The face mask rule is now simply a suggestion at some H-E-B stores

Discussion
Long lines at H-E-B in Houston, March 21, 2020 -Photo: Getty Images/Richard McMillin
Jun 05, 2020
Matthew Stern

H-E-B really wants its customers to wear masks in-store. In San Antonio, however, store staff will no longer turn away the mask-less.

The move comes as Texas Governor Greg Abbott implemented an order allowing local governments to have mandatory mask ordinances, but forbidding them from imposing fines or punishments, according to a local San Antonio news report. H-E-B’s official stance is that it strongly encourages the wearing of masks or facial coverings by all of its customers. Store staff and vendors at H-E-B locations in San Antonio will still be required to wear masks.

Up to this point, H-E-B has drawn accolades for assuring customer safety throughout the pandemic, according to a Bond Brand Loyalty study quoted by Progressive Grocer. In the “Covid-19 Tracker Study,” H-E-B received an 80 percent customer satisfaction rating during the pandemic, performing nearly 20 percent better than Costco and Walmart, and more than 20 percent better than Publix and Kroger. Some of the measures that customers deemed the most important to feeling safe in-store were the availability of hand sanitizer and the consistent enforcement of social distancing.

Unclear data and confusing recommendations early on in the pandemic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health organizations have led to enduring controversy over the effectiveness of face masks in stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus.

A recent meta-analysis published in The Lancet and reported on USA Today, however, appears to show significant value to masking up, especially in conjunction with social distancing and the use of eye protection.

As with numerous fixtures of the pandemic response in the U.S., mask-wearing has become a political flashpoint in some locales. A local news report last month from Lake Travis, TX, details residents being split on the question of mask-wearing, with some refusing to patronize places where masks were required and even believing that masks could cause physical damage.

Texas has begun the move into Phase III of its reopening, with Gov. Abbott announcing other reductions in pandemic-related limitations, according to The Houston Chronicle. For instance, restaurants operating a 25 percent capacity can now expand to 50 percent.

Texas is one of the states in which COVID-19 cases are currently on the rise, according to data compiled by the NY Times. The total case count in the state has exceeded 71,000 and nearly 1,800 deaths have been attributed to the virus to date.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is it time for grocers to start relaxing policies for in-store face mask-wearing? What should determine how rigorously stores demand that customers wear them?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Is the pandemic over and I missed the memo?"
"If a marketplace is a hot spot for COVID-19, grocers should impose a mandatory mask policy. In all other places, masks should be encouraged, but optional. It’s that simple."
"Last I checked, we’re still in the middle, not at the end, of a pandemic."

Join the Discussion!

34 Comments on "The face mask rule is now simply a suggestion at some H-E-B stores"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

If cases are rising or continuing in your area, it’s still time to wear face masks. A store requiring shoppers to wear face masks is protecting other shoppers, not necessarily the person wearing the mask. It’s not hard and if you live in a place where they think masks are causing physical damage, but you’re reading this, it’s time for you to move to a smarter area.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

H-E-B was one of the first supermarket chains in the country to have strict COVID-19 policies for both store partners and customers alike. They were (and still are) very transparent in letting the public know when a store partner has tested positive for COVID-19. Looking at the number of cases and trends and the lapse of state/country mandates, they are moving with other retailers in relaxing requiring masks for customers that shop their stores.

Michael Terpkosh
BrainTrust

It is not time to relax mask-wearing policies or any other COVID-19 policies in the workplace. I understand the U.S. is trying to slowly open-up, but the safety of retail employees and their customers must come first. In the U.S. over the last 24 hours over 1,000 people died of the virus. We have a long way to go.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Is the pandemic over and I missed the memo?

