Mask On: Stores now require masks nationally for foreseeable future

Despite popular rhetoric that coronavirus will soon be a thing of the past, cases are on the rise, with curves in some states encountering steep slopes of new cases that rival even those of Everest. And while many states are responding by ramping up anti-viral spread measures by implementing mask mandates and imposing a resurgence of limiting group gatherings, others are proceeding full steam ahead with reopening plans, and even resisting their localities’ initiatives to make masks requirements. With the country divided along lines of how to best approach coronavirus (or if to even tackle the modern health crisis surrounding the pandemic), some national chains have taken health and safety of customers and employees into their own hands, issuing corporate mandates for masks to be worn by both patrons and workers.

One such retail chain is Costco. In May, Costco became the first major retailer to require masks for entry into the store, in the midst of many states’ initial peaks in the coronavirus infections. The mask requirement prevails nationally, its enforcement much to many patrons’ outrage.

Starbucks followed suit in the restaurant/cafe industry, providing black cloth masks for its employees and requiring that patrons wear masks upon entry to the stores once they reopened for indoor seating. The requirement went into effect on July 15.

Walmart, Walgreens, and Sam’s Club also put additional health measures in place in the last months after having seen that essential businesses such as themselves were viral breeding grounds, perfect for superspreader events, especially when portions of the public refused to adhere to social distancing precautions or to wear PPE whilst shopping. The stores responded by issuing a mask requirement that went into effect on Monday, July 20. Sam’s Club has offered to provide disposable masks to any patrons who do not have one on hand at time of entry, and Walmart has begun an initiative to specially train “health ambassadors,” whose job focus will be the implementation of mask requirements and resolution for situations in which patrons refuse to or are unable to wear a face covering.

Like Walmart, similar retailers such as Target have begun taking steps to implement a face covering requirement. Target’s requirement will take effect beginning August 1.

Other grocery stores, such as Trader Joe’s, have issued “requests” that customers don PPE, but in practice are refusing entry for customers who do not wear one. Trader Joe’s has also implemented other measures, such as operating at limited capacity and counting the number of patrons in the store at a time, and alternative methods of checking out that limit employees’ contact with customers. Ques also implement social distancing, both in lines to enter store locations, and in check out lines within the store.

Likewise, Whole Foods is requiring masks for entry, but is operating on a Sam’s Club-like model by providing face masks free of charge for patrons who do not already have one.

Grocery and convenience stores aren’t the only retailers enforcing such initiatives, though. Home improvement stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s are also requiring masks nationally. Home Depot’s requirement will take effect on Wednesday, July 22, while Lowe’s will begin on Monday, July 20. Home Depot will also be creating a role for employees as “social distancing captains,” who will be store associates responsible for enforcing mask rules, resolving disagreements revolving around customers who refuse or are unable to wear masks due to age or health conditions, and will provide face coverings for patrons who do not have one. Lowe’s has also announced that they will provide masks free of charge for shoppers without suitable face coverings.

Other stores, like GAP, Inc., Macy’s, Inc., and American Eagle Outfitters and Aerie have announced their own requirements, to take effect within the next few weeks. GAP, Inc. includes all affiliated retailers and companies, including Banana Republic, GAP, Athleta, Old Navy, etc. GAP, Inc. has said they will provide masks for those who do not bring one. Its mask requirement will begin enforcement on August 1. Macy’s will be implementing similar policies, which are set to take effect store-wide on Wednesday, July 22. American Eagle’s policies are the same, though no definitive date has been announced.

Pet stores have likewise begun to incorporate mask policies store-wide. This includes PetSmart, which announced its new mask requirement to be implemented throughout the chain at the nation-wide scale on July 17.

Though 30 states already have such protective measures in place for retail spaces, those that do not pose significant health risks to the public. Unfortunately, despite a majority of Americans saying that they dutifully wear masks while in public so as to protect themselves, their families, and their communities, a vocal portion of the public has become increasingly resistant to the PPE regulations, claiming that mandates violate their rights. While a mask may seem to be an imposition, especially as summer weather makes them increasingly uncomfortable, it is more important than ever to acknowledge that COVID is on the rise, and data surrounding it may have recently become unreliable. But science backs masks. The decision to wear a mask could mean life or death for an essential worker, neighbor, friend, or family member. Moreover, a stranger’s decision not to could mean pain, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of hospital bills, or even heartbreak at the death of yourself or your loved ones. Wearing a mask is a public service. And, though it may be inconvenient, it is easier to breathe through a mask than a ventilator. Your health should never be put at risk by a stranger’s refusal to listen to science, and your safety is not a political battleground. Mask up, be safe, stay healthy.

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