Should Apple join the crowd in lifting mask requirements?

Photo: RetailWire
Nov 08, 2021

Apple reportedly lifted mask requirements at more than 100 of its 270 U.S. stores starting last Friday due to declining COVID-19 cases and climbing vaccination rates.

“The positive trends in vaccinations, testing, and case counts for your area have made this change possible,” according to an internal memo obtained by Bloomberg. Presently, 68 percent of those 12-and-up in the U.S. are fully vaccinated.

Apple’s requirements will be the same for vaccinated and unvaccinated customers. Masks will still be required for Apple associates. The memo explained, “Team members have longer interactions in store and are in close proximity throughout the day.”

Stores will also continue to follow local mandates for masking indoors. Apple will “continue to monitor local guidance and COVID data” and may make adjustments.

Apple has taken a more cautious approach than most retailers during the pandemic, becoming one of the first to close stores at the start and restarting openings in May 2020 with only a few locations at limited capacity and with mask requirements and temperature checks. The majority of stores initially only offered curbside pickup.

By March 2021, Apple had reopened all of its stores and eased mask requirements in June. Most retailers had quickly dropped mask guidelines for fully vaccinated customers in May, following the release of updated guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC).

In late July, Apple became the only major retailer to reinstate mask requirements after the CDC recommended vaccinated people wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmissions as the Delta variant continued to spread.

McDonald’s at the time also again began requiring customers and employees to wear masks again at U.S. restaurants in areas with high or substantial transmission risk.

Most businesses, however, including Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Lowe’s and Starbucks, shifted to only requiring employees to wear masks, while strongly encouraging or recommending customers wear them. Some retailers require masks for unvaccinated customers and employees.

On October 22, CDC officials indicated they were not planning to change their guidelines, despite declines in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, as transmission rates across the country remain high or substantial in over 90 percent of counties. As of Sunday, CDC data showed 71 percent of counties showing high and 17 percent showing substantial transmission risk.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is it appropriate or still too risky for Apple and other retailers to ease mask mandates for customers ahead of CDC guidance? Do you agree with the stricter requirements for employees?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Apple’s decision seems reasonable, yet at the same time I hope its associates (still required to wear masks) feel that the new policy treats their health concerns respectfully"
"I think it’s risky to ease mask mandates, especially heading into the winter months. 
However the burden of enforcing mask mandates for customers falls on employees."
"Apple has been a leader on this front since the beginning of the pandemic."

Join the Discussion!

18 Comments on "Should Apple join the crowd in lifting mask requirements?"

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Mark Ryski

Apple has been a leader on this front since the beginning of the pandemic. CDC guidelines are important, but they’re guidelines – companies need to make their own decisions about how they implement these guidelines and it seems to me that Apple is exercising good judgment and making appropriate decisions for their staff and customers. Requirements will continue to ebb and flow as the pandemic continues and companies will need to continue to evolve their practices accordingly.

Neil Saunders

It is up to each retailer to make a judgement call on this, and customers should be respectful of whatever rules are put in place. It is also up to each individual consumer to make a judgement as to whether or not to wear masks and everyone should be equally respectful of that.

Bob Amster

Conditions vary geographically and by municipality. To the extent that Apple is willing to err on the side of caution at the potential expense of putting off some of its customers Apple can, and probably will, march to the beat of its own drum. I also believe that the typical Apple customer won’t care if in-store mask mandates continue for a while longer.

DeAnn Campbell

Although this pandemic is far from over, we’re beginning to learn how to co-exist with it, so it does make sense for retailers to begin to align with local mandates. It isn’t reasonable to expect retailers – meaning their front line staff – to enforce rules that local or regional government don’t support.

Bob Phibbs

I would support all retailers dropping mask requirements for employees and making it an at-will issue. It is hard to hear staff through plexiglass and other barriers. I also support a vaccine mandate on any staff interfacing with the public.

Kai Clarke

No, no, no. Apple should be following the CDC requirements for mask wearing and social distancing. It is still too risky to even consider violating a pandemic rule on mask wearing when only two-thirds of the population is fully vaccinated. This means that one in three people are still not vaccinated! These are terrible odds and our nation’s healthcare system is still overrun with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. Masks are the best protection short of vaccination, and in many places mask mandates are still in place. We only have to ask ourselves, why?

Jeff Sward

This isn’t first and foremost about Apple or any other retailer. It’s about CDC guidelines and then regional/local circumstances and dynamics. And even when the science and the data tell us it’s OK to loosen the guidelines, there will be both customers and employees who may wish to continue to wear masks out of individual or family considerations. I hope those decisions are respected and that there are no attempts to shame them out of wearing a mask. The “new normal” is going to be different for some people. And by the way, look what mask wearing did for the incidence of the flu last year.

Richard Hernandez

It should be left for the retailer to make this decision. This goes for employees as well as customers.

Cathy Hotka

Masks are effective, so let’s take them off? Our society seems to have decided that a half-ounce of fabric or paper is an onerous burden. This is an interesting juxtaposition with today’s New York Times article about disproportional COVID-19 fatalities in counties with different political beliefs.

