There’s a Social Media Debate in WeHo Over the Sale of Masks During the COVID-19 Epidemic

World Health Organization video about using medical masks

Are masks a must? And if so, for whom? That question has prompted a social media debate about whether Larry Block, the local retailer and a candidate in the Nov. 3 City Council election, is doing good by ordering thousands of facial masks from China during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Block is best known as the owner of the Block Party gay apparel store and for his advocacy for improving crosswalk safety. He announced recently on his Facebook page that he has reached out to companies in China to acquire two types of masks: medical masks and N95 masks. The federal Food and Drug Administration defines a medical mask (aka surgical mask) as “a loose-fitting, disposable device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment … Note that the edges of the mask are not designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth.” An N95 mask is “a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles. Note that the edges of the respirator are designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth.” The FDA says such masks should not be shared with others or used more than once.

Larry Block

Block intends to distribute one mask free of charge to elderly West Hollywood residents, those living in affordable housing units, those who are disabled and have health problems like asthma and those who are homeless. (He began doing that over the weekend, driving around to deliver 100 samples .)

Block will sell the masks to others. As of last night he had taken orders for hundreds of them from individual residents and from an owner of local apartment buildings who wants to make them available to residents and building maintenance workers. Profits from the sales will go to WeHo Wish, a non-profit hat Block established to help West Hollywood residents in need. Block told WEHOville that he expects some of the masks to arrive from China in time for him to sell them from noon to 4 p.m. on Thursday and Friday outside the Block Party store, which has closed to comply with Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s coronavirus emergency ordinance. Thus far Block has ordered 6,000 masks, with orders for another 20,000 in process. He is selling medical masks in pack of ten for $15 and the N95 masks for $5 each.

Block said that one person who bought masks from him said he intended to drop them off at Plummer Park this morning, where City Council members John Heilman and Lindsey Horvath had asked residents to leave unused, new and packaged medical supplies that can be donated to hospitals.

Block has been critical of the City of West Hollywood for not buying masks for its residents. “I reached out to the Chamber of Commerce, various developers, City Council members and the City Manager begging them to pitch in to buy masks for our local residents in elevator buildings to contain the spread,” Block said. City Manager Paul Arevalo, who Block suggested buy 500,000 masks, “got back to me that there were no needs at that time, and he would call if needed,” Block said.

While Block has criticized local institutions for not buying the masks, he has been criticized for his decision to sell medical and N95 masks to ordinary residents while hospitals have declared a shortage of those masks for their health professionals. A story in the Los Angeles Times states that “federal officials have warned that the Strategic National Stockpile contains just 1% of the top-notch N95 respirators that experts predict may be needed throughout the pandemic.” Critics also have noted that organizations like the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization don’t recommend that ordinary people use masks during the COVID-19 epidemic. They argue that they should only be used by those who are infected or who are caring for such people.

“CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19,” says the CDC’s website. “You should only wear a mask if a healthcare professional recommends it. A facemask should be used by people who have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms. This is to protect others from the risk of getting infected. The use of facemasks also is crucial forhealth workersand otherpeople who are taking care of someone infected with COVID-19 in close settings(at home or in a health care facility).”

In an email message to Block (on which he copied members of the City Council) former WeHo resident Ty Geltmaker said: “Whatever your undoubtedly good intentions, it was wrong of you to secure medical supplies through private back channels without handing them over to responsible public health authorities.

“Also, posting a notice that your masks ‘are reserved for West Hollywood Residents’ is not just dangerously elitist, but is itself a peril to public health as such masks give the public a false sense of safety, allegedly protecting persons out and about from contagion, as they are really only useful out on the street as prophylaxis against transmission by the already infected, not a secure barrier to reception of airborne disease. However many of these masks you still have in stock should be taken immediately down the street to Cedars Sinai for proper use by medical professionals who desperately need them for their own protection in the confined treatment wards where such cross-transmission does happen.”

