Retailers still have a COVID-19 problem

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Jul 09, 2021

Move around the United States today and it may appear as though life has returned to what passed for normal prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic that claimed more than 600,000 lives in America. This is a mistaken perception, however, and retailers may be compounding it by going along with consumers, who for one reason or another, refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine or wear a face mask while remaining unvaccinated.

Twenty-four states have seen recent increases in COVID-19 cases, with 51.7 percent of all infections now tied to the Delta variant, a more highly transmissible form of the virus, according to an estimate by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers from Georgetown University have identified five large population clusters around the U.S. that are most at risk. These are located in states where vaccination rates are low and disinformation about the virus and immunizations is widespread. Parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas are included in this group.

Missouri has seen the biggest increase in cases in recent weeks with health officials in the Springfield area reporting that 15 of the 17 who have died between June 21 and July 4 were unvaccinated.

Andy Slavitt, a former adviser to President Biden’s COVID response team, told CNN that the new variant is “twice as infectious” as previous strains, calling it “COVID-19 on steroids.”

A new scientific report by French scientists published in Nature has found that mutations in the new variant allow it in some cases to get around immunities created via vaccination and previous infection. A single dose of vaccine, the study found, offers “barely” any protection from the effects of the virus, although “administration of two doses generated a neutralizing response in 95 percent of individuals.”

The research published in Nature, as The Washington Post points out, reinforces another study by U.S. scientists published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Both of the studies did find that people who have received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca are least at risk from infection or adverse consequences, although even those people are not fully immune and may still contract the disease and spread it to others.

Pfizer issued a statement this week that it now expects that those who received its vaccine will need a booster six months to a year after receiving their second shot. The company is currently engaged in tracking results of a third dose trial in India with encouraging results.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do retailers, particularly those in areas with low vaccination rates, need to go back to requiring shoppers to wear masks and practice social distancing in light of rising cases and the spread of the Delta variant? What rules should they have in place regarding their own associates?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"This isn’t just about what retailers have to do. It’s about the combined efforts of the different levels of government and medical agencies. "
"You know what? After the last Pearl Harbor of political BS about not wearing a mask, I’m of the mindset that if you make sure your staff are protected in every way possible..."
"Remember the sign that says no shirt, no shoes, no service? No one complained about that."

Join the Discussion!

32 Comments on "Retailers still have a COVID-19 problem"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

This is a decision that individual retailers must weigh up and make. Shoppers should be respectful and abide by the requirements retailers put in place. However, if people have the vaccine, they are less at risk of infection and, if they do get infected, the symptoms are much less severe. In the UK, restrictions are ending soon on the basis that, although the virus still poses a risk, a very high percentage of people have been fully vaccinated. In my opinion, that is the right thing to do because restrictions cannot remain in place forever as they are incompatible with a free society. The issue for the U.S. is that vaccination rates are lower, and especially low in particular states and localities.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Don’t throw away your masks yet! The new COVID-19 variants are a cause for concern and several countries are starting to take precautionary measures. As before, retailers should follow the guidance of the CDC and local governments. I wouldn’t be surprised if retailers pivot back to requiring associates and customers to wear masks again.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

The areas that are getting these increases are ones where it appears people don’t take vaccinations seriously. I don’t know what is gained by making retailers the mask police and angering the people in their local communities. Local associations could sponsor vaccination sweepstakes or drawings or do other things to encourage vaccinations. Those would be much better than trying to mandate masks to a population that doesn’t believe the pandemic is real anyway.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

I agree with you, but I for one am annoyed that we have to gift people something to entice them to be vaccinated. Why not reward the people who are responsible instead?

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

We are where we are. The stone wall that has been built from one media empire for profit has poisoned a portion of our populace into believing vaccines are wrong and it is all a hoax. Start there.

