For print only.

Residents react to new mask rules

Rossmoorians adapt to having to mask up again for indoor events

By Sam Richards

Staff writer

Friday, Aug. 6 (12:05 p.m.): It was a lovely, albeit warm, Tuesday when about a dozen people found the cool of dimly lit Peacock Hall for a 1 p.m. showing of “Training Day,” starring Denzel Washington.

All of them were wearing face masks, in accordance with a new county health order issued in response to the growing spread of the delta variant of COVID-19. A week earlier, they wouldn’t have had to wear them.

“It’s a necessary evil – I’m not happy about it, but there’s nothing I can do about it – I’m just trying to conform to the rules,” said Larry Radden, as he and his wife, Rosie, settled in to watch the movie. He said he had played pickleball earlier in the day at the Fitness Center and got “fatigued” because his mask hampered his breathing.

“I’m hoping things don’t get worse,” Radden said.

Indeed, slowing the rate of spread of the far more contagious “delta variant” of the COVID-19 virus is why, on Aug. 2, health officials from Contra Costa County – as well as Alameda, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties – issued health orders requiring all people, whether or not they’ve been vaccinated, to wear masks in indoor public spaces. The order took effect at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 3.

At the same time, the same Bay Area health officials implored anyone 12 and older who hasn’t already received a COVID-19 vaccine to do so as soon as possible.

And just as with residents in the rest of Contra Costa County, Rossmoorians will now have to mask up to go to the gym, see a movie, go to a restaurant (except while actually eating) or hold meetings in public spaces.

The masking order was in response to rising infection and hospitalization rates in the Bay Area as the COVID-19 delta variant slams almost the entire country. It is much more easily transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus that emerged in late 2019, and vaccinated people can more readily transmit it, as well. Both of those factors have driven the return to wearing masks in indoor public spaces in most parts of the Bay Area.

This return to masking comes less than two months after California “reopened” following a year and a half of COVID-19-related shutdowns, curtailments, endless Zoom meetings … and mask wearing. Most masks worn for the past year and a half came off, especially in settings like Rossmoor, where 88 percent of residents in the 94595 ZIP code have gotten the vaccine. (Masks have been required for the unvaccinated even after the June reopening).

The return of compulsory mask wearing in public indoor places came after the July 16 recommendation from Bay Area health officials that everyone wear masks in public indoor spaces, and the July 22 urging by health officials from Contra Costa, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties that Bay Area employers consider requiring their employees be fully vaccinated.

Approximately 80 percent of Rossmoor/GRF employees are fully vaccinated, GRF officials said in late July, but those who aren’t will not be forced to get the shots.

GRF Board President Dwight Walker said there are too many legal uncertainties surrounding requiring the vaccine of employees, even though health officers from several Bay Area counties have encouraged employers to do so.

“We don’t want to be the test case going to the Supreme Court, spending millions in legal fees,” Walker said. But that stance could change in the future, Walker added, if legal protections for employers are strengthened.

Even before the latest mask mandate, the GRF Board had already made the decision to have its board meetings, and those of its committees, conducted over Zoom instead of in person. Walker vowed that GRF will comply with whatever health orders Contra Costa Health Services issues.

“They seem to have our best interests in mind, which is good,” he said.

Masks the only formal change, so far

As of the Aug. 2 health orders, no formal instructions had changed except for the requirement of masks in public indoor places, including Tice Valley Fitness Center. The plastic guard shields there came down after June 15, and reservations are no longer needed, but masks are back.

Morrie Spiegelman, having just finished some cardio work, said it’s harder to work out with a mask on. “I get more tired, and it’s harder to breathe. It takes more effort when you’re wearing (a mask).”

He said his wife, a former personal trainer, told him that would be the case. But that won’t stop him from his workouts, he said.

“You’ve got to do something; you’ve got to stay active,” Spiegelman said.

Cassie Tzur said she finds wearing a mask while working out “depressing.”

“Riding a bike for 20 minutes with your mask on is no fun, but you do what you have to do,” said Tzur, who, like everyone else interviewed for this story, said working to stop the spread of the delta variant is the right thing to do. “You’ve got to make the best of it.”

She said she welcomes the possibility of at least some of her qigong meditation/martial arts classes moving outdoors.

Brian Pennebaker, Rossmoor’s events coordinator, said masks may be required, but there are no capacity limits at Peacock Hall or at any other performance venue. Except for the masks, he said, the social gathering situation remains much as it was two weeks ago.

“We’ve been through it once, we know what it entails, and we know what can be done,” Pennebaker said.

Kathé Cairns knows what can’t be done with masks on, and that is sing for an extended period. Cairns, president of the Ashmolean Singers based in Rossmoor, said the 17-year-old group is putting rehearsals on hold until the mask mandate is lifted.

“It’s very hard to sing in a mask. … We could maybe do it for 15 or 20 minutes, but our rehearsals go for 2 ½ hours,” Cairns said of the 70-person chorus. “This is supposed to be fun, and with masks, it wouldn’t be fun.”

If rehearsals can’t begin by mid-October, Cairns said, the group’s holiday show in December could be in jeopardy.

However, plans are being revised

Though in-person gatherings remain doable, Mutual meetings, club meetings and events figure to change, to varying degrees, because of the revived mask mandate. But that doesn’t mean everyone necessarily still wants to be part of a public in-person gathering.

As of press time, several clubs had already moved scheduled events to Zoom, or outside, or canceled them altogether. The Duplicate Bridge Club has suspended in-person play given the resurgence of COVID, and The Connection has canceled its “Cocktails at Creekside” Wednesday gatherings for the immediate future for the same reason.

The Democrats of Rossmoor canceled an in-person town square event scheduled for Aug. 26 at the Event Center that was to precede a presentation by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense of America (the talk will still be held on Zoom). But absent specific orders banning in-person events, the club will go ahead with a smaller “Thank God We’re Democrats” event on Aug. 12, said club president Katha Hartley.

Linda Brown, president of Fourth Mutual, said last week that her Mutual’s annual meeting on Aug. 5 was changed from an in-person gathering at the Fireside Room to a virtual one over Zoom.

“There are several board members who didn’t want to meet in person,” Brown said. “And I’m immune-compromised; I don’t want to be around all those people.”

For the same reasons, Brown said she stayed away from the July 31 Boomers Forever dance party. “And I’m on the Boomers Board,” she said.

Joe Hoffman, president of the Rossmoor Financial Forum, said his group’s upcoming Aug. 31 meeting will be held over Zoom, primarily at the request of the featured speaker.

“I think it’s really up to the speaker,” Hoffman said. The Financial Forum’s June meeting was held in person in the Fireside Room, while its July meeting was held over Zoom.

Hoffman said his group, its members overwhelmingly vaccinated, are prepared to meet in person or over Zoom, depending on the speakers’ wishes. But personally, Hoffman said that while he’s OK with either format, he has had his fill of the masks.

“After a year of wearing a mask, it’s uncomfortable, that’s my opinion,” he said. “I’m used to Zoom – that isn’t a stumbling block.”

The Bunco Club of Rossmoor, meanwhile, plans to stick with its plans for an in-person session to play its namesake dice game on Wednesday, Aug 18, in the Oak Room at Gateway. Club President Bev Fellows said the players will see how this session goes and go from there. The fact most, perhaps all, players are fully vaccinated makes it an easier decision, Fellows said.

“And if you know bunco, you know you can’t play it on Zoom; it’s just too difficult,” she said.