Stores want shoppers to wear masks. But some customers refuse

A handful of states and cities have mandated that s...

Posted: Apr 23, 2020 1:05 PM
Updated: Apr 23, 2020 2:45 PM

A handful of states and cities have mandated that shoppers wear coverings in grocery stores and other public places as they try to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

But retailers are struggling with how to convince their customers to follow the requirements. Major chains have yet to ban those who don't put on masks, even as labor advocates push for more protections for frontline workers.

Stores are reluctant to antagonize shoppers by turning them away.

Wegmans, for example, wants to minimize 'the likelihood of conflicts in our stores' and will 'not put our people in the position of having to deny entry to our stores,' even in states where masks in public settings are required, a representative said.

At Stop & Shop, workers are telling customers who don't wear masks in the states where they are required to 'expedite their shopping trip, and then requesting that they wear a mask next time,' a spokesperson said.

However, anxious workers and their allies are calling for policies ordering customers to wear masks or face coverings to protect them and other shoppers from the virus. The virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity, even if people do not display symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

'Keeping grocery stores safe for both customers and workers means everyone must wear masks,' said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. 'We are urging both elected leaders and grocery chains to make masks mandatory for both customers and workers.'

'Not the mask police'

Decisions around customers wearing masks are playing out against the backdrop of more grocery and retail workers getting sick from the virus and dying; some states planning to reopen retail stores that have been shuttered during the crisis; and mixed signals from public officials.

More than 60% of Americans report that they have worn a mask on their face outside of their homes, Gallup said Friday.

Several smaller grocers have started requiring that all their customers wear masks inside stores, yet larger chains like Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, CVS and others have stopped short of this step.

'It can be a bit more difficult to enforce this requirement in parts of the country where it's not mandatory,' said a Walmart spokesperson. The company wants to 'avoid situations that may create a confrontation' with workers.

Some grocery workers believe that their companies' failure to make shoppers wear a mask puts them at risk.

'They allow the customers to freely walk around the store without masks,' said Dionna Richardson, a cashier at Ralph's grocery store in Los Angeles and a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Los Angeles has required that customers wear a mask or covering in stores, but Richardson said Ralph's was not enforcing the regulation. Ralphs is owned by Kroger.

Richardson said she asked a customer to wear a mask, but was reprimanded by her store leader. 'I was told that it was none of my business and that I was not the mask police.'

A representative for Ralph's did not comment on Richardson's account, but said Ralph's requires customers to cover their faces and states its policy on signs posted on the front door of all stores.

'If a customer attempts to enter our store without a face covering, they are directed back to their vehicle to retrieve their face covering or something suitable to cover their mouth and nose,' the representative said. 'A store leader may also provide a face mask for the customer to use, where available, for free.'

Shifting guidelines

New Jersey, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Hawaii, Miami, Austin, Washington, DC, and others have recently ordered shoppers to wear masks or face coverings in stores.

Their requirements differ, however, and most do not come with a penalty for either shoppers or stores.

Nellie Brown, director of workplace health and safety programs at Cornell University's Institute of Labor Relations, said if a state has made requirements on masks, 'that would take precedence.' However, 'if a state were silent on the issue, the store could make its own requirements.'

She believes a 'mask requirement of customers would protect employees, as well as other customers.'

Instead of forcing customers to wear masks, big grocers and retailers have taken safety steps such as screening workers' temperatures, installing plexiglass dividers at cash registers, adding social distancing signs and markers, and enforcing customer capacity limits.

But a handful of smaller grocers around the country are prohibiting customers from shopping without a mask, even where it's not required, including Nugget Market, a chain of 15 stores in California.

'I know this might upset a few of you and I apologize in advance, but this will offer all of us the most protection!' CEO Eric Stille said in a statement on April 8. 'Extreme times call for extreme measures and I feel this is what's best to help curb the spread of the virus and protect us all.'

In Memphis, Cordelia's Market is requiring customers to wear masks.

'We have a fair amount of not only customers, but also elderly employees,' said grocery manager Angelina Mazzanti. 'We know that we're going to have some pushback from customers.' Customers can buy a mask or bandana at the store if they don't have one, she added.

Smart & Final, a chain of more than 300 stores in California, is also doing this.

'If a customer doesn't have a mask or face covering, we politely ask them to return with one or they can purchase one in our store,' a spokesperson said.

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1942469

Reported Deaths: 50977
CountyCasesDeaths
Kings2563999824
Queens2561569457
Suffolk1888053289
Nassau1732163085
Bronx1707686325
New York1284834268
Westchester1232032226
Erie781931671
Richmond685931724
Monroe587741024
Orange44911782
Rockland44823931
Onondaga35149658
Dutchess27142428
Albany23149340
Oneida21095497
Niagara17405331
Broome16957347
Saratoga13944158
Ulster12588240
Schenectady12128189
Rensselaer10359135
Putnam993891
Chautauqua8123131
Chemung6979133
Oswego680590
Ontario661191
Steuben6119141
St. Lawrence607494
Sullivan586468
Cayuga574590
Jefferson534563
Wayne505566
Cattaraugus496679
Genesee4945121
Herkimer4836107
Clinton439131
Madison420185
Tompkins398049
Fulton391085
Livingston389058
Columbia376299
Montgomery3749114
Cortland348260
Warren328855
Tioga327058
Wyoming317450
Allegany310782
Otsego306746
Greene303774
Chenango295672
Washington277955
Orleans267383
Lewis239133
Franklin235112
Delaware206935
Seneca182456
Schoharie147815
Essex147626
Yates108326
Schuyler96913
Hamilton2942
Unassigned17396
Out of NY0213
Rome
Partly Cloudy
78° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 78°
Binghamton
Partly Cloudy
71° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 71°
Rome
Partly Cloudy
78° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 78°
Rome
Partly Cloudy
78° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 78°
WKTV Radar
WKTV Temperatures
WKTV Severe Weather
Saluting Those Who Are Proud 2 Serve
Looking for work or looking to hire? Check out the WKTV Job Fair!