What’s next for mask mandates?
Mask compliance continues to frustrate retailers nearly one year into the pandemic and the vaccine rollout is creating more turbulence on selling floors.
An article in The Wall Street Journal this past weekend chronicled the latest phase of mask conflicts:
- Store managers and staff continue to face confrontations by individual customers and sometimes coordinated groups of anti-maskers. Incidents range from foul language to lawsuit threats and violence;
- As COVID-19 cases decline and vaccines roll out, governors in Iowa, Montana and North Dakota have dropped statewide mask mandates, raising tensions with some city leaders who are keeping their own restrictions in place to fight new strains of the coronavirus as well as with stores that are trying to maintain their mask policies;
- With vaccines out of reach to most of the public, health experts say working retail continues to carry a high risk of infection. As of Feb. 17, Colorado had active investigations into outbreaks tied to staff at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, King Soopers and other stores. Almost 180 workers at a Costco store near Yakima, WA were infected between the middle of December and early January;
- Pandemic-fatigued shoppers aren’t as vigilant about wearing masks or wearing them properly, and worn down store staff aren’t as committed to policing requirements.
Other states and cities are likewise moving to ease restrictions on dining and other activities. Yet on Sunday on CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci said it’s “possible” Americans will need to wear masks in 2022 even as “a significant degree of normality” may arrive by the end of this year.
Among recent retail incidents:
- On Feb. 18, UPS severed its relationship with a franchisor in Newport, VT because the location refused to comply with the company’s uniform policy on wearing masks;
- On Valentine’s Day, an anti-mask group stormed a Trader Joe’s in Santa Cruz, ignored calls to leave, and posted a video of the incident on YouTube;
- On Feb. 6 at Woodman’s Food Market in Kenosha, WI, a male shopper punched a security staff member who reminded him of the store’s mask requirement.
- Grocers Wrestle With Mask Mandates as Pandemic Wears On – The Wall Street Journal
- Covid-19 Face Mask Mandates End in Some States, Fueling Tensions – The Wall Street Journal
- UPS ends relationship with Vermont store that refused to comply with mask rules – Boston.com
- Man arrested for punching store security staff who reminded him to wear mask; city mask mandate in effect through March 31 – Kenosha News
- Santa Cruz community condemns maskless group who stormed Trader Joe’s – Santa Cruz Sentinel
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What new challenges does the rollout of vaccines and easing of restrictions around dining and other activities place on mask mandates at stores? How should stores address mask fatigue by shoppers as well as store staff?
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15 Comments on "What’s next for mask mandates?"
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Managing Director, GlobalData
I think this is clear. Despite some light at the end of the tunnel, we’re still in a health crisis and if people want to visit physical stores they need to respect the rules retailers put in place. It’s not pleasant to wear a mask, but it’s hardly difficult.
I have great sympathy for staff at the sharp end. Retailers need to put in place clear policies for dealing with those violating policies, and have proper security staff and procedures for dealing with issues.
Longer term, once the crisis is over, legal mandates for masks must go. There is no justification for the state to dictate such things in normal times. However some people and retailers may still voluntarily opt for masks, which is their right.
Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC
One goal of every retailer should be to make a customer feel safe. If that includes a mandatory mask rule, then that is very appropriate. A customer who doesn’t want to wear a mask can shop elsewhere or agree to comply for that interaction. The retailer must enforce employee participation at the highest level. No room for leniency. Managers and leaders must be role models. For a mandatory mask policy to work, employees must be told there is no room for any lack of compliance. While some customers and employees may not believe the mask is effective, the vast majority do. And that majority are willing to comply. Keep customers and employees safe.
Professor, International Business, Guizhou University of Finance & Economics and University of Sanya, China.
We have heard of the U.K., South African and Brazil variants. Now we have a new California variant. How many more variants will there be? The experts say this is the way the viruses work. There are more variants out there than we have already found.
Simply put, until there are boosters for the variants, keep the masks on.