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Maybe the best one-liner you’ve written, Cathy.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Thank you! 🙂

Al McClain
Staff

Cathy, I think we’re such an impatient society now that many states are relaxing their approach and opening up (with urging from the top) even though they shouldn’t. Here in Florida, cases are steady to up (with an all time high daily number yesterday), and we’re essentially at another peak now, a few weeks after things started reopening. But, the reopening continues unabated, with fits and starts, even in hot spots and counties. There have been many instances of businesses not enforcing social distancing and other rules. Texas cases have also been rising similarly. So, I think H-E-B is essentially throwing in the towel because they know a certain percentage of customers will react in a hostile manner to being told to wear masks, in the absence of better state and federal leadership and role models on the issue.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

I’m with you Al. I came down to Florida from Atlanta a week ago and am blown away by how few people are wearing masks inside of retail stores — maybe 30 percent. I read today that yesterday was the highest number of cases in Florida to date. I’m sure many things are behind this, but there’s a general laissez faire feeling in the air. The question is who is on point to correct it? If state and federal mandates hit, the retailer wouldn’t have to make hard choices–particularly when to wear or not to wear has become a political statement. Sigh.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

It is absolutely not time to relax. I’m afraid people are confusing politics with science. I believe masking up will be with us until a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19 are in place. I won’t shop anywhere that allows people to roam without a mask and those stores that do should be held liable.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

A touchy subject! There are government mandated guidelines and then there are store policies. Meeting the requirements is the minimum. From that point on, retailers should be allowed to enforce a stricter level of safety and health guidelines should they desire to do so. This is for the safety and health of both employees and customers.

The other day I was at a store and noticed after every transaction at the cash register, the cashier would disinfect and wipe down the counter and credit card machine. The next store didn’t. Customers will make their own decisions about the stores that make them feel safe and secure.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

Masks help. But it has also become a heavily politicized issue. The government doesn’t mandate it at state level, so there is no way H-E-B can enforce it without a significant level of angst from shoppers who do not want to wear masks.

I hope people still follow social distancing to minimize the risk.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

To reinforce what Michael Terpkosh said, it’s premature to relax safety policies. At its current pace, we may lose another 100,000 Americans to the virus by Labor Day, and there is evidence that some states’ infection rates are rising. (Texas, for example.) Whether this is due to civic unrest or to relaxation of standards, it doesn’t really matter; Americans shouldn’t become numb to this reality.

There is chest-thumping in some circles about the May jobs report — and the numbers are certainly better than expected — but the recovery will be stalled if a second wave of infections causes a second phase of shutdowns. There is already plenty of collateral jobs damage still to come (major summer events canceled around the country) and carelessness won’t help matters.

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 9 days ago

The jobs report will be even better in June. I was surprised the May report was as good as it was, actually, given how much was still closed in May. Travel numbers are rising, casinos reopening in NV, more “non essential” businesses like retail being allowed to re-open as of today in CA. Folks are getting back to work.

There won’t be a second phase of shut downs. I think everyone has learned the lesson on that. There may be a second phase of virus scare and a large segment of the population not going out, though.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I think H-E-B understands the realities of the moment and their consumer base. I don’t believe anyone has any certainty on what the virus is doing or will be doing. We need data. We need testing. We need one voice of authority to tell us what we should/shouldn’t do. Without that, we are all just trying to figure it out as best we can. Name-calling won’t help.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

So Texas is suggesting we should trust the shoppers to behave properly? The shoppers scare me more than any other segment. And the ones who scare me the most are the ones who believe it is their right not to protect their fellow citizens.

How should the stores (and the government) demand customers to wear masks? Follow the numbers. When you know this virus is no longer being spread to others, then it will be OK.

Wearing a mask is EASY. Not wearing a mask is not an expression of freedom or bravery. It is simply an expression of selfishness. How selfish? Your comfort versus someone else possibly dying. That is pretty selfish.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Documented cases on the rise and the masks come off. Insane. How tough is it to wear a mask until the data demonstrates an improving trend? I hope H-E-B customers have safe alternatives. And referencing another topic today, will H-E-B be protected from liability if an outbreak is reliably traced to them?

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Maybe the folks at H-E-B should read the RetailWire article on whether retailers should be held liable for workers sickened by COVID-19.

No, it’s not time to relax the mandate for wearing masks in stores. As I write this I am watching the numbers of new people who have died due to COVID-19 going across the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen. How can this be a good idea? The H-E-B spokesperson said the retailer strongly encourages the use of masks by all customers in all stores. Good. Now, follow your own advice and continue to protect associates and customers.

