Store associates shouldn’t have to be the mask or vaccine police

Discussion
Source: Kroger
Jul 29, 2021

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union welcomed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new guidelines for mask wearing in public spaces, but says that more is needed to protect retail workers.

The union, which represents 1.3 million workers in the food and retail industry, said that all stores need to mandate that masks be worn by all shoppers and employees since current procedures have no practical way to verify if shoppers have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The UFCW originally questioned the wisdom of the CDC’s guidance in May that relaxed mask requirements fearing that abuses involving unvaccinated and unmasked shoppers would put its members at risk.

The rapid spread of cases tied to the Delta variant has alarmed medical and public health professionals, particularly in areas where misinformation about the pandemic and COVID-19 vaccines remains largely unchecked by scientific facts. Confirmed cases have risen substantially in recent weeks as have hospitalizations and deaths. Computer models show a continued rise in cases straight into the fall months.

Karyn Johnson-Dorsey, a personal shopper from Riverside, CA, who shops for Instacart customers as well as some private clients, told The New York Times that the end of store capacity and social distancing measures has further complicated working in stores where masks are not required.

“You have whole families who are picking out a pound of ground beef,” she told the Times. “Children who are not vaccinated because of age are touching everything, not masked, either.”

Ms. Johnson-Dorsey, who got COVID-19 last year and was vaccinated in March, should be among those least likely to be reinfected, but medical authorities point to various reasons why she and others should not be letting down their guards at this point in time.

The CDC recorded 5,914 “breakthrough” cases of COVID-19 through July 19 including 5,601 hospitalizations and 1,141 deaths. Vaccinated individuals getting the virus who suffer little or no symptoms may also spread it to others, particularly the unvaccinated, who may not be as fortunate.

Vaccine opponents often argue that those receiving shots have no reason for concern from the unvaccinated. If breakthrough cases are not enough to refute this argument, there is also the reality that the spread of the Delta and other variants may lead to further mutations that could be more highly transmissible, virulent and vaccine-resistant.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you support requirements for proof of COVID-19 vaccination from shoppers in order to shop unmasked in stores? If not, what do you think retailers need to do to protect associates from individuals who both refuse to get vaccinated and to wear face masks in publicly-shared spaces?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I am annoyed by the 'But the theater is on fire and we’re all going to die' messaging. It is NOT March 2020. If that messaging were working we wouldn’t be in this place."
"I support requirements for proof of COVID-19 vaccination from shoppers in order to shop unmasked in stores. Nervous retailers should hire security to enforce this rule."
"...many anti-vaxxers, like teenagers wanting beer, will have fake IDs or just lie. No way around this but to have masks required everywhere."

Join the Discussion!

39 Comments on "Store associates shouldn’t have to be the mask or vaccine police"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This is a difficult catch-22. Requiring proof of vaccination, while prudent, will cause confusion and upset some customers that front-line workers will then need to manage. We have all seen how challenging and at times dangerous this can be. Front-line staff should not be the mask police. However, the concerns about the Delta variant are very real and the store environment needs to be safe for staff and shoppers. Retailers should re-instate their COVID protocols on a market by market basis and adjust as conditions change. Every retailer will need to decide what posture they’re going to take and then implement it.

Ray Riley
BrainTrust

If each retailer was capable of having their own trained security on staff, then proof of vaccine to shop unmasked is reasonable. However that is not practical, thus the CDC needs to recommend a policy that isn’t ambiguous, practical, and considers the realities of the often younger and vulnerable front-line workforce that aren’t trained nor expected to be on-staff security.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Sure, I’d support it, but this ain’t China! Or even Europe. I mean, we can’t even ask Americans to wear shirts without a battle! Store associates aren’t bouncers. Best m.o. to me is to keep your staff as safe as possible (most protocols already in place) and let “freedom” ring. The whole thing is so exhausting. People can get sick if they want to, but don’t look at us weird when we won’t get near you.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Post #4 in a week? Really? If the union wants to use its voice in PR it should be they require all members to get vaccinated. This isn’t about cloth, it’s about shots. If you’re not willing to get the shot, why do the rest of us have to go backward and wear masks to try to protect those who don’t want it or acknowledge the risks?

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

I don’t like it any better than you do (I’ve been fully vaccinated since early March), but the reality is that the Delta Variant is more transmissible and seems to be causing more “breakthrough” cases. (And a vaccinated person with COVID turns out to be just as contagious.) I wish it weren’t so, but it is — and until vaccine resistance is overcome, this is a public health measure meant for all of us.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I am fully supportive of vaccination, but the news media is having a field day as if this were March 2020. The only way more people get vaccinated are personal stories from their own communities — from people they know. Not “some guy down at X got Covid.” And let’s be clear: there is a very big difference between testing for Covid and having Covid and being in a hospital dying from Covid. I am annoyed by the “But the theater is on fire and we’re all going to die” messaging. It is NOT March 2020. If that messaging were working we also wouldn’t be in this place.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Bob, it depends on where you live. Here in Wisconsin, the cases, hospitalizations and deaths are growing but still relatively manageable. In Jacksonville FL (my sister-in-law works at a hospital there), it’s one of the worst hot spots in the country and ICU capacity is being strained mightily. We learned the hard way in early 2020 that isolated hot spots (like New York City) eventually overran the entire country.

