The New York Times has a piece about how newly relaxed federal guidance about mask wearing - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is saying that people who are fully vaccinated now can go maskless in most indoor and outdoor settings (though not in airports, train stations, hospitals, doctors offices, and on mass transit) - is creating enormous anxiety among retail employees.
"More than a dozen retail, hospitality and fast-food workers across the country interviewed by The New York Times expressed alarm that their employers had used the C.D.C. guidance to make masks optional for vaccinated customers," the story says.
Workers say they are concerned that they have no idea of the customers not wearing masks are vaccinated or not.
The Times writes that "the effect of the change appears to be most acute in politically mixed or conservative areas, where many people have chafed at mask requirements and vaccination rates are lower. In liberal enclaves, where public support for masking has generally been high, many customers continue to wear masks whether or not they are required.
"In mixed and conservative areas, workers said, employer policies were often the only thing standing between them and customers who were neither masked nor vaccinated. As a result, they feel far more exposed now."
“We just feel like we’re sitting ducks,” says one Virginia employee at a Kroger store.
- KC's View:
Unstated in the piece, but equally problematic, is the fact that even if some of these retailers decided to enforce a mask mandate despite the relaxation of CDC guidance, employees then would be put into the uncomfortable position of becoming "mask police," which can fuel a different kind of confrontation.
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to any of this except for higher vaccination levels.
Some employees told the Times that "they had been vaccinated but worried they could still get sick or infect family members who were not or could not get vaccinated. Others said they had yet to be vaccinated."
Which is the point that some folks seem to miss.
I got an email from an MNB reader the other day that said, in part:
Can we stop worrying about people who don't get vaccinated?? Why challenge retail stores to enforce rules to protect people who do not want protection? … If a person chooses not to be vaccinated, it is up to them to protect themselves not everyone else to protect them.
What folks like this one do not understand - or maybe don't care about - is that this is not about protecting people who do not want to be protected. Listen, if you want to put yourself at risk, go ahead. Just don't take other people with you.
I have no problem if a person likes to drink, and if that person also likes to drive. I just think it is eminently reasonable to require that this person not drink and drive at the same time, because they may do harm to someone else.
People who choose not to get vaccinated and not wear masks could pass on the coronavirus even to people who are fully vaccinated, who could be asymptomatic and then infect someone at their home who may be immunocompromised ar too young to have yet gotten the disease.
Maybe the odds of this happening are long. Maybe we have enough medicine now to insure that it is less likely that these people will die as a result.
But to my mind, trying to make sure this doesn't happen is worth wearing a mask for a few more weeks and months in enclosed spaces where infection is more likely seems like a simple act of compassion. Call it being neighborly.
The Connecticut stores where I shop have kept a mask mandate in place, presumably to keep their employees and customers healthy. It is inconvenient, but I'm happy to do it. It also seems appropriately idealistic, and a salve for my sometimes cynical heart; I believe in the Raymond Chandler line, "Without idealism, there is no integrity."