Disposable masks burn in a wood and charcoal fire in the parking lot of O.C. McDonald Co. in San Jose on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group)

Employees at San Jose’s O.C. McDonald Co. celebrated the lifting of Santa Clara County’s mask mandate Wednesday by tossing theirs into a charcoal and wood fire.

Jim McDonald — the fourth-generation owner of the plumbing and HVAC contractor — said the gesture was more a cathartic exercise than any sort of protest. “The last two years have just been awful,” he said. “Today, we get to burn our masks — for now. Tomorrow, we may have to put them on again.”

This wasn’t the first time the 116-year-old business on West San Carlos Street had weathered a pandemic, having survived the 1918-20 Spanish flu, McDonald noted. The company has grown dramatically since his great-grandfather, Oren Charles McDonald, founded it in 1906 and installed the first air conditioning system in the city.

Now with more than 150 employees, Jim McDonald said he was proud that his employees followed all the COVID-19 protocols, stayed home when they were sick and managed to avoid any outbreak in the office. “It’s just nice to see everybody’s smile again,” he said.

Jim McDonald, the fourth-generation owner of O.C. McDonald Co. in San Jose, talks to employees before tossing his mask into a fire on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group) 

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