No mask, no service.
Even as some states roll back mask mandates, some of the nation’s largest retailers including Kroger, Macy’s, Starbucks and Target are not rolling back theirs.
Kroger, which also owns supermarket chains including Ralphs and Dillons, said in a statement to USA TODAY that it will “continue to require everyone in our stores across the country to wear masks until all our frontline grocery associates can receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the face covering requirement and “open Texas 100%” to full capacity on March 10 conflict with safety protocols at many businesses.
Only health care workers, people over 65 and adults with pre-existing conditions are currently eligible for vaccines in Texas.
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Some businesses say they will continue to abide by guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shield their frontline workers from exposure to COVID-19.
Best Buy Co., Kohl’s and Ulta told Bloomberg News that they’re sticking with their mask requirements. CNN added CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, and auto manufacturers Toyota and General Motors to the list.
But not all. Some retailers including Albertsons plan to stop requiring patrons to wear face coverings.
“For associates and vendors, we will continue to follow the CDC guidance and will require face coverings. For customers, we will encourage face coverings to be worn while in the store,” an Albertsons spokesman told USA TODAY.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday slammed decisions to lift mask requirements in Texas and Mississippi, saying they’re “a big mistake.”
Only about 8% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that, in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it,” Biden said. “It still matters.”
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves responded on Twitter, saying, “I just think we should trust Americans, not insult them.”
Mask requirements vary from state to state, city to city and store to store, confusing customers and escalating tensions.
Skirmishes between unmasked customers and retail staff and security guards in Texas surfaced online this week. Last year a security guard was shot and killed in a dispute at a Family Dollar in Flint, Michigan.
And then there are the health implications. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, has warned that “now is not the time to release all restrictions.” The U.S. has more than 28.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 519,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Mask compliance has sparked debates throughout the pandemic after Americans received mixed messages from authorities early on over whether they should wear face coverings in public places.
Dr. David Abrams, professor of social and behavioral science at New York University, told USA TODAY in October after former President Donald Trump got COVID-19 that there should be consequences for not wearing masks when required like seat belt rules and needing a shirt and shoes to enter a business.
“Retail stores have every right to say if you are not wearing a mask please leave,” he said. “This is a life-and-death issue. Masks, physical distance and hand-washing are the three things we have to reduce the spread of the virus in the absence of a vaccine.”
Contributing: Kelly Tyko, John Bacon, Jorge L. Ortiz and Elinor Aspegren