Rick Moss
Staff

I’m with you on this, Bob. Retailers should primarily consider the welfare of their employees and, in these areas, offer them more protections, just as they would if they worked in crime-ridden neighborhoods. But to expect them to act as enforcers for the general populace is unfair. Perhaps they can help disseminate helpful information but, though we like to think education cures ignorance, apparently that principle no longer applies to many Americans.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Exactly Rick. Incentivizing employees to be vaccinated I’m all for. You don’t want to get vaccinated, your community is locked down again — I have no patience for the mea culpas on the local news; “I was wrong.” Those who didn’t get vaccinated chose to be wrong.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

Right, Rick. Take action where you have some control and work to influence in areas where you lack power. Situations are dynamic, and retailers have a unique position of soft influence and appeal in society. They need to think and act as diplomats and not as armed warriors.

storewanderer
Guest
2 months 13 days ago

You are not telling the whole story here when you say “the areas that are getting these increases are ones where it appears people don’t take vaccinations seriously.” You need to look at actual numbers. It isn’t just low vaccination rate places like Springfield, MO with a low vaccination rate where cases are skyrocketing.

Los Angeles County in California which has a high vaccination rate is having a 165% increase in cases since last week (that is 839 new cases for anyone who is counting).

And I won’t even get into what is being reported internationally among places with high vaccination rates but they are reporting cases skyrocketing in many countries with high vaccination rates as well. Notably the UK, among others.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

After 16 months it’s not up to retail to try to manage this. Until the people who falsely believe it doesn’t apply to them or they don’t need to vaccinate — which increasingly are young people — have someone die in their family or friends, I doubt anything will change their minds. Until they stop believing lies, unfortunately, Covid will not go away. It’s unconscionable someone could own a business or manage one and not mandate their employees must be vaccinated if they want to work there. Period.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

The underlying problem is that the regions with the lowest vaccination rates appear to be the same areas with the highest resistance to wearing masks in the first place. (While masks weren’t a panacea during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, there should be little doubt that their widespread use saved lives.) Especially after the CDC relaxed its guidance about indoor mask wearing (mind you, for those fully vaccinated), retailers nationwide threw in the towel.

Can Costco, Target and others put the genie back in the bottle, and try to reimpose mask restrictions in hot spots where they have store locations? Maybe they can mandate mask-wearing and other precautions for their own associates, but asking “resistant” customers to put their masks back on will invite more conflict with employees.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

It does feel strange that one day we flipped a light switch and all of the sudden the pandemic was over. Everyone who was vaccinated could go out without masks or social distancing anymore. Boom. Back to normal.

I think retailers have a responsibility to take care of their employees and look out for their customers. If that means that they need to still require masks and social distancing then I’m all for it. It’s not time to let our guard down even though it feels like we can.

storewanderer
Guest
2 months 13 days ago

It is quite odd the CDC Director was crying about an upcoming crisis and a few weeks later all restrictions went away. What the political motivations were for this, we will never know.

Or maybe they truly thought they would get to a 70% vaccination rate by July 4 on the US population with this non-FDA approved and only FDA “authorized for emergency use” vaccination by July. Frankly, if the 70% was the goal to loosen or lift restrictions, they should not have lifted restrictions until the goal was actually met. The rate of vaccination was low in June and it will be even lower in July.

I think basically what it may come down to is that we are broke and we needed to lift restrictions to get the economy moving again. If things spike too much again and restrictions are re-imposed again, there we are again at a stalled economy … if they re-impose restrictions again….

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

It’s going to be up to the retailer. The goal is to keep people safe, both employees and customers. However in areas that have low vaccination rates, you will find many retailers, restaurants and business in general are not practicing the health and safety protocols of areas with high vaccination rates. For example, I live in St. Louis, MO. The metro area of St. Louis has a high vaccination rate compared to some other areas in MO. The protocols practiced are quite different as well.