Block has argued that the masks he is buying from China have not been manufactured for U.S. hospitals, which more likely would want to purchase from suppliers such as 3M or Honeywell. White Label Connection, a company owned by Mykul Chretian, another West Hollywood resident, is helping him import then into the U.S.


41 Comments
  1. Let’s get off Mr. Block’s back. The City of West Hollywood has done nothing about the masks. Basically they have done very little. The hypocritical City Council seems to be frozen in place. At least the Mayor can be excused but the other four, they are pathetic. This city has the money to buy every citizen a mask. So let’s do it, and then at least have the satisfaction of voting Heilman and Duran out of office in November.

  2. Mr. Block is at least attempting to assist the public of West Hollywood (at a potential large financial cost to himself) Far more than I have seen from the” frozen in place City Council”.
    West Hollywood is in the top 3 of LA County of infections and it continues to grow.

  3. I wear a mask and safety glasses (Home Depot, Aisle 11) to keep me from unintentionally touching my mouth, nose, and eyes and maybe transferring the virus from my hands after touching a contaminated surface. The safety glasses wrap around the side so I can’t get to my eyes with my fingers. I had never realized how often I instinctively have my hands on my face until the last couple weeks.

    1. I also carry Q-tips for when I really do have an itch on my face that is difficult to ignore. I toss it after I’ve used it.

  4. I am on immune modulating medications. I am wearing a mask to not catch a cold or a flu. I don’t need either should I come down with this virus. Too many people at the stores, which I have to go at least once a week are sniffling, coughing and sneezing with little or no regard for others by covering their mouths. I am lucky that I had some in my house from a prior surgery, when nurses were here every day. I think Larry is well intentioned , so attacking him is counter productive.

    1. Come on Jimmy, I live across the street from you and go to Gelson’s and Pavilions weekly and haven’t seen people coughing or sneezing.

      1. how very fortunate for you. it must be grand to live in an area where no one coughs or sneezes. i, on the other hand have not fond that shangri la

  5. The attitude of the public discourse on this issue is dramatically out of line. We should be discussing & debating the arguments for & against offering masks to the general public. However, we should not be attacking Mr. Block personally. He genuinely believes he is doing the right thing by making these masks available. I’d like to see this boiled down to simple bullet points illustrating the arguments for and against. Then discuss ways to mitigate the items in the against column. When once we’ve eliminated the negatives, then weigh the pros vs the cons that remain.

    Personally, I have worn a mask for each of the 1/2 dozen times I have left my house in the past 2+ weeks. I am permanently disabled (mobility), have asthma and another obscure issue that limits the effectiveness of my immune system. On top of that, my mother has cancer and just had an ice cream scoop sized piece of her leg removed. In spite of the fact that our doctors recommend I wear a mask when in public, they do not have the ability to get them to us so we have no choice but to buy them ourselves. Fortunately, I already maintain a supply of masks and gloves on hand so I am fine. Most are not so lucky and for those in this situation Larry may be the only viable option.

    1. I agree; many people want masks, regardless of how effective they may be. Larry is providing a service to these people with a big heart. Last night during a community forum sponsored by Adam Schiff, doctors from Cedars discounted the effectiveness of masks as part of our social distancing. But Larry is coming from a good place and perhaps people should ask themselves what they are doing for the community.

  6. To all concerned:

    Please read below my well-informed, scientifically-based comments on the folly of Larry Block’s “corona mask” publicity stunt. Unless you have the virus the mask is just an ornament more properly used by health professionals. If you need a mask to stop touching your face, well, you need handcuffs.

    In an email message to Block (on which he copied members of the City Council) former WeHo resident Ty Geltmaker said: “Whatever your undoubtedly good intentions, it was wrong of you to secure medical supplies through private back channels without handing them over to responsible public health authorities.

