Face coverings, social distancing and good hygiene are three things that continue to be at the forefront for preventing the spread of COVID-19, especially as the economy begins to re-open. In Big Bear, face coverings are highly recommended, so much so, three Valley agencies are joining forces to provide a covering for anyone who may not have one.

On Saturday and Sunday, May 30 and 31, in the Village area of Big Bear Lake, face coverings will be handed out at no cost to visitors to the Village area who may not have one. Booths will be set up on Village Drive and Pine Knot Avenue from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Staff from the Big Bear Chamber of Commerce and Visit Big Bear will man the booths. The city of Big Bear Lake provided the face coverings.

It’s the right thing to do, says Frank Rush, city manager, regarding wearing face coverings.

Big Bear has been fortunate with the low number of positive cases of COVID-19, and we want to keep it that way, Rush said. It’s important to do everything possible to protect the health and safety of visitors and residents, he said. While some may not agree with the use of face coverings, Rush said it’s not too much to ask.

The city’s plan for reopening, which is not the official plan adopted by the city, state or county, calls for all businesses to re-open while doing everything possible to keep everyone safe, Rush said. The masks are just one small piece of that effort, he said, along with maintaining physical distance and good hygiene.

While the crowd of visitors in Big Bear during the Memorial Day holiday were great to see, those wearing face coverings were about 50 percent, Rush said. That raised concerns, Rush said, and led to the decision to provide the free face coverings.

Michael Perry, interim CEO for Visit Big Bear, said during the holiday weekend it seemed that the attitude of visitors was that they were in Big Bear and Big Bear is safe. People seemed more confident or at ease, and they weren’t concerned with the spread of the coronavirus. “That’s not right,” Perry said.

Ellen Clarke, executive director of the Big Bear Chamber of Commerce, said we want to welcome visitors back to Big Bear, but so far many aren’t wearing masks. We want to be polite and encourage them to wear face coverings, as well as make it easy for them, Clarke said.

With so many guidelines delivered from a variety of agencies the end result is confusing, Rush said. Some businesses are required under the state guidelines for staff to wear face coverings. Other businesses are requiring patrons to wear masks before entering, while some aren’t.

Perry said the front line service workers in Big Bear must be protected. They are dealing with the public, many of whom are visitors, regularly, and those visitors could be carrying COVID-19 unknowingly. If a staff member in a Big Bear store is unprotected and contracts the coronavirus, then spreads it to his or her family and friends, it could impact the entire community, Perry said.

Clarke said while she and another Chamber staffer are handing out masks on Pine Knot Avenue, she wants to educate those about the importance of wearing masks and the need for safety. This is for the sake of the greater good, Clarke said.

Rush said the guidance and hope is that all business owners and their employees will wear face coverings. On a personal level, they have the most to lose and the most to gain, Rush said. Take as many precautions as possible to avoid going backwards is the goal, he said. The CDC guidelines state that face coverings protect others, and if guests are wearing face coverings, it reduces the likelihood of spreading the coronavirus, Rush said.

Clarke said she expects there will be some backlash regarding the mask giveaway, but this is about keeping people safe. COVID-19 is not the normal flu and we as a community need to be mindful of the possibility of a second wave that could be worse as scientists say is possible, Clarke said. “I don’t want to see that in Big Bear or anywhere in the world,” Clarke said.

People visiting Big Bear seemed to feel they were on vacation during Memorial Day and wearing a mask wasn’t vacation vibe, Perry said. Big Bear is working on the education vibe and visitors to the Valley need to see how serious Big Bear takes the need to keep people safe.

Clarke said Big Bear’s fresh air and perception as a safe community are very appealing, but we all want to keep Big Bear safe. She said we all want visitors to feel comfortable coming to Big Bear. “But visitors have a responsibility to this community, too,” Clarke said.

Perry said he agrees with Rush that the absolutely worse thing that could happen would be for Big Bear to open and have a peak or surge of COVID-19 cases and have to shut down again. “That would be just horrible,” Perry said.

Big Bear has nine confirmed cases of COVID-19, three in the unincorporated areas and six in the city of Big Bear Lake.

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