Let’s be honest: If you are going to blame some of the news media for being alarmist, you need to pin equal blame on other media for being dismissive of health mitigation efforts or downright anti-vaccine.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Totally agree. I would go further and blame one news source, but this is not NYC in March 2020.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Retailers must make their own choices about how they want to protect their employees and customers. The policies must be easily seen by their customers. If the policy warrants it, the employees must be properly trained on how to ask for verification and how to handle a customer who doesn’t want to comply. Front-line employees should not be put into a position of confrontation, but at a certain point must know they can go to a manager for support. This is going to stir even more controversy about what rights a person has. The store has a right to create the safest environment possible. Ideally, the two work together, but when it doesn’t everyone must know how to react.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Requiring store associates to ask to see a customer’s proof of vaccination is a bit much, but if that has to happen then for the associates safety it needs to be a job unto itself. Like a bouncer at a bar. As I type this I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but that’s where we are.

This entire situation isn’t good, worse because the state guidelines are wishy-washy. Are masks required or not? We travel to Las Vegas soon where the mask mandate is perfectly clear: wear one at all times indoors, but in my home of Illinois the guidelines are up for interpretation.

The brunt of what happens at store level falls onto front line associates. Retailers, large and small, need to do whatever it takes to protect them.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

It’s now abundantly clear where voluntary action or lax masking and vaccination behaviors are taking us. All this “freedom of choice” is giving the virus the freedom it needs to do as much damage as possible. The simple lesson about vaccination and disease eradication was learned a long time ago. The new lesson appears to be how politics can override science. (I almost inserted the most grotesque pun ever.)

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

As usual, the new CDC guidance is too ambiguous for its own good. My nearby Kroger store is in a county with moderate transmission rates (so, no masks recommended) — while another Kroger store five miles to the south is in a “substantial” county.

It’s really up to Kroger (in this example) to reestablish clear guidelines, whether they are called recommendations or requirements. Other national retailers rushed in mid-May to drop mask mandates, and now they are scrambling for a response. Apple Stores have just taken the lead on this, and others will need to follow.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

In the interest of research (and to take care of my shopping list), I just visited that nearby Kroger store — under the Metro Market banner here in Milwaukee. I’d say that no more than 20-25% of customers and associates wore masks (myself included), but the checkout associate (also masked) said that the numbers were up significantly from yesterday.

Not everybody will agree, but wearing a mask for 30 minutes in a grocery store is not the end of the world. The sky isn’t falling (compared to the days before vaccines), but it’s still a matter of self-protection in the middle of some “known unknowns.”

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 25 days ago

To be clear, Apple is requiring masks in half (emphasis on HALF) of its stores effective today. This will only be in locations that are in “COVID Hotspots” or where there is a state or local mandate. Emphasis on WHERE THERE IS A STATE OR LOCAL MANDATE.

So given there are state or local mandates in a variety of areas, Apple’s policy is not really any different than any other retailer operating in such areas.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I think the simpler thing, for now is to require employees to be vaccinated. If more businesses do that, more people will be vaccinated. Being the mask police is exhausting, especially when people turn their masks into chin diapers when you turn around.

Like many, I’ve quite had enough of vaccine hesitancy. If the state governments won’t mandate it, it’s time for businesses to take the lead.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Exactly. And I’m fine with, you want Starbucks, shop at Walmart, shop at Kroger, show us proof at the door like you have to at a sporting event.

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 25 days ago

The employer will then be liable if the employee gets sick or has other complications from the vaccine. Legal nightmare waiting to happen. The vaccine makers are not liable under the emergency use authorization. That will change once the vaccines have full FDA approval.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

This is critical. But I can’t imagine a guard (or who ever) standing at the door asking for proof of vaccination and making sure their mask is on to gain entry into the store. But make no mistake, we seem to have the unfortunate opportunity to slip backwards in this pandemic, and that scares me. I do not think you can mandate staff (associates) to police the mask and/or proof-of-vaccination issues. But we are going to have to hold the line in the sand or fight this horrid nightmare for perhaps a long time.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Absolutely. This is a no brainer. Plus, require vaccinations of all store associates. The Delta variant and other yet unknown variants are serious stuff!

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I read about 4 stories yesterday and all lead me to the same thing — the message is too confusing and there is a lot of room of different interpretation by retailers. It would be very difficult to ask customers to prove vaccination and probably create problems at the door. If they want people to wear masks in their stores- then they need to say it.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
The UFCW has a point. If people chose — and at this point it is a very conscious decision — not to be vaccinated then how can we trust them not to lie about their vaccination status? So by relaxing the mask mandates, the federal government has put the nation on a trust-based system that isn’t warranted given the evidence. So while I strongly support proof of vaccination for the unmasked, that won’t be enough to protect store associates and other customers. I am fully vaccinated, but early research on the Delta variant indicates I could transmit it to someone who hasn’t received the shots. Also, we are starting to see some evidence of so-called “breakthrough” COVID cases, i.e., cases among the vaccinated. The truth is we don’t know what the best answer is and this whole, “Mask On, Mask Off,” dr