Retailers Revisit Mask Debate After New C.D.C. Guidelines
The government’s updated pandemic precautions guidelines put retailers in a position they thought was outdated: deciding whether or not to impose masks on customers and employees.
The new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for masks to be worn again in places where the virus spreads rapidly and cover nearly two-thirds of US counties. Just two months ago, the agency said fully vaccinated people could remove their masks. But the Delta variant of the coronavirus has changed the safety equation and guidelines.
Some companies reacted quickly. Apple said on Wednesday it would start requiring employees and customers to wear masks regardless of their immunization status in more than half of its stores.
“Retailers will continue to follow CDC guidelines,” the National Retail Federation said in a statement. He added: “It is truly unfortunate that the mask recommendations have returned when the best known way to reduce the threat of the virus is through widespread vaccination.”
Other large retailers refrained from making immediate policy changes.
A spokeswoman for Publix, which has more than 1,000 stores in Florida and the rest of the South, said the grocer “is currently reviewing updated CDC guidelines and will provide updates regarding our policies, the optionally”.
Starbucks and Chipotle still allow customers to enter their locations without wearing a mask, unless required by local regulations or law, according to their websites. Macy’s, Target, Walmart and Kohl’s officials did not immediately comment.
“The safest course of action to be able to have something to refer to is to simply say that we plan to adhere to CDC guidelines,” said Joel Bines, who heads the company’s retail operations. Alix Partners consulting firm. But he said many companies he spoke to weren’t ready to back down on masks.
“You have a set of retailers who have evaluated the data and the information and come to the conclusion that they have already made the change that they are going to make and that they have no intention of going back”, Mr Bines said. noted.
When major retailers announced mask warrants earlier in the pandemic, the app was largely left to store workers and customers didn’t always follow suit. With more than half of the country’s adults now vaccinated and far more used to a mask-less life, it can be even more difficult to persuade unwilling customers to put on a mask.
“It was really tough at first – we had to get used to the whole new dress code,” said Mayer Gold, vice president of operations at Seasons Kosher Supermarket, a New York-area grocery chain. “It almost became like second nature, not that difficult. I think it will become difficult again – because the rules have been relaxed for a while – if you go back to it. “
Given the ever-changing nature of the pandemic, however, the reluctance to renew mask mandates could change.
“If there is a significant spike in cases in a particular market, that’s when retailers are likely to start worrying about their employees,” said Rupesh Parikh, retail analyst at Oppenheimer.
The CDC’s current recommendations, which are the responsibility of local governments, do vary by county. This means that a retailer could have two stores in the same general area operating with two different approaches to masks. And the rules are geared towards the most vulnerable counties with low vaccination rates, where people can resist mask policies as well.
“He’s trying to motivate better protections in places that have the worst outbreaks, but they have bad outbreaks because those are the areas that didn’t think it was a big enough deal to even get vaccinated first. take place, ”said Joseph Allen of Harvard’s School of Public Health, which advises companies on issues related to the pandemic.
“What will probably happen will be in highly vaccinated places that we don’t necessarily need – the vaccinated will wear masks,” he said, while “others will ignore it”.
For retailers that have been forced to shut down for at least part of 2020, there might be little motivation to potentially alienate needed customers over masks.
“They want the business, especially after the year we just had,” said Luisa Borrell, professor at the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy. “They say the client is always right, but if there is no national mandate it will be difficult for them to enforce it.”
At Giacomo Fine Food, a delicatessen on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, fully vaccinated customers can still do without a mask, said Omar Bravo, an employee of the store. He will again demand masks for all clients if requested by the New York State Department of Health.
As for the new CDC guidelines? Mr. Bravo hadn’t heard of it yet. “It’s hard to follow,” he says.
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