OCEANSIDE — Some residents of a senior living community fear its current clubhouse rules on face coverings aren’t safe enough for its higher-risk population.
Ocean Hills Country Club resident Jody Gorran was dismayed to hear that his homeowners’ association board had decided to not make universal mask-wearing required inside of its community clubhouse and other facilities in early August.
Currently, Ocean Hills Country Club requires only unvaccinated residents or guests entering the community’s indoor common areas to be masked. The board only plans to require everyone, including those who are vaccinated, to wear masks if the San Diego County government orders it again.
Designed for individuals 55 years and older, the community includes 1,632 homes with more than 2,600 residents living there, according to a survey completed in 2019.
“We are fortunate to be located in San Diego County where 75.3% of residents over 12 years old and 94.3% of those over 65 have been vaccinated,” said General Manager Wendy Panizza via email. “Our policy permits those vaccinated to make their own decisions given the documented effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing serious illness and death.
“This allows access to the indoor facilities which are so important to the well-being of our residents, while at the same time enabling each person to exercise judgment about maintaining their personal health.”
The community’s clubhouse offers pool tables, exercise machines, ping-pong tables, an auditorium that seats more than 500 people and houses several different clubs for residents.
“It’s like the nerve center of our community,” Gorran said.
Access to the clubhouse is included in the homeowners association fees, but Gorran said he and several other residents won’t use the clubhouse for now without a universal mask requirement in place.
Although the county hasn’t ordered everyone to wear masks, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends that everyone wear a mask regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not. For Gorran, 71, making everyone wear masks is especially important for a community with an older, more vulnerable population to do with the rise of the coronavirus delta variant.
“They have a responsibility to do what is recommended,” Gorran said. “When you live under a homeowners association, they can tell you for no good reason you can’t park your car overnight in your own driveway, so why can’t they follow the CDC, county and state recommendations?”
While the county and state are only recommending universal masking indoors statewide at this time, people inside adult and senior care facilities like skilled nursing and assisted living settings are required to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status.
Gorran wants the county to also include his community and other similar communities in this order. Though the community is meant for seniors, the difference is that it’s recognized as a residential development but not as a healthcare facility.
“The County follows California Department of Public Health requirements for masking,” said Tim McClain, communications manager with the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, via email. “The CDPH requirement does not pertain to such a community — it is a residential community, not an assisted living or skilled nursing facility.”
Gorran is also not alone in his push to change mandates at the county level. On Monday, Aug. 23, the San Diego County Medical Society and the Hospital Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties released a joint statement to Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten asking her to bring back the indoor masking and proof-of-vaccination requirements for indoor bars, restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues.
McClain noted that businesses and communities like Ocean Hills Country Club currently have the option to adopt more restrictive measures. For the community’s board of directors, the decision to wear masks should be left up to the individual.
Board member Robert Fisher is opposed to any mask-wearing mandate inside of the community’s facilities.
“My opposition is based simply on the premise that as citizens of a free society and above all as adults with capacities to evaluate available data and to determine our own actions, we as such have just the right to do that,” Fisher, who was absent from the August board meeting, wrote in a letter. “I do not believe that as an organization we should mandate masks notwithstanding a mandated order from the County of San Diego health department.”
Fisher noted that he would “reluctantly support” a universal mask order from the county.
Board member Angela Takemoto said that the community should follow the county if ordered to make everyone wear masks, but for now following the recommendation is fine.
“We’ve been very consistent throughout the whole pandemic in following mandates of local authorities,” Takemoto said. “I think everyone needs to make up their own minds at this point.”
Gregory Kusiak noted that masks aren’t comfortable for everyone, citing breathing issues and difficulty understanding others with masks on.
“I think masking is not a trivial matter,” Kusiak said.
While masks may not be perfect, Gorran said, they do more to protect people from larger droplets potentially carrying the virus than absolutely nothing at all.