As Covid Cases Rise in a Weary Los Angeles, So Does Apathy

She is fine with the change, having been vaccinated and boosted, and would not wear a mask again unless it became mandatory. Besides, it’s different here, she said. Back at home in Korea, people would often put their masks on when they left the house and kept them on. In Los Angeles, she said, “They put it on as you start a conversation.”

In Boyle Heights, a neighborhood east of downtown, the Food 4 Less showcased just how optional face masks had become. It was a scene far different from the era when grocery stores represented the only reason to leave the house and patrons wore plastic gloves and traveled in one direction down aisles.

There, a mother pushed a shopping cart, children in tow, searching for school lunch ingredients. None of the family members were masked. A woman in her 30s had a mask on, while her husband did not. About half of the employees wore no face coverings.

Across the street, Mariscos Linda, a seafood restaurant, hinted at another truth of the moment: many businesses have been unable to fully rebound. The red leather booths wrapped in tinsel and the bar with neon lights did not draw the crowd that had been anticipated for the World Cup screenings. Patronage had dwindled over the past few weeks.

“When cases go up, customers go down, and even workers get sick,” said Jhonatan Chavez, an assistant manager and cook. Mr. Chavez, who has worked at the restaurant for five years, said he has noticed that customers seem to maintain a wariness of their surroundings. No matter how much people have tried to return to their prepandemic attitudes and habits, things still don’t feel the way they did before.

Jill Cowan and Soumya Karlamangla contributed reporting from Los Angeles. Mitch Smith contributed reporting from Chicago. Sharon Otterman, Grace Ashford and Joseph Goldstein contributed reporting from New York.

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