The face mask rule is now simply a suggestion at some H-E-B stores

Long lines at H-E-B in Houston, March 21, 2020 -Photo: Getty Images/Richard McMillin
Jun 05, 2020
Matthew Stern

H-E-B really wants its customers to wear masks in-store. In San Antonio, however, store staff will no longer turn away the mask-less.

The move comes as Texas Governor Greg Abbott implemented an order allowing local governments to have mandatory mask ordinances, but forbidding them from imposing fines or punishments, according to a local San Antonio news report. H-E-B’s official stance is that it strongly encourages the wearing of masks or facial coverings by all of its customers. Store staff and vendors at H-E-B locations in San Antonio will still be required to wear masks.

Up to this point, H-E-B has drawn accolades for assuring customer safety throughout the pandemic, according to a Bond Brand Loyalty study quoted by Progressive Grocer. In the “Covid-19 Tracker Study,” H-E-B received an 80 percent customer satisfaction rating during the pandemic, performing nearly 20 percent better than Costco and Walmart, and more than 20 percent better than Publix and Kroger. Some of the measures that customers deemed the most important to feeling safe in-store were the availability of hand sanitizer and the consistent enforcement of social distancing.

Unclear data and confusing recommendations early on in the pandemic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health organizations have led to enduring controversy over the effectiveness of face masks in stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus.

A recent meta-analysis published in The Lancet and reported on USA Today, however, appears to show significant value to masking up, especially in conjunction with social distancing and the use of eye protection.

As with numerous fixtures of the pandemic response in the U.S., mask-wearing has become a political flashpoint in some locales. A local news report last month from Lake Travis, TX, details residents being split on the question of mask-wearing, with some refusing to patronize places where masks were required and even believing that masks could cause physical damage.

Texas has begun the move into Phase III of its reopening, with Gov. Abbott announcing other reductions in pandemic-related limitations, according to The Houston Chronicle. For instance, restaurants operating a 25 percent capacity can now expand to 50 percent.

Texas is one of the states in which COVID-19 cases are currently on the rise, according to data compiled by the NY Times. The total case count in the state has exceeded 71,000 and nearly 1,800 deaths have been attributed to the virus to date.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is it time for grocers to start relaxing policies for in-store face mask-wearing? What should determine how rigorously stores demand that customers wear them?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Is the pandemic over and I missed the memo?"
"If a marketplace is a hot spot for COVID-19, grocers should impose a mandatory mask policy. In all other places, masks should be encouraged, but optional. It’s that simple."
"Last I checked, we’re still in the middle, not at the end, of a pandemic."

Join the Discussion!

34 Comments on "The face mask rule is now simply a suggestion at some H-E-B stores"

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Dr. Stephen Needel

If cases are rising or continuing in your area, it’s still time to wear face masks. A store requiring shoppers to wear face masks is protecting other shoppers, not necessarily the person wearing the mask. It’s not hard and if you live in a place where they think masks are causing physical damage, but you’re reading this, it’s time for you to move to a smarter area.

Richard Hernandez

H-E-B was one of the first supermarket chains in the country to have strict COVID-19 policies for both store partners and customers alike. They were (and still are) very transparent in letting the public know when a store partner has tested positive for COVID-19. Looking at the number of cases and trends and the lapse of state/country mandates, they are moving with other retailers in relaxing requiring masks for customers that shop their stores.

Michael Terpkosh

It is not time to relax mask-wearing policies or any other COVID-19 policies in the workplace. I understand the U.S. is trying to slowly open-up, but the safety of retail employees and their customers must come first. In the U.S. over the last 24 hours over 1,000 people died of the virus. We have a long way to go.

Cathy Hotka

Is the pandemic over and I missed the memo?

Dr. Stephen Needel

Maybe the best one-liner you’ve written, Cathy.

Cathy Hotka

Thank you! 🙂

Al McClain

Cathy, I think we’re such an impatient society now that many states are relaxing their approach and opening up (with urging from the top) even though they shouldn’t. Here in Florida, cases are steady to up (with an all time high daily number yesterday), and we’re essentially at another peak now, a few weeks after things started reopening. But, the reopening continues unabated, with fits and starts, even in hot spots and counties. There have been many instances of businesses not enforcing social distancing and other rules. Texas cases have also been rising similarly. So, I think H-E-B is essentially throwing in the towel because they know a certain percentage of customers will react in a hostile manner to being told to wear masks, in the absence of better state and federal leadership and role models on the issue.

Laura Davis-Taylor

I’m with you Al. I came down to Florida from Atlanta a week ago and am blown away by how few people are wearing masks inside of retail stores — maybe 30 percent. I read today that yesterday was the highest number of cases in Florida to date. I’m sure many things are behind this, but there’s a general laissez faire feeling in the air. The question is who is on point to correct it? If state and federal mandates hit, the retailer wouldn’t have to make hard choices–particularly when to wear or not to wear has become a political statement. Sigh.

Ken Morris

It is absolutely not time to relax. I’m afraid people are confusing politics with science. I believe masking up will be with us until a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19 are in place. I won’t shop anywhere that allows people to roam without a mask and those stores that do should be held liable.

Shep Hyken

A touchy subject! There are government mandated guidelines and then there are store policies. Meeting the requirements is the minimum. From that point on, retailers should be allowed to enforce a stricter level of safety and health guidelines should they desire to do so. This is for the safety and health of both employees and customers.

The other day I was at a store and noticed after every transaction at the cash register, the cashier would disinfect and wipe down the counter and credit card machine. The next store didn’t. Customers will make their own decisions about the stores that make them feel safe and secure.

Suresh Chaganti

Masks help. But it has also become a heavily politicized issue. The government doesn’t mandate it at state level, so there is no way H-E-B can enforce it without a significant level of angst from shoppers who do not want to wear masks.

