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As coronavirus cases in O.C. rise, Huntington Beach restaurant continues anti-mask stance with L.A. billboard

A sign reading "Leave the mask, take the cannoli" sits outside Basilico's in Huntington Beach.
A sign reading “Leave the mask, take the cannoli” sits on the sidewalk outside Basilico’s Restaurant in Huntington Beach on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

With Orange County staying in the red tier for at least two more weeks and Los Angeles County still in the initial purple tier, the coronavirus pandemic remains a major factor in residents’ dining out habits.

But in spite of a rising death toll from COVID-19 in the county, one Huntington Beach restaurant has had no qualms expressing an anti-mask position since the early days of the pandemic.

Basilico’s Pasta e Vino recently continued that stance, putting up a large billboard inspired by “The Godfather” movies in Los Angeles near the Beverly Center.

The billboard on La Cienega Boulevard reads, “Leave the mask, take the cannoli,” a play on the Godfather films and the line “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” It shows the well-known puppeteer’s hand, uses the familiar font from the films and directs viewers to the restaurant’s Instagram page.

Basilico’s owner Tony Roman said Wednesday in an email interview that he felt the state shutdown was unjustified and un-American. He said the Los Angeles billboard was purchased because “the people on that side of the county line also desire and appreciate American freedom like anywhere else.”

Costa Mesa officials said new guidelines from the state health department allow for the reopening of city playgrounds and the skate park. But guidance released in July already outlined how skate parks could reopen safely.

“Wearing a mask by force, in my opinion, is a signal to any authoritarian government leader forcing you to wear it that you have surrendered, further emboldening them to try and lock us all down for an infinite amount of time,” Roman said. “If people had ripped off their masks, the lockdowns would have been lifted long ago.

“Having a restaurant, we are blessed and fortunate enough to have a profile and platform that allow for our opinions to be heard. But there are many millions of patriots who think just like us, and we hope our own little demonstration represents their beliefs too.”

Huntington Beach has developed a reputation as a place of mask resistance in Orange County. Two signboards with the same “Leave the mask, take the cannoli” slogan are on the sidewalk on Brookhurst Street outside of Basilico’s.

Huntington Beach was the site of several protests this spring after Gov. Gavin Newsom closed Orange County beaches. The city attempted to sue the state to reopen them, but an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled against the city.

In July, Chad Kroeger and JT Parr made a video called “Solving the Mask Shortage in Huntington Beach,” where they attempted to give away free masks to ultimately disinterested people in Surf City. The video has more than two million views on YouTube.

“In Huntington Beach, there are a lot of patriots,” Huntington Beach resident Kevin Wood said, adding that seeing the Basilico’s sign made him chuckle. “Whether that means they wear a mask or not, that’s up to them. For me, if I want to go to the grocery store and it says, ‘You need to wear a mask to come in,’ I just put a mask on. It doesn’t matter. I want to get some groceries.”

Huntington Beach City Councilwoman Kim Carr noted that the city is strongly encouraging mask use. In August, Huntington Beach launched its “Masks Up, Surf City” campaign. Local artist Melissa Murphy designed two artistic masks based on her paintings as part of the Orange County Health Care Agency’s “Spread Positive Vibes” campaign.

Carr said an anti-mask sentiment is not specific to Huntington Beach.

“Other cities are facing the same challenges,” she said. “My friends, whether they live in San Clemente or Newport Beach or Costa Mesa, I hear the same sentiment. I think that Huntington has gotten a lot of exposure ... but I don’t think that sentiment is exclusive to Huntington Beach, nor do I think that we have disproportionally more residents that are opposed to wearing masks versus other parts of the county. I actually think that the vast majority of residents in Huntington Beach do understand the importance of wearing masks.”

Roman said his restaurant staff has had no illnesses during the pandemic, and no customers have acquired the coronavirus while dining there.

The Orange County Health Care Agency reported 19 new deaths due to COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the cumulative death toll in the county to 1,268. There were 194 new daily positive tests, which brings the cumulative count of coronavirus cases to 53,751.

There are 172 cases currently hospitalized, including 48 in intensive care units. There were 7,063 new COVID-19 tests reported Wednesday, and 864,947 tests have been conducted to date.

An estimated 48,326 people in the county have recovered from the virus.

The healthcare agency continues to recommend face coverings among other safety measures as a means to avoid transmission of the coronavirus.

Here are the latest cumulative coronavirus case counts and COVID-19 deaths for select cities in Orange County:

  • Santa Ana: 10,349 cases; 281 deaths
  • Anaheim: 9,207 cases; 274 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 2,406 cases; 73 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 1,812 cases; 32 deaths
  • Irvine: 1,694 cases; 13 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 1,128 cases; 25 deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 512 cases; 17 deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 226 cases; fewer than five deaths

Here are the case counts by age group, followed by deaths:

  • 0 to 17: 3,822 cases; one death
  • 18 to 24: 8,093 cases; four deaths
  • 25 to 34: 11,582 cases; 18 deaths
  • 35 to 44: 8,576 cases; 36 deaths
  • 45 to 54: 8,668 cases; 107 deaths
  • 55 to 64: 6,446 cases; 182 deaths
  • 65 to 74: 3,234 cases; 257 deaths
  • 75 to 84: 1,833 cases; 267 deaths
  • 85 and older: 1,448 cases; 396 deaths

Updated figures are posted daily at occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/coronavirus-in-oc. For information on getting tested, visit occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/covid-19-testing.

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