On the first day of Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's executive order requiring people wear masks at Baton Rouge public businesses, most stores and customers appeared to be complying — but some shoppers did not.
Most of those ambling through the Mall of Louisiana Friday afternoon were young adults in their 20s and 30s — an age group health officials are particularly concerned about amid an apparent resurgence in the virus' spread.
Most kept their faces covered, save when eating and drinking. However, a handful of shoppers refused to wear masks at all.
Once outside, many pushed their masks beneath their chins in the persistent heat of the humid afternoon.
Many businesses had signs formatted to show occupancy, social distancing and face covering requirements, while others simply had sheets of computer paper with the words “NO MASK NO SERVICE” posted on their windows. Several businesses turned away customers who didn't have on masks.
State and even federal officials have pointed to Baton Rouge as a hot spot for the virus. Broome said Friday that the White House had reached out to her this week because of worrying testing statistics.
A White House report dated Monday specifically addressed Baton Rouge, recommending the mask order Broome went on to announce Wednesday. The report also suggested that people who took part in recent protests and social gatherings should be tested for the coronavirus.
At the main entrance to the Mall of Louisiana, a masked security guard held a ziploc bag full of surgical masks, which he handed to patrons who entered without one.
“I left my mask at home, so I felt like an idiot when I came in,” said 22-year-old Jordyn Williams.
She and her partner Jeremy Watson, 24, were waiting for their Starbucks order near the front of the mall, both wearing the surgical masks. According to Watson, the two tested positive for COVID-19 recently, but had recovered soon after with only very mild symptoms.
“They’re taking a professional approach in giving these out,” Watson said. “Though I guess I still am one of the people who believes this might be a little too far. It does seem very confining. As a man with asthma, it’s harder for me to breathe. But I’m glad they’re at least taking the steps necessary.”
One family of four, all maskless, were blocked by an employee from entering Foot Locker. Two teenage boys who refused to wear face coverings kept walking past a GameStop while an employee blocking the entrance monitored them.
Blair Dupuy, who was not wearing a mask, was turned away from H&M with her masked friend, Marget Tran.
“I feel like it’s very annoying,” 21-year-old Dupuy said. “I’m not sick, and I know I’m not sick, and I’m trying to go somewhere and I just need like two things, but they’re all like, ‘Oh you have to have a mask on.’ They’re not letting me in.”
But Tran, a 20-year-old medical student, said that she thinks wearing a mask is “necessary” amid the pandemic.
Anna Milhet, who works in the front desk at Goodwood Hardware store in Jefferson Plaza, said employees have long been wearing masks but there hadn’t been a customer come through the door as of Friday afternoon who wasn’t wearing a mask.
“It’s been a pretty busy day and we haven’t had to tell anyone to put a mask on,” she said.
Monique Fremin, the owner of Morgan Claire Boutique in Towne Center at Cedar Lodge, said she hadn’t received any specific directives from officials about implementing the executive order, but her team just took it on themselves to wear masks and ask their customers to do so, too.
The nearby Whole Foods, in the same complex, had employees standing at the front door checking compliance and sanitizing shopping carts.
A manager there, Alan Lee, said because Texas has already rolled out a mask requirement, it was easier for the Baton Rouge store to use the same language, staff training and materials as the rest of the company.
He said there hadn’t been any issues with customers refusing to follow the executive order.
Fire Marshal deputies, along with Alcohol Tobacco Control agents and Louisiana Department of Health officials, have been doing courtesy visits across the state, according to Office of the State Fire Marshal spokeswoman Ashley Rodrigue. They have been out to “spot-check that spacing, capacity, mask-wearing and sanitation standards are being met as best as possible,” Rodrigue said.
Baton Rouge Police spokesman Sgt. L’Jean McKneely Jr. said rather than regulating, officers have been “offering assistance” if managers have been having trouble enforcing the ordinance with certain customers.
Mark Armstrong, a spokesman for Broome's office, said there had not been any compliance issues reported to them as of Friday afternoon.
Broome’s order mandates mask use at businesses in Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish, but not those in Baker, Central and Zachary.
In a statement Friday, the mayor included a mask endorsement from the Louisiana Retailers Association, a trade group supporting businesses. It said that mask use will help protect shop employees.
“We ask that the public abide by the 'No Mask, No Service Policy' and not put retail workers in positions as enforcers of the facial covering mandate. Businesses in Baton Rouge need to remain open to serve the public, and healthy, safe employees are key components to keeping the doors open for everyone’s benefit," the association said.