    “Also, posting a notice that your masks ‘are reserved for West Hollywood Residents’ is not just dangerously elitist, but is itself a peril to public health as such masks give the public a false sense of safety, allegedly protecting persons out and about from contagion, as they are really only useful out on the street as prophylaxis against transmission by the already infected, not a secure barrier to reception of airborne disease. However many of these masks you still have in stock should be taken immediately down the street to Cedars Sinai for proper use by medical professionals who desperately need them for their own protection in the confined treatment wards where such cross-transmission does happen.”

  7. Just want to Thank Larry for trying to help WEHO people who needs them for every day living. I know hospitals in dire needs of them. But there is many people who need them for going for walk and shopping. Me and my husband both in highest danger zone (I have lupus and other autoimmune diseases and my husband 68) Son young adult with Autism and my 15 years old daughter who now have sole responsibility to shop for us. So we waiting for him to get us mask or hopefully 2 so she can go buy some fruits, vegetables.
    Thank you Larry

  8. No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, they say. The past few days, I have been shocked at the
    negative comments directed to my good friend, Larry Block, regarding his effort to secure
    protective face masks for the residents of West Hollywood as a protection and with much empathy for the people in this city which he loves. I have had an up close and personal
    friendship with Larry for over 40 years and have worked for him at different times for
    several of his businesses including, currently Block Party. Block Party is a Community
    supported store….a central point of reference in this city .
    Larry is a born problem solver. First, identify the problem and look for solutions and move fast.
    One can understand this by just looking and the advocacy work he has contributed to the good
    of the city residents. As the current pandemic spread into
    our city one could see on the street and in the media, the confusion, ill-preparedness and
    fear all around. Our residents were in great jeopardy and sanitizers and protective masks, were
    sold out quickly with no certainty regarding replenishment. Larry took action to meet this challenge,
    and partnering with Mykul Chretian, using all the resources and overseas supply connections, built over many years and projects,
    managed to start the ball rolling to get masks for WeHo residents, and local entities in need.
    Can one even imagine our City government, much less our current administration in Washington (still squabbling over who’s being or not being responsive as I write this)
    moving with this lightening speed ?
    I think you know the answer. We should all be mindful of the service to others that Larry exemplifies and let that be a starting point for our own call to service.

  9. The DOJ just found out that some California Union has 35 million Masks. So I don’t think we’ll run your short.

    Frankly, why are we even shut down anyway? Polio was a far worst epidemic in the 1950s. If you didn’t die, you would have been crippled for life. The numbers were more more. They took precautions but they didn’t stop everything. And who’s stopping this? The mayor and governor of California! They couldn’t handle the bullet train and they couldn’t handle the homeless. Sad.

  10. However well intentioned Larry might be, this is just plain wrong. If he wants to be of service he can donate them to appropriate medical providers and social services agencies. This is not a situation to be handled by a local retailer on the sidewalk.

    1. Ps why ok to koontz capital drugs target and cvs to sell them and we give them free – it’s through weho wish – it’s not part of block party at all- that’s a store that’s closed but a convenient location for curbside pickup –

  11. On the one hand, the CDC says that healthy adults do not need to wear a mask but, on the other hand, says to not touch your mouth, nose or eyes. Well, if you had a mask on, I would think it would be a barrier from possible infection from inadvently touching those areas on your head, which we do all time. I think everyone should wear a mask and companies need to ramp up production to meet the demand. Thanks, Larry !

  12. This is a world wide pandemic and people are asked to self quarantine. Enforced home isolation to stop the virus from spreading. The opposite of quarantine is running around town and giving out a hundred masks. The immune system response to the virus kills 4 % of people that come in contact with it. That’s 1 out of 25. What part of Pandemic or Health Emergency do people not understand. The actions of a few put the whole community at risk.

  13. So, the masks work for healthcare workers but don’t work for anyone else? Ridiculous. Many of us care for at-risk loved ones or have weakend immune systems ourselves. It’s absurd – and dangerous – to shame the general public if they acquire and wear a mask. They’re doing everyone a service since so many can show no symptoms while being extremely contagious. God knows, socially considerate and responsible guys are in great shortage in “me me me” WeHo. Respect to citizens who wear masks.

