Is it time for retailers to reinstate pandemic protocols?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Jul 20, 2021

The U.S. stock market turned in one of its worst performances of the year yesterday as investors reacted to the rapid spread of the Delta variant across the country, especially in areas where large percentages of the population have yet to be vaccinated against the virus. The Dow Jones Industrial average fell 800 points, 2.4 percent.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that daily cases of COVID-19 averaged almost 30,000 over the last seven days compared to the weekly average of 11,000 last month. Health officials are pointing to a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” with areas such as Springfield, MO, and others seeing hospitalizations and deaths approaching last winter’s numbers before vaccines were readily available to the public.

Retailers have relaxed many protective measures put in place during the most severe months of the pandemic. Many stores no longer require shoppers or associates to wear masks and social distancing measures have become a thing of the past at many locations. Many chains, which had instituted senior hours to protect the most vulnerable members of society against the spread of COVID-19, have cut back or dropped programs as state health authorities relaxed rules with the rollout of vaccinations.

Costco, which had previously announced that it was going to end  senior hours, posted a message yesterday on its site that it would be continuing to allow those who are 60 or older or immunocompromised to shop Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. local time before opening to all members. The chain said it would continue following state and local regulations regarding the wearing of masks.

Los Angeles County in California announced that it would now require all individuals two or older, vaccinated or not, to wear face masks in public indoor settings. The government took this step after seeing local cases spike among unvaccinated residents in the area.

The majority of new COVID-19 cases have been tied to the unvaccinated but so-called breakthrough cases, where vaccinated individuals have gotten the virus, are also a concern. The CDC reports that of the more than 159 million Americans vaccinated by July 12, about 5,200 were hospitalized, the majority of them 65 years of age or older (4,109).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What should retailers be doing to protect associates and customers as COVID-19 cases resume, particularly in areas where locals are refusing to get vaccinated or wear masks? Should stores that have suspended so-called “hero wages” bring them back in light of the growing threat?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Retailers need to do what is necessary to protect their employees and customers in the spirit of the greater good, even if it is an unpopular move."
"Yes! Bring back the mask! Why not be safe rather than sorry? I’ve been vaccinated, but still wear a mask at retail. Let’s stay open."
"By having the “masks not required for vaccinated” and “masks required for unvaccinated” retailers create very visual in-group/out-groups (and it is impossible to enforce)."

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26 Comments on "Is it time for retailers to reinstate pandemic protocols?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This is clear evidence that the pandemic is not over yet. Employers need to maintain a high safety protocol when it comes to staff and the customers. Retailers should closely follow local safety guidelines and be flexible in bringing back additional safety practices if the conditions warrant them.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Retail isn’t the problem. It’s one media source pumping out misinformation that spreads across social media. When people don’t believe in science, retail is not there to enforce compliance. We cannot continue to make exceptions for those who don’t want to get vaccinated. Make it mandatory to attend school, go to work, or deal with the public. There is no wiggle room. There is an element of society just looking to cause a fight. I don’t want that at the mall or cash register.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Bob, how can we justify pharmacy technicians and pharmacists NOT wearing masks? We can’t.

So it’s really two things: mask mandates for employees and mask mandates for customers. Let’s start with the employees.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

How does anyone justify not getting vaccinated? Let’s make this very clear. That is the battle. It is not a piece of cloth, it is a shot.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

But Bob, let’s be realistic. Something around 40 percent of the population continuously rejects the benefits associated with agreeing to the concept of a shared, objective reality, especially in matters of science and health. Do we really believe that people who refuse to get vaccinated will fess up and wear masks into stores? Of course not. So, while I agree this starts as a public health problem (i.e., a political/regulatory issue) retailers were asked from the start to enforce the guidelines and if they don’t nobody will. General Motors just mandated masks again in their St. Louis plant, and as infections begin to rise again we may well see regulations reinstated in “Blue States” but it’s unlikely “Red States” will consider similar moves. So if not retailers, who?

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

But the problem is IN the red states, not the blue. Seeing a bunch of progressives in my area wearing masks who are already vaccinated doesn’t make a difference. A piece of cloth isn’t the issue, it is a shot. That’s it. Half measures at retail don’t alter that fact.

Jennifer Bartashus
BrainTrust

Retailers need to do what is necessary to protect their employees and customers in the spirit of the greater good, even if it is an unpopular move to reinstate or maintain mask standards. This would be easier to to do if there were consistent guidance from the CDC or other government agencies that retailers could follow. Navigating a plethora of local ordinances gets complicated for operations. As companies look to fill open positions, higher hourly wages or reinstating hero pay may become necessary to be competitive and attract the best talent.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

One day we had all kinds of mandates and the next the “pandemic is over” switch was flipped. What had really changed? Certainly not the number of vaccinated Americans. Now we appear to be moving backwards in our fight against the varying forms of COVID-19.

