business news in context, analysis with attitude

The revised guidance late last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suggesting that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks inside or outside - with certain caveats - prompted varying reactions from retailers around the country.

Walmart announced that as of May 18, it will no longer require employees and customers to wear masks in-store, except in municipalities that mandate them.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Kroger "said it would continue requiring masks and encouraging social distancing. The company said it is asking employees for feedback as it reviews safety practices and the latest CDC guidance."

The Journal writes that "at Costco, vaccinated shoppers and workers will no longer need to wear masks, though it recommends employees continue to do so, said Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti Friday."

The Boston Globe reports that "Trader Joe’s on Friday became one of the first large companies to say customers who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask in its stores."  In addition, the  Globe writes, "Target and Wegmans, have said they will continue to require masks in their stores despite the new CDC guidance."

KMOV-TV News reports that "customers are who vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer have to wear masks inside Schnucks' stores, the company announced Saturday afternoon."

The Connecticut Post reports that Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop "confirmed 'there are no changes' to the company’s mask mandate 'at this time' … Other chains taking a wait-and-see approach to their mask policy include CVS. In a statement issued by CVS Health, the company said it is 'reevaluating its position on masks given the CDC’s new guidance'."

And Stew Leonard’s "announced Friday it will still require shoppers to wear masks when the restriction is lifted.

"'Stew Leonard’s was among the first leaders to ask our customers and team members to wear masks last year, but now we are going to be laggers,' Stew Leonard Jr., the chain’s president and CEO, said in a statement. 'We are going to monitor our customers to see what they say. If you want to share your opinion on this topic, we have a poll posted on our Twitter page. My family and I would love to hear from you'."

The Wall Street Journal reports that "Erik Nordstrom, chief executive of Nordstrom Inc., one of the largest department-store chains in the U.S., said in an interview Thursday that Nordstrom’s stores would continue to follow CDC guidance on masking, but that the company was in no rush to change its mask requirement for both employees and customers. The retailer’s priority, he said, is helping both customers and employees feel safe."

The Verge reports that "despite new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Apple will keep its mandatory mask policy in place at its US retail stores for the time being … The company informed stores that it is continuing to evaluate COVID-19-related health and safety measures, but that the policy requiring customers and employees at its Apple stores would stay in effect."

NBC News reports that "Starbucks and Walt Disney World Resort are the latest major companies to relax their mask policies days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 no longer need to wear face coverings whether indoors or outdoors in most circumstances.

"Starbucks said in a statement on its website Friday that facial coverings will be optional for fully vaccinated customers beginning Monday unless local regulations require them by law … Meanwhile, Walt Disney World said in an update on its website that masks are now optional in 'outdoor common areas.' The change took effect Saturday. Face coverings are still required upon entering and throughout all attractions, according to the website."

And, The Hill reports that Starbucks is aiming to have 100 percent of its indoor seating restored in its nationwide locations by the end of May - seating that was eliminated as the pandemic kicked in.

The Journal writes that the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) "said the CDC’s mask announcement creates ambiguity since it doesn’t align with state and local orders. The group asked customers who decline to wear masks to shop online or use curbside pickup services."

And, the Journal writes, "Food makers Conagra Brands Inc., General Mills Inc. and Kellogg Co. said they are continuing to require masks and social distancing at their factories even as employees get vaccinated, as food manufacturers have to follow a range of industry-specific regulations … The Consumer Brands Association, a trade group for food and other grocery manufacturers, said it has asked the CDC for more details on how its latest mask guidance affects businesses such as factories."

The New York Times reports that unions are unhappy about the new guidance. "'Millions of Americans are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated, but essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local Covid safety measures,' the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Marc Perrone, said in a statement. 'Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?'"

The Wall Street Journal reports that upon the issuance of the new CDC guidelines, "states across the U.S. are tailoring their rules on face masks and social distancing to align with new federal health guidance for fully vaccinated Americans.

"Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Washington were among states that updated their public-health guidance."

However, some states - New York, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Hawaii among them - aren't there yet, and local officials continue to evaluate their situations and consider what adjustments need to be made in their regulations and guidance.

Willamette Week reports that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown "declared that businesses in Oregon could stop requiring masks and social distancing - so long as they mandated COVID-19 vaccination for anyone who set foot inside their buildings."

The Times writes that, "introducing the new recommendations on Thursday, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, cited two recent scientific findings as significant factors: Few vaccinated people become infected with the virus, and transmission seems rarer still; and the vaccines appear to be effective against all known variants of the coronavirus.

"There is no doubt at this point that the vaccines are powerful. On Friday, the C.D.C. released results from another large study showing that the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are 94 percent effective in preventing symptomatic illness in those who were fully vaccinated, and 82 percent effective even in those only partly vaccinated … One of the lingering concerns among scientists had been that even a vaccinated person might carry the virus — perhaps briefly, without symptoms — and spread it to others. But C.D.C. research, including the new study, has consistently found few infections among those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines."

The Times writes that "fully immunized people are unlikely to get seriously ill, even if they are infected with the coronavirus. The risk of infection is greater for the people around them — unvaccinated children and adults, or vaccinated people who remain unprotected because of a medical condition or treatment."

KC's View:

One of the related stories that grabbed my attention was one from Fox News, which said that Publix Super Markets, which said that the wearing of masks by employees and customers henceforth would be optional, also said that it would bring back its free-cookies-for-kids program, which was suspended when the pandemic began.

Which raises a larger question:  Will we start to see the return of self-service hot and cold bars"  Some say yes, some think they'll never return.  I'm not sure about the larger trend, but it'll be a while before I use one.

I find this to be an extraordinarily complicated issue, and I'm not sure what I think retailers should do.  I like the Stew Leonard's approach - I was in the store yesterday, and was glad to see everyone wearing masks.  But I recognize that the new guidance does put retailers and their front line employees in the position of being mask cops, which isn't fair.

I also worry that the people who were irresponsible in their approach to masking and social distancing will continue to be irresponsible in their approach to getting vaccinated - they won't get their shots but they'll act as if they did, which could put some people at risk.  Sure, I may not be at risk because I'm fully vaccinated, but if enough people are irresponsible, it gives the virus oxygen, which is the one thing we should not want.

The one thing we can't afford is an outbreak that forces tougher guidance and mandated restrictions - it'd be a huge hit to the economy and national morale levels.  Which means we need to get the vast majority of Americans vaccinated, and then work on getting the entire world vaccinated.

I recognize that there are problems with mandating vaccinations for certain kinds of behavior, or with having a national vaccine passport.  But frankly, I'm not wildly confident in the willingness of all of my fellow citizens to behave in a selfless, responsible way.

The best news - and it pains me to say this because I am a New York Mets fan - seems to be coming from the New York Yankees, where there has been an outbreak of Covid-19 even among people who have been fully vaccinated.  Those people were largely asymptomatic and probably wouldn't have been detected as infected if they were not being tested regularly - which, as I understand it, means that the vaccines are working.

Though you can sign me up right now for a booster shot.