I hope people still follow social distancing to minimize the risk.

Dick Seesel

To reinforce what Michael Terpkosh said, it’s premature to relax safety policies. At its current pace, we may lose another 100,000 Americans to the virus by Labor Day, and there is evidence that some states’ infection rates are rising. (Texas, for example.) Whether this is due to civic unrest or to relaxation of standards, it doesn’t really matter; Americans shouldn’t become numb to this reality.

There is chest-thumping in some circles about the May jobs report — and the numbers are certainly better than expected — but the recovery will be stalled if a second wave of infections causes a second phase of shutdowns. There is already plenty of collateral jobs damage still to come (major summer events canceled around the country) and carelessness won’t help matters.

10 months 10 days ago

The jobs report will be even better in June. I was surprised the May report was as good as it was, actually, given how much was still closed in May. Travel numbers are rising, casinos reopening in NV, more “non essential” businesses like retail being allowed to re-open as of today in CA. Folks are getting back to work.

There won’t be a second phase of shut downs. I think everyone has learned the lesson on that. There may be a second phase of virus scare and a large segment of the population not going out, though.

Bob Phibbs

I think H-E-B understands the realities of the moment and their consumer base. I don’t believe anyone has any certainty on what the virus is doing or will be doing. We need data. We need testing. We need one voice of authority to tell us what we should/shouldn’t do. Without that, we are all just trying to figure it out as best we can. Name-calling won’t help.

Gene Detroyer

So Texas is suggesting we should trust the shoppers to behave properly? The shoppers scare me more than any other segment. And the ones who scare me the most are the ones who believe it is their right not to protect their fellow citizens.

How should the stores (and the government) demand customers to wear masks? Follow the numbers. When you know this virus is no longer being spread to others, then it will be OK.

Wearing a mask is EASY. Not wearing a mask is not an expression of freedom or bravery. It is simply an expression of selfishness. How selfish? Your comfort versus someone else possibly dying. That is pretty selfish.

Jeff Sward

Documented cases on the rise and the masks come off. Insane. How tough is it to wear a mask until the data demonstrates an improving trend? I hope H-E-B customers have safe alternatives. And referencing another topic today, will H-E-B be protected from liability if an outbreak is reliably traced to them?

Georganne Bender

Maybe the folks at H-E-B should read the RetailWire article on whether retailers should be held liable for workers sickened by COVID-19.

No, it’s not time to relax the mandate for wearing masks in stores. As I write this I am watching the numbers of new people who have died due to COVID-19 going across the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen. How can this be a good idea? The H-E-B spokesperson said the retailer strongly encourages the use of masks by all customers in all stores. Good. Now, follow your own advice and continue to protect associates and customers.

Scott Norris

Costco doesn’t seem to be suffering and they mandate masks, no exceptions. I love H-E-B but they need to step up and lead, regardless of what the anti-science, anti-sense people threaten. Just because you sell chicken doesn’t mean you have to act like a chicken.

Jason Goldberg
From a medical standpoint, we’re only barely safer today than were were in March. We are nowhere close to herd immunity, our therapies are only nominally better, and obviously there is no vaccine yet. We’re slightly less likely to overwhelm our healthcare system than we were in March, but even that varies wildly by region. We have made huge scientific progress, but almost NONE of that has translated into it being any safer to go shopping in June than it was in March. So it’s crazy that retailers are having so much trouble (self-imposed and government mandated) instituting moderate safety protocols that we know work. Customers aren’t allowed in most stores without shoes, but it’s totally fine for a coughing/sneezing shopper to spend an hour in a store without a mask!?!? A customer would be arrested for urinating in the store, but somehow it’s a violation of customer rights to not let them spread coronavirus droplets? We’ve landed in this bizarro land, where you have to wear a helmet on your motorcycle or a seatbelt… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader
10 months 10 days ago

Excellent summary all around, Jason. Well said. I haven’t heard anyone complain about it being their right to not wear shoes into a store. How is a mask somehow harder to accept? As I’ve said in previous RetailWire discussions if wearing a mask could save one life (either another customer or a store associate) why wouldn’t you accept a minor inconvenience to do so?


I am sorry but how do you create rules and policies and not enforce them? What’s the point? It is like having a speed limit of 65 MPH and allowing drivers to drive at the speed at which suits them or having safety belt laws and not following them. You cannot create rules and policies with out enforcement. Masks have been proven to stop the spread of this virus and the last I checked the virus is still increasing.

Sorry it may be an inconvenience to wear a mask in any store… so is my car safety seatbelt but we all wear them.

Steve Montgomery

While there has been lots of controversy about the effectiveness of wearing a mask there is no downside for the wearer and there may be a great upside for the rest of us.

The issue for any retailer in an area where the government no longer requires them to be worn is, how can a retailer enforce no mask/no service?

George Anderson
I know that San Antonio and Bexar County (78 have died to date there) were among the most aggressive in shutting down when the outbreak began. H-E-B, to its credit, has been a leader in its response to protect the communities it serves and its workers. That said, the Texas state legislature, the state’s governor and lieutenant governor are clearly committed to reopening the economy and seeing what happens. It’s early still, but recent statewide numbers are concerning. Axios reported yesterday that testing increased in Texas 36 percent over the past week. That’s good news. The bad news is that confirmed people with the virus went up 51 percent. The state is also seeing increases in the percentages of people being tested who are coming back positive for COVID-19. Directionally, those stats are headed the wrong way. Let’s hope that Texans who choose to shop without face masks at H-E-B stores and elsewhere can somehow be encouraged to change their ways and choose to protect others by wearing coverings even if they are not concerned… Read more »