Scott Norris
Guest

Costco doesn’t seem to be suffering and they mandate masks, no exceptions. I love H-E-B but they need to step up and lead, regardless of what the anti-science, anti-sense people threaten. Just because you sell chicken doesn’t mean you have to act like a chicken.

Jason Goldberg
BrainTrust
From a medical standpoint, we’re only barely safer today than were were in March. We are nowhere close to herd immunity, our therapies are only nominally better, and obviously there is no vaccine yet. We’re slightly less likely to overwhelm our healthcare system than we were in March, but even that varies wildly by region. We have made huge scientific progress, but almost NONE of that has translated into it being any safer to go shopping in June than it was in March. So it’s crazy that retailers are having so much trouble (self-imposed and government mandated) instituting moderate safety protocols that we know work. Customers aren’t allowed in most stores without shoes, but it’s totally fine for a coughing/sneezing shopper to spend an hour in a store without a mask!?!? A customer would be arrested for urinating in the store, but somehow it’s a violation of customer rights to not let them spread coronavirus droplets? We’ve landed in this bizarro land, where you have to wear a helmet on your motorcycle or a seatbelt… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Excellent summary all around, Jason. Well said. I haven’t heard anyone complain about it being their right to not wear shoes into a store. How is a mask somehow harder to accept? As I’ve said in previous RetailWire discussions if wearing a mask could save one life (either another customer or a store associate) why wouldn’t you accept a minor inconvenience to do so?

jbarnes
Guest

I am sorry but how do you create rules and policies and not enforce them? What’s the point? It is like having a speed limit of 65 MPH and allowing drivers to drive at the speed at which suits them or having safety belt laws and not following them. You cannot create rules and policies with out enforcement. Masks have been proven to stop the spread of this virus and the last I checked the virus is still increasing.

Sorry it may be an inconvenience to wear a mask in any store… so is my car safety seatbelt but we all wear them.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

While there has been lots of controversy about the effectiveness of wearing a mask there is no downside for the wearer and there may be a great upside for the rest of us.

The issue for any retailer in an area where the government no longer requires them to be worn is, how can a retailer enforce no mask/no service?

George Anderson
Staff
I know that San Antonio and Bexar County (78 have died to date there) were among the most aggressive in shutting down when the outbreak began. H-E-B, to its credit, has been a leader in its response to protect the communities it serves and its workers. That said, the Texas state legislature, the state’s governor and lieutenant governor are clearly committed to reopening the economy and seeing what happens. It’s early still, but recent statewide numbers are concerning. Axios reported yesterday that testing increased in Texas 36 percent over the past week. That’s good news. The bad news is that confirmed people with the virus went up 51 percent. The state is also seeing increases in the percentages of people being tested who are coming back positive for COVID-19. Directionally, those stats are headed the wrong way. Let’s hope that Texans who choose to shop without face masks at H-E-B stores and elsewhere can somehow be encouraged to change their ways and choose to protect others by wearing coverings even if they are not concerned… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

With al due respect — and that isn’t much — Governor Abbott is a politician not a public health officer, so no it isn’t time to relax these policies unless we want to see a second “spike” in Wave I of the pandemic. Local infection rates should be the metric. If infections are declining, time to start considering relaxing some rules. If they start increasing time to get draconian.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

From what I am reading (and for every article that says “yes” there’s one that says “no” on pretty much anything), masks seem like a pretty low-cost, minor inconvenience method to lower risk. So sad they’ve been politicized.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

I am less comfortable shopping in stores when many consumers are not wearing face masks, especially when someone without a face mask coughs and doesn’t cover his mouth. Living in a state with increasing numbers of cases every day still, knowing that people are not wearing face masks keeps me from going to any store but a grocery store. In locations with rising rates of COVID-19 cases on a daily basis, face masks should be required.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
Last I checked, we’re still in the middle, not at the end, of a pandemic. From a purely health and safety point of view, we continue to lack scientific proof that we’ve somehow overcome the crisis we started with in March. Sure, some places are showing decreases in cases and deaths from coronavirus, but others are still on the rise, and it’s starting to look like the regions that opened up early are the ones showing the rise. Now isn’t the time to ease up on the most basic, and let’s face it, easiest, of restrictions. Wearing a mask is far easier to tolerate than asking a business that depends on traffic, say, a restaurant, to operate at 25 percent capacity. The wearing of masks has been made political by politicians who want to promote their own economic agenda with a total disregard for public health. Not by consumers. Consumers are just reacting to this. However, if you asked those consumers who refuse to wear a mask, would they be OK if the butcher at… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

