business news in context, analysis with attitude

As some states - think Texas and Mississippi - have rolled back pandemic precautions, including mask mandates, a number of retailers are responding by saying they will continue to require employees and customers to wear masks when entering their stores, abiding by recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rather than from elected officials.

The Wall Street Journal writes:  "In recent weeks, as Covid-19 cases have fallen and vaccines rolled out across the country, governors have dropped statewide mask mandates in states including Mississippi, Iowa and Montana. In some cases local governments have kept restrictions in place. In Texas, cities and counties are blocked from putting their own mandates in place."

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, has stated that "now is not the time to release all restrictions."

Among them, according to various news reports and press releases issued by companies:  Kroger, Walmart, Starbucks, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Costco, Sprouts, Best Buy, Macy's, Kohl’s, Ulta, and Hyatt Hotels - though in some of these cases, the mask requirement will not be enforced by the business.

USA Today this morning reports that Albertsons would not require customers to wear masks:   "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."

The Houston Chronicle reports that H-E-B president Scott McClelland says that "while it has the power to require customers to wear masks before entering … H-E-B won't take that step – in part because of belligerent customers (and some workers) who have caused nearly 2,000 in-store incidents surrounding masks at Houston stores alone."

"What's important to me is, I've got to ensure for the physical safety of both my employees and customers in the store," McClelland said. "That's what we have been doing, and frankly it's the same thing we'll continue to do."

KC's View:

I am sympathetic to the problem that McClelland  spotlights, though I have to admit that it reads to me like this:  "Because some of our customers behave like idiots, we're going to continue to let them behave like idiots."

This is why it is a mistake for elected officials to end mask mandates now.  We're so close to an effective end to the pandemic that we can taste it, but ignoring the scientists' recommendations has the potential of setting us back.  Significantly.  And not just Texas and Mississippi, but any place that people from those states happen to go, potentially bringing the disease with them.  Keeping the mask mandates in place should have the effect of giving retailers a kind of safe harbor … though clearly that is not the case in Texas, if H-E-B alone has seen close to 2,000 in-store "incidents."

The problem from the beginning has been how mask mandates have been framed.  They should have been positioned as an act of patriotism, of compassion and empathy, of the ultimate act of American exceptionalism.

As an example, Kroger issued this statement yesterday morning:

"The Kroger Family of Companies’ most urgent priority throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been to provide a safe environment for our associates and customers while meeting our societal obligation to provide open stores, e-commerce solutions and an efficiently operating supply chain so that our communities have access to fresh food.

"To ensure the continued safety of our customers and associates, The Kroger Family of Companies 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. We also continue to advocate to federal, state and local officials to prioritize frontline grocery workers for the vaccine rollout plan, and we will offer a $100 one-time payment to associates who receive the recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine."

That's exactly the right tone.

Some people don't get it - witness the video we showed on MNB yesterday of those "protestors" at a California Trader Joe's.

I have enormous respect for the retailers that are saying they will step up and continue to mandate masks.  They're showing backbone … and saying to their employees that they are willing to make their health a priority.

I have to wonder if organizations that were planning in-person events for Texas locations later this year are rethinking their plans.  I would be … because the odds of a resurgence in Texas just went way up.  (Which suggests that despite all the talk about needing to eliminate mask mandates for the sake of the economy could have a negative impact in other ways.)

I know which retailers seem enlightened at the moment, and which ones do not.