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The Masks Are Off: Retailers, Restaurants Grapple with Updated Mandates

U.S. retail stores and restaurants are weighing updated CDC guidelines that allow fully vaccinated people to remove their masks in both indoor and outdoor settings.

According to the CDC, a person is fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving a second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s or Moderna’s vaccine, or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s. Currently, nearly 60% of all U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

The new guidance, which is largely based on the honor system, has sparked considerable debate. While companies have leeway to set independent rules for their customers and employees, they must conform to state and local rules, which supersede federal guidance, reported Marketwatch (5/18).

Key Players Respond

A growing list of major retailers and QSRs, including BJ’s Wholesale, Chipotle, Costco, CVS, Publix, Starbucks, and Trader Joe’s have lifted mask requirements for vaccinated shoppers and diners. In addition to customers, Target and Walmart will also extend their mask removal policy to include fully vaccinated employees.

McDonald’s mask requirement is still in place, but the restaurant has been conferring with the Mayo Clinic as it decides how to proceed, reported Restaurant Business Magazine (5/17).

Other large companies with a national footprint, like grocery retailer Kroger, do not have mask policy overhauls in store.

“As we have throughout the pandemic, we are reviewing current safety practices, the CDC’s latest guidance, and soliciting feedback from associates to guide the next phase of our policy,” a Kroger spokeswoman told Marketwatch.

Further Debate

Across the country, conflicting federal, state, and local laws are exacerbating challenges for restaurant owners. As many states and localities continue to loosen capacity limitations, owners are concerned that the new guidelines could stir up conflict at establishments where guests must still wear masks and practice social distancing, reported The Washington Post(5/14).

Meanwhile, retailers are also experiencing friction between shoppers and employees. Actor Ricky Schroder recently issued an apology to a Coscto employee after an argument over wearing masks, which Schroder captured on video, went viral, reported NBC News (5/17).

The video shows the maskless actor approaching a Costco employee standing outside the store and asking, “Why aren’t you letting me in?” The employee responds by telling Schroder that in Los Angeles County and in the state of California, a mask mandate is still in place — despite the CDC’s new guidance.