  14. These attackers of Larry Block who question his motives are out of line. I’ve never met him but I’ve learned some things about him over the years here on WeHoVille and he seems like a good and selfless man. If I knew nothing more about him than what I read in this article I would see nothing to criticize.

  15. I am a senior and have a compromised immune system. I received (free) from Larry, masks. His heart and humanitarian nature are exemplary. Compassion and activism on so many fronts, has brought to bear goodness in so many areas. Why, for his unselfish love of West Hollywood and constituents.

    For me, ground zero is when I must go shopping. Larry’s generosity and drive to help all is a proactive measure that even our Federal Government can’t do! For me, this act of kindness, gives me relief when I must be public gathering. I approach the crisis assuming everyone is possibly infected or a carrier. Your observing this through the wrong end of the looking glass.

    Attacks on his business are of no point to Larry’s activism and his reason to help a high-risk group is not only remarkable but is in fact leadership. Grateful

  16. For the record, I am living sight & sound, taking walks each day around WeHoWest’hood, not “formerly,” with thanks to WeHoville & all for critiques of Larry Block’s ill-advised publicity stunt.

  17. This is weird. If Mr. Block wants to do the right thing for the community he should deliver all of these masks to local hospitals and clinics where doctors and nurses are putting their lives at risk helping people actually infected with the virus. he and the other commenters should look at the video here, where the expert says wearing a mask won’t protect you unless you are in intimate contact with an obviously sick person. Giving these masks and selling them randomly to our citizens means they will wear them and foster fear in the community. And it may mean that some of the medical professionals who can’t get enough of these masks to protect them while they do their dangerous jobs may die because West Hollywood folks who pay more attention to fear than facts are taking them. Shameful

    1. First off I’ve been working with hospitals if they wanted supplies – this is an article but not the whole story. Second please step up and chip in. I secured a supply doesn’t mean I can afford to supply all of the world w masks cause there is a million of em sitting on a warehouse floor in China. You can have as many of those at cost to donate yourself. There’s more I forwarded 6 resources to all the city council and city manager and they didn’t buy them. How many you want?

    2. Fear over facts? I think the facts are pretty obvious the entire world is practically shut down, Borders have been closed to other countries, the stock market has dropped dramatically and in some areas the National Guard has been deployed because of this. Larry Block distributing masks is not fostering fear because our current situation has already done that. Check out videos on YouTube regarding coronavirus in China as well as other countries and you’ll see cleanup crews, military, police and other local personnel people on the street who are not in the medical field all wearing masks and some even wearing hazmat suits. The reason we have a shortage on masks is because the entire world is trying to protect themselves as best as possible. People have been living in this idealistic West Hollywood bubble and unfortunately a harsh reality has stepped in and it’s time for people to wake up and realize this is a serious situation and the average person is at high risk and has the right to protect themselves like the rest of the world is doing.

  18. First off Thanks Henry – after this article Mykul received over 40 calls from providers needing supplies and will utilize this source. Some stay home and do nothing but project their cynicism on others – These masks have nothing to do with BlockParty. The only connection is the myself and the store have operated and founded a non profit/ http://www.wehowish.org , and all profits or loss will be in the non profit/ so far we laid out $11,000 and have received $1380 on offsets – at $5 a mask and all my time when could be resting it’s pretty hard to find the benefit outside of the many thanks. The people who are critical are doing nothing to help their neighbors.

  19. I welcome any additional safety precautions and appreciate Larry’s efforts. While wearing a mask is not necessarily recommended unless you have symptoms, we are all aware that there is a massive shortage of tests and many people who are infected may be asymptomatic. We are in uncharted territory so “better safe than sorry” is a good motto these days when dealing with so many unknowns related to COVID-19.

