Assaults on store personnel trying to enforce face mask use has forced many retailers to make hard choices. Should they risk the safety of their staff to follow public health mandates or take a hardline approach to protect customers?
A security guard was fatally shot in Flint, Michigan following a face mask dispute, and there have been several other incidences of violence as shopkeepers try to enforce the wearing of face coverings as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to The Wall Street Journal, some retailers are allowing customers without face masks to shop in order to avoid potentially nasty confrontations while others are taking a firm stance and directing workers to call law enforcement if necessary to ensure that all customers wear masks.
Costco Wholesale Corporation, for example, was heavily criticized after stating that all customers must wear face masks, even where local rules do not require them.
“There are strong feelings on both sides. We do the best we can in making the right decision,” said Costco Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti, according to the Journal. “If it’s the right decision, we can help reduce the spread of this terrible virus. If it’s the wrong decision, it’s a relatively small inconvenience.”
A CVS Pharmacy in Fresno, California was chastised by local code enforcers who put the store on notice after an unmasked customer was found inside the drugstore. CVS, along with other stores, has told its employees to serve clients without masks as quickly as possible to avoid potentially dangerous interactions, according to the Journal.
The New York Times reported that a customer at a California Trader Joe’s store said it was unconstitutional to have to wear a mask when confronted by an employee.
“We are in America here. Land of the free,” she said, recording the conversation. She then turned her camera on other shoppers. “Look at all these sheep that are here, all wearing this mask that is actually dangerous for them.”
Wendy E. Parmet, the director of the Center for Health Policy and Law at Northeastern University told the Times: “I never had a right to do something that could injure the health of my neighbors,” adding that mask regulations are meant to protect others.
Some stores, like Target, have security guards stationed outside their doors in places where wearing a mask is the law. Parmet said that wearing a mask should now be like wearing a seat belt or not smoking in public and urged consumers to take responsibility for themselves so that stores would not have to resort to strong arm tactics to enforce the practice.
Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said that often it is the customers themselves who are shaming non-mask wearers into compliance, and that helps retailers.
“We cannot be policing that all the time,” she told the Times. “We are not that type of law enforcement.”
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