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.

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Clean Up WEHO
Clean Up WEHO
6 months ago

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.

Jose
Jose
6 months ago

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.

Blueeyedboy
Blueeyedboy
6 months ago

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.

Jimmy Palmieri
Jimmy Palmieri
6 months ago
Reply to  Blueeyedboy

right???

Blueeyedboy
Blueeyedboy
6 months ago
Reply to  Blueeyedboy

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.

Jimmy Palmieri
Jimmy Palmieri
6 months ago

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.

Ken
Ken
6 months ago
Reply to  Jimmy Palmieri

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.

Jimmy Palmieri
Jimmy Palmieri
6 months ago
Reply to  Ken

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

TheRealZam
6 months ago

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… Read more »

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
6 months ago
Reply to  TheRealZam

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.

Ty Geltmaker
Ty Geltmaker
6 months ago

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,… Read more »

Alla Doner
Alla Doner
6 months ago

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.… Read more »

jimhieronymus
jimhieronymus
6 months ago

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… Read more »

Michael Grace
Michael Grace
6 months ago

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.

Rob Bergstein
Rob Bergstein
6 months ago

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.

Larry Block
Larry Block
6 months ago
Reply to  Rob Bergstein

In contact w many hospitals to secure their supply – they are not part of Block party –

Larry Block
Larry Block
6 months ago
Reply to  Rob Bergstein

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 –

carleton cronin
6 months ago
Reply to  Larry Block

LArry – don’t forget that no good deed goes unpunished. Carry on!

Observer
Observer
6 months ago

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 !

Jim Nasium
Jim Nasium
6 months ago
Reply to  Observer

That’s a very good point.

jose
jose
6 months ago
Reply to  Observer

That has changed as of today the 28th…read major news outlets