Dick Seesel

Most stores that I walk into strongly recommend (but do not require) masks for those fully vaccinated. Since they don’t generally require proof of vaccination, it’s impossible to know how many customers in a given stores are maskless but also unvaccinated.

Apple’s decision seems reasonable, yet at the same time I hope its associates (still required to wear masks) feel that the new policy treats their health concerns respectfully. The CDC will err on the side of caution during the winter months, having relaxed its mask policy prematurely before the Delta outbreak — but retailers shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to unmask.

Meaghan Brophy

I think it’s risky to ease mask mandates, especially heading into the winter months. 
However the burden of enforcing mask mandates for customers falls on employees. Given the uptick in combative customers, and people verbally – or in some cases, physically – abusing retail and customer service workers, I support Apple’s decision to ease the mask mandate as it means Apple employees don’t have the burden of enforcing it. 

I like the approach of businesses “strongly encouraging” customers to wear masks. At least in my area, most shoppers seem to comply with these requests.

Georganne Bender

In Illinois where I live there is a mask mandate in place so it’s a moot point. Requiring store associates to wear masks but allowing shoppers to chose whether to wear one or not puts the associates at risk. The mask you wear protects me, and visa versa.

Look, I am as anxious to get rid of masks as everyone else. But I do want those who work on the front line to be kept as safe as possible.

Steve Montgomery

Apple easing its mask mandates only impacts locations where local mask rules match its position. In those locations the easing of its rules will match those of local governments. In markets where the local governments still require masks it will not change anything. I believe people are far more aware of the local rules regarding masking than they are of the CDC’s.

Gene Detroyer

NYC has mask mandates for unvaccinated customers. I don’t think it goes far enough. In restaurants and entertainment venues one must show proof of vaccination, or you can’t enter at all. For retailers, it’s “trust me.” BTW, this morning it was announced that just over 80% of eligible New Yorkers have been vaccinated.

The retailers can at least enforce mask wearing for their employees as they should.

I frankly do not understand the reticence to wearing a mask. At the moment I am sitting outside of my coffee place with my mask under my chin. When I go inside to get my coffee, I put my mask up. Would I like to forget about the mask? Sure, but it isn’t really a big deal as our country is fighting the biggest enemy in its history. While we have the tools, sadly, as a country, we don’t have the will.

9 months 8 days ago
A few commentators have brought up points that are relevant. But, like so many arguments, must be considered in context. One, of requiring (Apple) employees to stay masked while customers are given the option not to. The implied reason for this: keeping visitors safe from overly exposed staff. My question is: if one is worried about transmission, from staff (or others), don’t they have a personal responsibility to stay masked? This would then allow vaccinated employees, who have endured quite a lot (including trying valiantly to communicate through masks and plexiglas), the choice to go unmasked. And thus, take responsibility for themselves; and not make it about the risky onslaught of visitors, coming in from to and fro? Essentially, should it not be each person taking responsibility for their own self—and in this context, not making (Apple) staff both pariah and mask police? Two, that news points out the still-increasing numbers of transmission among the unmasked and-unvaccinated as being higher than among vaccinated (masked) persons. Consequently, since the risk is still there, we should remain… Read more »
Carlos Arambula

Lifting the mass requirement depends on costumers properly following CDC recommendations on masks and vaccines, which is not the case everywhere and defied in some communities. Unfortunately — and ridiculously — anti-mask customers have elevated the issue beyond health. Moreover, narratives from retail employees tell of anti-mask customers angrily challenging retail employees and other customers for wearing masks.

The retailer is responsible for the health and well-being of employees and customers while at their locations. In my opinion, having different safety requirements for customers and employers is not responsible as long as there is a more than negligible exposure risk of Covid.

Rachelle King

I commend Apple for protecting employees who are on the front lines in their stores. While we can all appreciate the angst that may come with wearing a mask for several hours a day, at least employees will be safer.

Still, it has been a slippery slope trying to police mask mandates for customers. Generally, “strongly encouraged” is seen as “not needed.” At the same time, it is tough to reconcile relaxing mask mandates while 90% of US counties have high or substantial transmission rates.

If retailers have learned any thing over this past year, they have learned that stores don’t run themselves. Taking extra measures to keep employees safe as conditions evolve is probably the best thing retailers can do right now.

Brian Cluster

Collectively we are now entering a new phase in the pandemic with many people receiving their third shot and younger children becoming eligible for a vaccine. Retailers should be aware of the CDC guidelines, the local situation, and even the traffic density of the store and make decisions from there.

I was at the Apple Store in UTC mall in San Diego over the weekend and yes many customers were maskless but there were well over 100 people in the store. Down the way, at Rodd & Gunn, I believe everyone was maskless but it was a much more quiet experience. The variance of policies between stores 10 feet apart can still make it frustrating for the customer. A question remains on if there will be a specific benchmark to say when we will no longer need masks?

"Apple’s decision seems reasonable, yet at the same time I hope its associates (still required to wear masks) feel that the new policy treats their health concerns respectfully"
"I think it’s risky to ease mask mandates, especially heading into the winter months. 
However the burden of enforcing mask mandates for customers falls on employees."
"Apple has been a leader on this front since the beginning of the pandemic."

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