thing is, is it creates more vaccine hesitancy, in my opinion," she said. "I don't understand the inconsistency, the confusion and the fear baiting that is basically being used by our leadership."
Marsden recounted numerous conversations with other restaurant employees in which they said they believe the move to force vaccinated citizens to mask-up is subverting trust in their efficacy. One described having panic attacks at the possibility of not being protected; another expressed anger from not knowing what to believe about the contagion’s threat.
"He was so filled with angst and frustration and confusion, no clarity whatsoever," Marsden said,
She added, "Everyone’s very volatile. People are on edge like I’ve never seen them before."
Vaccine distrust is not only to blame, but the rising inflation rates witnessed throughout the country as well. Even though businesses are open to full capacity and regular hours, it doesn’t make up for the staggering amount of lost revenue during the pandemic. Marsden said that most restaurants are either breaking even or taking losses despite lifted restrictions over the past few months.
"If we could sell our businesses today, we would, but there is nothing to sell," she said.
It's also been difficult to hire new hands, according to Marsden.
"We can’t get people to work," she said, explaining how many who previously worked in kitchens and dining rooms have moved on to corporate positions where remote work is possible. Those who do apply but ultimately defer the job offer tell Marsden they’ll simply wait until the pandemic has fully subsided before returning to work, complaining about the county’s renewed mask mandate.
To add insult to injury, those who do come to work make $13-$14 an hour under California’s minimum wage law, allowing servers to average $80-$100 per hour with tips.
"My employees make more money than I do," Marsden said.
The pandemic’s shockwave is still sending ripple effects through seemingly every individual and industry, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, open or closed; but many like Marsden believe the pathway to relief is not paved with government interference.
"I don’t understand why [the government] can’t make up their mind!" Marsden said. "I want them to quit interfering with our businesses and let us make our own decisions."
Despite fearing another shutdown, Marsden chose to persevere through the government’s messaging tango and renewed restrictions.
"I love my staff. I love my business," she said. A handful of employees have been at the Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill since the late 1970s, and Marsden said she considers them like family.
For Marsden, the hope lies in her community.
"If more of us stay and try to make change, it’s [going to happen,]" she said.