Consulting Partner, TCS
Masks have become a political football. The genie is out of the bottle. There is no putting it back. It is best to leave it to the local level to mandate. Federal and state can provide guidance, but leave it to the county level or city level to decide for themselves. At least at that level, the citizens feel their voice is represented.
President, b2b Solutions, LLC
There is no question that as vaccination become more available and restrictions ease it will make it even more difficult to enforce mask mandates. Those that got vaccinated may say hey I’m protected and therefore don’t have to wear a mask.
The issue for retailers is that their staff and other customers don’t know the person has been vaccinated. Among customers this can causes a number of reactions including their asking, if they don’t have to wear a mask why do I? They may confront that person which never ends well or perhaps they leave the store to get away from what they believe is an unsafe environment. At a minimum they will hold the retailer responsible for not enforcing a mask mandate. This may or may not result in them looking for an alternative place to shop.
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
Mask wearing is an option that everyone should have. That said, mandating that your employees must wear a mask for their own good and the good of the customer should not be optional. Customers have an option to wear a mask or not to wear them but stores should also have the option to not have to serve customers who do not want to comply and the government has to ensure that companies have the right to ask customers to leave if they do not want to comply.
So here is what I have heard, at least in the state I live in – “if I get the two shots (the vaccine) and I am 95 percent protected, why should I wear a mask?” That becomes a more slippery slope as more states are beginning to vaccinate the rest of the general public after the initial groups were completed. I see this getting to be more of an issue as more of the public gets vaccinated.
Chief Strategy Officer, Hoobil8
I am fascinated by the number of people who now use retail stores as a vehicle for expressing personal politics. It’s no longer enough to simply take their business elsewhere, people are increasingly using stores to voice their preferences in public. I think it is a strong indicator of the important role that retail plays in the success and structure of a community. Consider the leading role retail is playing in moving initiatives like equal opportunity and sustainability forward — much faster than any government legislation could. My heart goes out to store workers who must endure this nonsense. If you don’t want to wear a mask, that’s up to you, just stay home and order online. Same goes for wearing pants in public. There are just some things we do to be kind to our fellow citizens.
Senior Vice President, Dechert-Hampe (retired)
Independent Board Member, Investor and Startup Advisor
Mask fatigue or new habits? Let medical experts lead the way; Some may choose to wear masks when none are mandated. That is their choice and it causes no harm to others. Local conditions on the state of COVID-19 will dictate the return to pre-pandemic normality. Those that have lost family or friends have experienced deep losses and have realized the preciousness of life. Post-pandemic, I expect people will desire cleaner and more hygienic public spaces and will have a greater awareness of ways to limit the spread of contagious diseases.
Co-Founder and CMO, Seeonic, Inc.
While mask mandates seem to work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, vaccinations are being given to prevent the patient from getting the virus. As more and more people get vaccinated, there will be more of a tendency to not want to wear a mask since the person is now immune from the virus. This will become more and more a challenge to retailers and their staffs as their vaccinated customers believe they are immune and do not require masks. The real difficulty will be to define the end date for the mask mandate relieving retailers of this burden. I can see a time when institutions and events will require their customers to produce vaccination certificates for entry.
Mask fatigue can only be addressed with a carrot and a stick approach, that is making sure that store staff and customers all understand it is to the safety benefit of both that masks are being worn.
Retail Industry Strategy, Esri
I’m a broken record on this — let the scientists and medical professionals determine the protocols for keeping people safe. Period. Retailers put mask requirements in place before many jurisdictions required them. If we have to keep them in place after these same jurisdictions remove them, good on us for trying to keep customers safe.
CEO, President- American Retail Consultants
No mask, no service. Mask wearing should be addressed just like smoking. You cannot smoke in a store, you cannot go in a store without a mask. Not wearing a mask is not a right, but a public health hazard just like secondhand smoke. Respect others’ space in the same way. No one has the right NOT to wear a mask because it impacts the health of others, just like smoking in the same environment impacts another person’s health through the impact of secondhand smoke.