I’m a small-business owner in a state that lifted mask mandates. I’m requiring them anyway.

  • States are beginning to drop mask mandates but some business owners aren’t ready.
  • Some counties in these states have also kept mask restrictions in place. 
  • Rocco DiGrazia, founder of the Tuscon pizzeria Rocco’s Little Chicago, gives his take on what’s been going on. 
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Governors might be lifting mask mandates, but many small businesses agree: this pandemic is far from over. 

COVID-19 cases in the US have steadily increased in the last three weeks to over 30 million — still about 22% of the world’s total cases. About 59 million people, or about 18% of the US population, have been fully vaccinated.

We can see the light at the end of the tunnel but we are still in a tunnel. 

In Arizona, where cases have risen more than 30% in the past two weeks and only 19% of the population has been fully vaccinated, Governor Doug Ducey issued an executive order on lifting the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. These include lifting the mask mandate in businesses such as bars, gyms, and restaurants. 

The new order also prevents local governments from enforcing their own mask mandates, although Gov. Ducey isn’t expected to go against cities and counties that ignore him. In fact, some have already kept the mandate in place under statutes that allow them to regulate public health, according to the local paper in Tuscon.

Conflicting state and local government rules have left some people confused. Rocco DiGrazia, 51, who founded pizzeria Rocco’s Little Chicago in Tuscon, said Gov. Ducey was premature in lifting the mask mandate. He requires all customers and employees to wear a mask.

Speaking to Insider, DiGrazia maps out how this past year has been for his business, the politicization of masks and vaccines, and how he plans to handle customers and employees that challenge company policy.  

DiGrazia’s account has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Our county has not dropped the mass mandate, despite what the governor says

Rocco DiGrazia

Rocco DiGrazia

Rocco DiGrazia


Pima County is using a different loophole in the law to try to enforce the mask mandate. Now, of course, there are some people who are pushing back against that, but if the county health department tells me to do something — I’m not going to push back against that. 

Everyone is following the rules, especially the people within city limits. Outside of city limits, it’s a little bit more loosey-goosey. But it’s a political issue, just like it is in the rest of the country. 

I thought Gov. Ducey was being clearly premature in lifting the mandate. I mean, for some reason they leaped over essential workers to 55 and older for vaccines. So all the people who were working on the front lines got screwed for a couple of weeks.

Then he just summarily dropped the mandate. And it was like wait dude, we’re trying to nip this in the bud so we don’t have to have another big problem. I mean, Europe’s going to be shut down again. We’re doing what we have to. 

I’ve considered not dropping a mask mandate for employees who chose not to get vaccinated

The vaccine passport seems like a good idea if you’re traveling abroad because it’s just an extension of something that you need to get when you’re traveling to certain countries anyway. I can see that.

Within the country — we already have a problem since Tuscon is within one hundred miles of the border. There are border patrol checkpoints within the city, so people are already being shaken down. I have a problem with that. I would like everyone to get vaccinated, but more reason to pull someone over and possibly run afoul of the law — whether you deserve it or not — isn’t a good idea. We’ve already had different things, where if you’re brown you just get pulled over. And I think this is another reason to get pulled over. I don’t think it’s a good idea. 

The vaccine is already so politicized and I think we need less of that in this country — I don’t think it’s going that way, but that’s where we are right now. I have relatives that, I don’t understand why they don’t want to get a vaccine. But you can’t argue with someone whose mind is already made up in any way. I’m just trying to keep my doors open at this point. I’ve had my first Moderna shot, and I’m waiting to get my second one.

I’m going to strongly suggest that my employees get vaccinated

Most of them seem pretty gung-ho about it; some of them don’t. If it comes down to it, I might just make everyone who chooses not to get vaccinated wear a mask, and if they don’t like that, maybe they can look somewhere else. 

I’ve always wanted everyone to get the flu vaccine. This is the first year ever that we haven’t had six or more people call off with the flu during the busy season. This year zero — not a single person. Guess what? Washing your hands all the time and having a mask on when you’re answering the phone — nobody got the flu. I’ve been open 22 years and we’ve always had half a dozen flu cases during the buzziest part of the year which is through the winter holidays — through the end of March to Early April. 

During the pandemic, we closed for a month last April. There were problems initially with just getting people to keep a mask over their nose but now everybody’s on board. If you don’t like it, that’s okay— there’s another job you can get. And then after a while it just becomes normalized. Nobody is walking into my restaurant without a t-shirt, that’s pretty normalized. 

But I’m playing the “lets-see-what-the-health-department-tells-me” game because those are the only people I’m terrified of in the entire universe. Things could be a lot worse, for sure. 

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