    I oversee a number of residential properties in West Hollywood with hundreds of tenants. We do our best to clean knobs, intercom buttons and elevator controls but my maintenance staff does not have the luxury of working from home and many tenants are conversely apprehensive about allowing access for necessary repairs. We have tried to source masks to know avail until Larry came to the rescue on this and yes, I mean to the rescue. The landlord I represent is also married to a physician and she welcomed the masks authorizing a donation to WeHo Wish in the hopes of obtaining and offering masks to each of our tenants as well as for our maintenance team.

    Furthermore, going to the supermarkets and standing within a few feet of a cashier who does not have a mask or opposite a bank teller only increases chances for exposure. I was in Citibank on Sunset and the tellers all commented that they wished they had masks.

    I doubt Larry Block is interfering with the government supply chain for obtaining masks and if he can get them to residents, senior citizens and disabled community members, we should applaud him. This article states: “Block intends to distribute one mask free of charge to elderly West Hollywood residents, those living in affordable housing units, those who are disabled and have health problems like asthma and those who are homeless.”

    As for making a small donation to wehowish.org to secure a mask, I doubt Larry is profiting from this endeavor but more so probably losing money, but helping to ensure a safer, healthier community. So, thank you, Larry Block!

  20. This irrational exploitation of fear flies in the face of a plethora of solid science and public health expertise all around the world, but if he can dupe a few people (thankfully not the city manager!) into buying into his own fake science, such manipulation makes him unqualified to run for and serve in public office. His actions are the complete opposite of leadership. Shame.

  21. This is obviously a very controversial subject filled with different opinions. I understand the governments request to reserve all masks for medical staffers and front liners and half of me agrees with this however taking care of my 88-year-old grandmother and having to go to the supermarkets without gloves and a mask on is scary and concerning for her health as well as mine. A lot of people are scared and we want to protect ourselves best as possible especially when hearing new cases developed of people in the workplace testing positive for COVID-19. Mr. Block has made it very clear that there is no personal profit for him instead he’s donating the profits to the Weho wish foundation which helps local West Hollywood residence. Say what you will about my personal opinion but in this very scary time if I have the opportunity to purchase a mask to protect myself and my family as well as keep my fellow neighbors safe then I’m going to take it vantage of the opportunity. I understand the recommendation is not to wear a mask if you’re healthy however The majority of people are still not being tested so the numbers are not out and we don’t really know who has COVID-19 or not.

  22. Can’t find these anywhere and glad to have one to go to market. If these masks do not work as it says above what is all the fuss about. I happen to have bought my halloween mask at
    the block party weho and think Larry is very resourceful and always thinking of the neighborhood.

  23. This is an example of people who take advantage of a crisis for personal profit. It’s a vulgar display of avarice and greed on Larry Block’s part. He should be ashamed of himself while he is out on the sidewalk peddling the very item which is badly needed in the community. But he is not ashamed of being an opportunist. The City should not allow him to find a way to go around his store being closed and encourage people to go out in public. This is not right.

    1. Eric all payments are made directly to http://www.wehowish.org. Your partner is a nurse, tell me the profit on 10 medical masks for $15 and air frieght and duty. Tell me the profit on a kn95 at $5 when Walgreens and CVS and even Capitol Drugs are selling these for much more. Sadly you are doing nothing to help. Buy some and drop off at a local hospital.

      1. Larry, for you to say that we ( Jack and I ) “sadly you are doing nothing to help” is very presumptuous. We do more for others than most people, but we don’t need to grandstand about it. We do what we do because we want to help others not because we want recognition. You didn’t mention wehowish in the article, only now. Hmmm.

      2. Larry, for you to say that we “sadly are doing nothing” is very presumptuous. Jack and I do more for others than most people, but we don’t need to grandstand about it. We do it out of compassion not recognition. It’s admirable to give some of the masks to some of the most vulnerable people in the community. But for you to sell the rest in front of your store is bad optics for someone seeking public office. Why not give the rest away? Why not just make a direct donating to wehowish?
        It appears to be a publicity stunt for your store and your campaign. The Community is asked to stay home, but you are asking them to come to the front of your store, risking spreading the virus.

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