As an aside, I just got off a Skype call with some friends in Italy. Italy is now open. People can go to restaurants, but there are certain rules. Tables must be three meters apart. You can only sit with those who are in the same household as you. The restaurant must keep a record of who is in the restaurant for two weeks so that if there is an infection, it can be traced.

Makes sense to me.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

That’s an interesting comparison, Gene. Especially since there appears to be little effort in areas that are re-opening to enabling reliable contact tracing should the numbers trend upward too much. If we had that kind of mandated tracing, the policies for re-opening could be more relaxed.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
1 month 9 days ago

It’s a bit disappointing to see H-E-B relaxing its policies but they, along with others, are under tremendous pressure to go back to “normalcy.” Ultimately, consumers will decide whether to continue shopping with retailers based on whether they feel safe shopping there, and whether new cases increase. Data should be the key but it seems we live in a world where data matter less than ever.

I’d again point to Apple as the most aggressive (requiring masks and temperature checks) when it comes not how it’s intending to look after customer and employees. Not to mention its retail performance.

There is a significant percentage of the country who won’t wear a mask for a range of reasons, whether they are immune (?) or ignorant (and trying to make a political statement). The health benefits are beyond obvious if you look at other countries and what certain states and municipalities have done to reduce the spread.

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 9 days ago
These fabric and cloth masks being used by many people are not very effective as air goes right through them and their cleanliness is suspect. People frequently touch their faces and do not social distance when wearing masks. The mask is supposed to be in addition to social distancing, not a replacement for it. I am also finding unsanitary things happening with employees that are wearing masks. In one natural foods focused grocery store, I had a cashier touch her mask near her mouth and neck and nose 9 times while she was checking me out (I had a 3 item transaction) continually adjusting her mask. In a department store last week where I was purchasing clothing I had an employee touch her mask 4 times during my transaction (I was buying 2 items) 2 of which she pulled it from touching her face (it was still covering … just not touching) as she yelled to an employee about 20 feet away about her break and that 2 people were using the fitting rooms. I… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I’m not going to speculate on whether/not it’s time — since I don’t know (and plenty of others can do it for me) — however I will ask: if the many people of RW who dislike this are representative, will it actually cause a drop-off of business at H-E-B from people who DON’T like the move? We’ll know soon enough.

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 9 days ago
It will not cause a drop off that anyone will notice. Those who want to force all others to wear masks and actually call others to the carpet for it are a small but vocal group. Ironically they are putting out more germs with their vocal complaints through their fabric non-medical masks that air goes right through, than a silent non-mask wearer who is minding their own business is. If they don’t want risks, wear a hazmat suit into the store. Wear two masks. I don’t know. But make sure it is a N-95 mask because the other masks do not do much (go look at the specs). But mind your own business and reduce contact with others (that includes not complaining vocally). Especially not a good idea to raise your voice while complaining (we see all the germs that spread through singing in those choirs) as that will really spread germs badly. I watch Yelp, etc. and see people leaving one star reviews at businesses where they see an employee not wearing a mask.… Read more »
John Karolefski
BrainTrust

If a marketplace is a hot spot for COVID-19, grocers should impose a mandatory mask policy. In all other places, masks should be encouraged, but optional. It’s that simple.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Is the pandemic over and I missed the memo?"
"If a marketplace is a hot spot for COVID-19, grocers should impose a mandatory mask policy. In all other places, masks should be encouraged, but optional. It’s that simple."
"Last I checked, we’re still in the middle, not at the end, of a pandemic."

Take Our Instant Poll

Do you agree with the thinking that reduced mask-wearing enforcement at stores marks the beginning of a return to normality for grocery?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...