Al McClain
Staff
Unfortunately, retailers can’t solve this problem — 30 to 40% of the population apparently is not going to get the vaccine, no matter what (perhaps unless a new variant is so severe that they very belatedly come to their senses). Also unfortunately, the unvaccinated put the rest of us at risk. Living in Florida and having recently returned from Arkansas, I see mask wearing in Florida is at best 50/50 and in Arkansas it is more like 10/90. My perception is that the unvaccinated are also least likely to be concerned for the wellbeing of others and least likely to wear masks. I recently had an acquaintance tell me she would not get vaccinated because she “has breathing problems” but that she was safe because she “always wears a mask”. She told me this face to face with her mask under her chin. So, it’s a societal problem now and I fear government and retailers can’t solve it. We’ll just have to ride it out and hope there are enough of us that still wear… Read more »
Joel Rubinson
BrainTrust

I cannot understand why there is resistance to getting vaccinated. And we are not out of the woods. Israel and Japan have seen a resurgence as have half the states. Vaccination is right for you, your family, and for your neighbors. Having said that, in areas that have low vaccination rates, a retailer has to be careful that it doesn’t become a freedom issue that creates a blowback. Retailers can require vaccination of their employees and require they wear a mask. That might also send a signal to those who are compliant but might otherwise think it is okay to go “masks off.”

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

This isn’t just about what retailers have to do. It’s about the combined efforts of the different levels of government and medical agencies. Of course retailers have a right and an obligation to protect their employees. But they need the support of the medical community. Just like the medical community needs the support of citizens and businesses if COVID-19 is to be beaten.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

You know what? After the last Pearl Harbor of political BS about not wearing a mask, I’m of the mindset that if you make sure your staff are protected in every way possible, let the — what would you call them, “non-believers”? — go ahead and get sick. Have at it, just don’t infect my people. Like most discussions about reality since ’15, this conversation is exhausting. (For what it’s worth: rode bikes with three guys from South America this weekend that came here just to get vaxxed — that’s a reality.)

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Sadly, yes.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

COVID-19 is still here and retailers have an obligation to protect their associates. If that means mask-wearing and social distancing, then so be it. It can be a matter of life and death.

George Anderson
Staff
The question that has kept coming into my brain while reading all of these reports is what are retailers to do when state and local governments are failing not only to live up to their responsibilities to protect residents but are in some cases encouraging behaviors that could get people killed. Some of those being harmed could be store associates and other customers. It’s been established that most fully vaccinated people do not get sick enough to be hospitalized or lose their lives from COVID-19, but that isn’t a 100 percent guarantee. I personally would find it very hard if I were running a store, for example, to live with a decision where grievous harm may have been done to someone I work with simply because I didn’t want to create a stir with customers who are more likely to trust conspiracies than the truths staring them right in the face. I’ve been horrified over the course of this pandemic to read accounts of people in hospitals, literally on their death beds, either denying that… Read more »
Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I appreciate that George, but let’s call it what it is, the politicization of mask wearing is a fundraising event for some people and a cause to look for their freedoms being diminished. We can’t go back and get a do over for the right response, but we certainly can understand the limits of where we are right now. I would mandate anyone wanting to work in my stores be vaccinated — if they didn’t want to, then find another job. But expecting to be mask police for another six months is unreasonable at best and with labor shortage, impossible.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Employers – including retailers – have a fiduciary responsibility to keep employees and customers safe, so wearing masks to reduce exposure and spread of disease in areas where infections are on the rise is prudent. It’s just a shame that the situation is preventable given the widespread availability of vaccines.

April Sabral
Guest

This is such a timely post, it is a huge concern for staff members and it could be compounding the problem with hiring staff.
I know from travelling and shopping in Florida last week it seemed as though there was never a pandemic. As someone who is vaccinated, I think that there needs to be follow up to those who have not yet had it. It almost feels with a sense of comfort going back to normal that consumers are forgetting the effects when it first hit. Whatever your stance is, a lack of trust causes the issues with people not willing to get vaccinated. We need to protect our staff and customers. I would highly recommend to my retail partners to stay with masks until the vaccination rate increases.