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Retailers are requiring customers to wear masks. Who should enforce it?

Marielle Segarra Jul 27, 2020
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A restaurant employee posts a sign informing guests that face masks are required. In some instances, the rule can spark a confrontation. Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Image
COVID-19

Retailers are requiring customers to wear masks. Who should enforce it?

Marielle Segarra Jul 27, 2020
Heard on:
A restaurant employee posts a sign informing guests that face masks are required. In some instances, the rule can spark a confrontation. Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Image
HTML EMBED:
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Even though there is abundant evidence that wearing face masks slows down the spread of the coronavirus, there is a subset of people who refuse to wear masks — even when it’s mandatory.

When some passengers on a Delta Air Lines flight from Detroit to Atlanta last week refused to mask up, the plane turned back to Detroit Metro Airport. That’s not an option for the retailers that now require customers to wear masks. So what are they supposed to do?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask.

When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control. 

“It’s simply too much to ask a front-line retail worker who is already concerned for her health during this crisis and still showing up for work, to also intervene in something that could escalate quite rapidly,” said Joel Bines, a managing director at AlixPartners.

So a lot of retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates.

Craig Rowley, a senior client partner for Korn Ferry, said that’s similar to the way stores handle shoplifting. They tell workers to say things like “Would you like me to hold those slippers for you at the register?”

“But if the person runs out the door, most retailers will tell the employee don’t chase the thief,” Rowley said. “It’s not safe for you, and it’s not safe for the people around you.”

Rowley said even if retailers don’t enforce the rules, just having them will get more people to wear masks. It’s worked on him. He used to forget to mask up when he went to the supermarket. 

“Sometimes I’d say, ‘I’m going in for a loaf of bread. I’ll be in and out. I won’t cause any problems,’ ” he said. “But now I don’t. I’m 100% of the time wearing my mask into the store.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is calling on stores to enforce mask rules with local police or trained security guards. But in Michigan, a man shot and killed a Family Dollar security guard for telling a family member to wear a mask.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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