business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday we reported on how some states - Texas was the most prominent - were ending pandemic-related restrictions like mask mandates, even as national public health experts warned that it was too early to do so.  A number of retailers said they will continue to mandate masks for customers and employees in their stores, but there was a Houston Chronicle report 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."

I commented, in part:

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.

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.

One MNB reader responded:

Are you really under the impression that retailers have been denying entry to customers that don’t wear masks? Certainly employees are wearing them and even most shoppers but after a confrontation or two, some of which got quite ugly, most retailers may still remind customers but don’t push back. 

I'm sure.

But I also know this.  In the year or so since the pandemic started, in the part of the country where I live, I have not seen one single person in a retail store not wearing a mask.  I have not read one local story about confrontations over mask-wearing.  I'm sure it has happened … but not to the degree that it seems to be happening in some other areas of the country.

Make of that what you will.

A question from another reader:

What if the retailer does not enforce the “no mask no service policy”, and someone contracts the virus that can be directly related to, say this incident?  Will, could, that person now take legal action against the chain?  Could be a very slippery slope.

Good question.  People have been sued for less.

Regarding the testing of vaccine passports, one MNB reader wrote:

OK, so help me understand, from what I know and I will admit I have not done a ton of research but the Vaccine does not prevent someone from getting the virus or from spreading the virus. From my understanding it only decreases the affects of the virus if and when you do get it. Is that the way you understand it?

If this is the case then what difference would it make for entry into a club, stadium, or gym. I get the vaccine but can still get it or pass it along.

I get your point.  But if the people who go into such venues all have been vaccinated, then doesn't that drive down the likelihood of a super-spreader event in which lots of people get very sick and end up in the hospital?  Doesn't it do what we need it to do - which is to drive down the seriousness of the disease and its spread?   After all, they all will have been vaccinated and, I assume, they'll be wearing masks.

I think people are just reaching for ways in which we can reopen parts of the economy that have been closed in as safe a way as possible.

Regarding Walmart's $350 billion commitment to USA-centric products, one MNB reader wrote:

Are they actually planning on paying more for US made goods?  Are they redirecting purchases from offshore to US companies??  If they are truly “investing” are they going to lower margin requirements so that prices remain the same?  All questions I feel they should provide answers to, before, they can put “Made in USA” on they tag.  Just for clarification, made in USA is not the same as buying materials offshore and assembling here.  That is just verbal mumbo jumbo.

I agree … which is why I called for Walmart to work with a credible certification system that will cut through the mumbo jumbo and provide radical, aggressive transparency.