Coronavirus Fears Expose Cultural Divide Over Masks in San Gabriel Valley

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Marta Ayala and Chong Taing, both Rosemead residents, couldn’t see the threat of the coronavirus more differently. You can see it on their faces.

While walking out of Superior Grocers supermarket in El Monte, Ayala’s face scrunched in annoyance as she spotted an Asian customer wearing a white medical mask coming from the opposite direction. Despite hearing about the fast-spreading illness, to the 64-year-old Mexican immigrant, the mask is an overreaction that just stokes alarm.

“I don’t believe in using masks and I don’t understand the need,” she said. “I know there’s a serious disease out there, but who has time to think about that?”

For the 39-year-old Taing, who wears a mask, the item makes as much sense as wearing long-sleeve shirts or sunglasses to protect from the sun. The masks aren’t just designed to protect the person wearing them from illness, but to protect others as well. It’s a common courtesy in a place he calls “the 626" — the area code-based nickname for the San Gabriel Valley.

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