Even though I am vaccinated I am thinking twice about wearing a mask again in stores and I know I am not alone. As hard as it is, retailers have an obligation to keep their associates safe. If that means both associates and customers need to mask up and practice social distancing again then so be it. I do not understand the hesitancy to get vaccinated. If more people were vaccinated we wouldn’t be in this situation.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

You get vaccinated so you don’t have to wear a mask and then you have to wear a mask again because of a new variant. Here in Texas, they have a newer variant – the lambda variant – which is now supposed to be more powerful than the delta variant. Where does it stop? Most retailers will follow state mask rules I believe, but this will definitely be a harder sell for customers since they had been asked to mask up for year before.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

It stops when people get the vaccine. That part is not rocket science.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I think now is a time for caution and retailers cannot let their guards down. The problem in some parts of the U.S. is that vaccination rates are low, which makes the spread of the delta variant far more of a risk. If it continues to rise and causes issues then, unfortunately, masking and other measures may need to make a come back – sad though that will be.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

I believe retailers should work to find a middle ground between back to normal and total lockdown mode. I support companies requiring vaccines as a condition of employment, and I would support allowing associates to wear masks when they feel it necessary. I don’t support going back to hero wages. The risk today, vs 15 months ago when we had no vaccines, is almost 100 percent avoidable. We know how to keep employees safe, and customers know how to keep themselves safe. Follow local guidelines, require vaccinations for front line workers, and use common sense.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Big box stores and others scrambled to relax their mask guidelines as soon as the CDC changed direction in May. It’s going to be very hard to get that genie back into the bottle, especially in areas hard-hit by delta. For the most part, those regions had the biggest mask resistance (and now vaccine resistance) in the first place.

Local governments may have to take the lead on indoor masking, rather than leaving it up to individual retailers and restaurants, but the collective will is definitely weak at this point. The real answer is getting more shots into arms but that’s easier said than done; mandating vaccines is an even tougher fight than mandating masks.

Trevor Sumner
BrainTrust

While the pandemic is a national issue, policy enforcement and danger of contagion is fundamentally local. The disparate responses by local communities and in turn disparate results, dictate different geographical policies. Retailers must be careful to enact sensible policies focused first on protecting workers, especially in the areas where such policies are most resisted, because that’s ironically where the greatest danger is. It’s an unfortunate conundrum, where retailers find a no-win situation coming into ideological conflict with their customers.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

You’re right about local government. LA County made it easy for chains like Target and Costco, because their new indoor mask mandate took the decision out of the retailers’ hands. As you point out, the biggest problems are in areas with the least political will to impose mandates in the first place.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

The case rate and hospitalization rate variance between highly vaccinated and moderately vaccinated areas makes it pretty clear what is going on. It’s pretty amazing that we have hard evidence of a solution in hand and yet the level of misinformation, and belief in that misinformation, remains high. I never put my mask away and it looks like it will be a while before I do. And I live in a high vaccination area. Retail, offices, public venues in general are all going to have to play a role in reminding people what it’s going to take to stay safe. But at the end of the day it’s the people themselves who have to have enough respect for themselves and their fellow citizens to finally get this thing under control.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I am not a doctor, but it seems to me that everyone can easily be a spreader. I’m vaccinated, but still can catch the variation as I understand it, from people who have not taken the sensible precautions as in wearing masks and getting the shots. It is sad that we have a lottery to give money away just to encourage the common sense of the safety and necessity of shots. Nevertheless, my thought is: retailers get ready. The mandates and care practices most likely are coming back.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust

While it is not the responsibility of retailers and their employers to stop the spread, they certainly have the ability to tip the scales. There is a lot to be said for the pressure of social norms and employees wearing masks can prompt it.

Personally, I carry a mask in my pocket and usually (but not always) pop it on when entering a store. If the employees are wearing masks I feel normal, but if they aren’t I feel like they are looking at me like I am unvaccinated because I am wearing a mask. And I think that is a big part of the problem. By having the “masks not required for vaccinated” and “masks required for unvaccinated” retailers are creating very visual in-group/out-groups (and it is impossible to enforce). If retailers were to go back to a blanket “masks required,” sure some people would be mildly inconvenienced (emphasis on mildly), but it would be a much MUCH more effective route then asking customers to self-regulate honestly and self-identify uncomfortably.

Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

Yes! Bring back the mask! Why not be safe rather than sorry? I’ve been vaccinated, but still wear a mask at retail. Let’s stay open.

storewanderer
Guest
14 days 6 hours ago
Yes, it is probably time for certain pandemic protocols to be reinstated again. The sooner they reinstate these, the more accepting people will be of them. The longer the wait, the less accepting people will be. Things like masks, distancing requirements, capacity requirements, closing self serve food bars or at least making it so these self serve food bars are not open air, etc. are likely to be returning. The reality is a large segment of the population is unlikely to get this “emergency use authorized” not currently FDA approved vaccination at the present time. That segment of the population, the more you try to coerce them or force them, is suspicious of what is going on with this and why there is such a hard sell on this vaccination. Alternative treatments are needed other than the vaccine. Come up with some prescriptions that will work, etc. To those here who are promoting locking out unvaccinated employees and customers — you do that, you will no longer have a retail industry. Or a government. Or… Read more »
storewanderer
Guest
14 days 5 hours ago
One has to question why CDC eased the guidelines in the first place at a point when the vaccination rate wasn’t even 50%. Maybe there was something else going on that they wanted to distract us from? You had the CDC Director doing what looked like almost crying (maybe it was fake crying) about the upcoming “surge” in cases, then a couple weeks later she announces all of the mask rules are being waived for the vaccinated and at the same time we started seeing the capacity limits, social distancing, etc. all disappear. Also some pretty serious reality checks on personal hygiene need to take place. I have seen so many folks un-masked who are coughing and sneezing in stores lately and do not even cover their nose/mouth. I am back to seeing upwards of half of people using public restrooms failing to wash their hands after using the restroom (including store employees). After what we went through the past year, I really thought we would improve on hygiene. Well, not everyone, or even close… Read more »
RandyDandy
Guest
14 days 5 hours ago
As a deeply customer-interactive worker, I can speak more experientially than some others about how mask-wearing effects overall performance, perceptions and moral. And while I’d rather not tell precisely what I do, think of me as being like a makeup artist trying to apply makeup on a customer’s face during the past year-plus. Thus, doing my job over this time was totally counter-intuitive to the point of being more detrimental than not. But we did what we were told. Including the consistent wearing of masks. Which helped—but clearly did not end—Covid’s spread. Meanwhile, if you want to talk about letting a “genie out of a bottle,” mask-wearing unleashed for many an inner phobia of all others’ presence. And because there’s always a chance to get something, they will never go without wearing one. But how far can some people’s fears, founded or not, effect other’s freedoms? (Before any of you react, know that I am politically and philosophically left-of-center.) This brings me to the point of: if we are all asked to wear masks again,… Read more »
James Tenser
BrainTrust
Yes, mask-wearing and distancing should remain the cultural norm in all retail spaces if the pandemic science is our prime consideration. Retailers don’t have the ability to enforce this standard unilaterally, however. They need “cover” like the L.A. County mandate. For that matter, L.A. County could use some cover too — clear guidelines from the State level and above. The more uniform the standard, the better for retailers whose footprints cover multiple jurisdictions. Of course, the obstacle is political will. Every mandate harms someone and leaders are reluctant to be perceived as the direct cause. It has proven easier to accept indirect harm from the virus because it diffuses the blame. Retailers ultimately serve the entire population, including vaccine skeptics and opponents of masks. It can’t be comfortable to exclude those individuals at the store level, and it is patently unfair to ask staffers to enforce such rules. Hero pay is not a great answer any more. We know how to keep employees reasonably safe from the bug. Retailers just can’t overcome our wider political… Read more »
Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Although no one wants to return to the pandemic safety protocols, this variant is for real. We need to protect associates and customers and everyone needs to protect the unvaccinated children, who more than likely can point to an unvaccinated adult as the source, should children become infected. It’s time for all parties to draw a line in the sand and end this dreaded situation.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

While we (in the US) may have seen the worst of the pandemic (optimistic thinking), that doesn’t mean it’s headed to being a history lesson with a complete return to normalcy. The Delta variant is proving that. In short, employers need to have the right protocols in place for the health and safety of employees and customers. At a minimum, they should honor the government mandates (local and federal) and CDC suggested protocols. Furthermore, employees must be properly trained on what to do with customers who don’t honor the store’s protocols.

Rachelle King
BrainTrust

The clock is ticking on a full step backwards to lockdown. Covid vaccines may reduce severe illness, but they do not prevent vaccinated people from contracting or spreading the virus. This fact alone should encourage retailers to at least require masks for employees to protect them and minimize spread.

There is already a labor shortage in retail. When the employees that have stuck around throughout the pandemic can no longer ward off this virus because basic safety precautions have been discarded, what recourse will retailers have then? Undoubtedly, local guidelines will be blamed vs failure to use common sense. Masks should be required in-store for anyone who is inside of a store. Retailers who fail to enlist this requirement now will find themselves back-pedaling later — in empty stores.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Retailers need to do what is necessary to protect their employees and customers in the spirit of the greater good, even if it is an unpopular move."
"Yes! Bring back the mask! Why not be safe rather than sorry? I’ve been vaccinated, but still wear a mask at retail. Let’s stay open."
"By having the “masks not required for vaccinated” and “masks required for unvaccinated” retailers create very visual in-group/out-groups (and it is impossible to enforce)."

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