Store mask policies are a mess and nearly impossible to enforce

Vaccinated shoppers and workers can ditch their ma...

Posted: May 20, 2021 3:42 PM
Updated: May 20, 2021 3:55 PM

Vaccinated shoppers and workers can ditch their masks at Walmart, Target and Home Depot, except where local laws require masks in stores.

At Starbucks, CVS, Walgreens and Macy's, vaccinated customers no longer need to wear masks unless there are local mandates. But all employees will still need to mask up.

Gap, Ulta and others, though, have not loosened their policies and are still requiring all of their customers and workers to wear masks.

A patchwork system of mask policies has emerged at large retail chains in the United States in the wake of CDC guidance last week that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors, except in health care settings, on public transportation, or in other areas where governments mandate masks.

Retailers are moving quickly to adapt to the latest federal guidance, but industry leaders and unions say it's created confusion for stores, workers and customers over how to approach mask policies.

"It's a real hodgepodge, and it's confusing for an individual to know whether they should or should not be wearing a mask depending on which store they walk into and for businesses to decide what's the best decision," said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "It's all taking place in this overall transition period here in the United States as we get more and more vaccines out there."

This confusion comes after a particularly tough year for retail workers across the country. Mask-wearing at stores has been a polarizing issue, and many workers have struggled to deal with shoppers who refuse to wear masks. The new CDC guidance makes it even tougher to enforce mask requirements at stores that have kept them. And at ones that haven't, there's no way to tell if customers coming in are vaccinated.

The challenge of enforcing mask rules

Making matters more complicated for retailers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency tasked with regulating safety standards at workplaces, has not changed its recommendations that retail workers wear masks on the job.

"OSHA is reviewing the recent CDC guidance," the agency said on its website, and advised employers to follow the new CDC guidance to create "measures appropriate to protect fully vaccinated workers."

David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation, which represents large retail chains, said that some stores are still requiring workers to mask up because "many customers prefer to see everybody masked" when they shop.

Retailers want to set uniform standards across their stores on mask wearing, he said, but they also must adhere to local regulations.

Ten states still have statewide mask mandates in place, according to Kaiser. Twenty-seven states had mask mandates prior to the updated CDC guidance last Thursday.

"When there's a patchwork system, a protocol in one city might be different from the protocol in a neighboring city. And that gets confusing," said French.

On Tuesday, the National Retail Federation and another retail industry trade group, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, wrote a joint letter to the National Governors Association and the US Conference of Mayors asking for clarity on local mask orders.

The groups said local orders on masks are complicating the situation at stores and expressed concern that workers will be put in the position of enforcing mask policies in locations where mandates are in place.

"Retail employees should not be asked to serve as de facto law enforcement related to masks," the groups said. "If localities choose to keep mask requirements in place for unvaccinated Americans, administration of these requirements must not be placed on retail employees."

States should consider the "practicality" of state and local rules on masks following federal guidance changes, the groups said.

Unions for retail and grocery workers have criticized CDC guidance and loosening mask policies. They say the new guidance makes it more difficult for workers to enforce local mask mandates and that stores have no way of verifying which customers are vaccinated. They worry that unvaccinated shoppers will come into shop without masks.

A Starbucks worker in Savannah, Georgia, said throughout the pandemic he has had to ask customers to mask up because of Starbucks' requirement and a county mask mandate. This worker spoke under the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

But now that Starbucks has ended its mask rule for vaccinated shoppers, he said, the rule is unenforceable.

"It's in place, but it means nothing," he said. "We have no way to tell if anyone is vaccinated."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 926604

Reported Deaths: 15083
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1262201958
Lake626901087
Allen52772747
Hamilton43283445
St. Joseph41475584
Elkhart33129488
Vanderburgh29927439
Tippecanoe26589247
Johnson23267415
Hendricks21902340
Porter21473341
Clark17150224
Madison17065379
Vigo15815273
Monroe14298190
LaPorte14108237
Delaware13771219
Howard13635262
Kosciusko11232134
Hancock10637160
Warrick10523176
Bartholomew10341167
Floyd10200202
Wayne9690218
Grant8939196
Morgan8734158
Boone8299109
Dubois7596123
Henry7469128
Dearborn745187
Noble7294101
Marshall7237128
Cass7097117
Lawrence6862150
Shelby6457107
Jackson643981
Gibson6036106
Harrison595585
Huntington591891
Montgomery5706102
DeKalb563591
Knox537599
Miami531983
Clinton527164
Putnam525367
Whitley516251
Steuben486367
Wabash477492
Jasper471961
Jefferson461991
Ripley444175
Adams439365
Daviess4064106
Scott394963
White386257
Clay382356
Greene380189
Wells379683
Decatur379595
Fayette367176
Posey354941
Jennings346356
Washington325847
LaGrange315774
Spencer313034
Fountain309753
Randolph305487
Sullivan299447
Owen279161
Starke272761
Orange272659
Fulton268851
Jay250634
Perry247451
Carroll241127
Franklin233637
Vermillion229750
Rush228930
Parke215220
Tipton206754
Pike202538
Blackford165634
Pulaski158751
Crawford142818
Newton140742
Benton139816
Brown132646
Martin126916
Switzerland123510
Warren113416
Union93511
Ohio77211
Unassigned0468

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1342777

Reported Deaths: 21471
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1502191556
Cuyahoga1327732318
Hamilton962791318
Montgomery659161136
Summit555141045
Lucas50248862
Butler46732653
Stark40741974
Lorain31004529
Warren29609328
Mahoning26462637
Clermont25206287
Lake24339416
Delaware22014143
Licking20180241
Fairfield20139221
Greene19955268
Trumbull19500508
Medina19478286
Clark17565325
Richland15949231
Portage15851228
Wood15438208
Allen13875256
Miami13549249
Muskingum12261149
Wayne11647237
Columbiana11344239
Tuscarawas10657265
Marion10509148
Pickaway10301128
Scioto10082126
Erie9618171
Ross9209174
Lawrence8516116
Hancock8298141
Ashtabula8180185
Geauga8066155
Belmont7966184
Jefferson7324168
Huron7253127
Union717849
Washington7037119
Athens681064
Sandusky6734133
Darke6559136
Knox6475121
Seneca6237137
Ashland5808112
Auglaize580488
Shelby5654101
Mercer552190
Brown551068
Defiance5361100
Madison535170
Crawford5299114
Highland527581
Fulton520082
Clinton515980
Logan503182
Preble4902110
Putnam4778106
Guernsey454661
Williams448281
Champaign436264
Perry432152
Ottawa431184
Jackson413260
Pike378941
Morrow369150
Fayette367652
Coshocton359466
Hardin350069
Adams348069
Gallia338054
Holmes3197108
Henry318868
Van Wert307170
Hocking291669
Wyandot276158
Carroll256752
Paulding236442
Meigs205242
Monroe185049
Noble164840
Morgan159228
Harrison151940
Vinton133918
Unassigned05
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