It’s starting. A day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines stating that fully vaccinated people could be left without masks in most places, some stores dropped their requirements for masks for customers. Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Club, Publix and Trader Joe’s are just some of the big stores that have already made the change, saying that fully vaccinated people can be left without masks, except when a mask is required by state or local mandates.
Stores still say that unvaccinated people should wear masks. “According to the CDC guidelines, people who have not been fully vaccinated should use face coatings on their nose and mouth while in any Publix store,” the grocery store chain said in a statement, for example. But in fact, the change is just a green light for anyone shopping without a mask, because there is no way for employees to confirm the vaccination status of their customers. “We will not require evidence of vaccination, but we want responsible and respectful cooperation from members with this revised policy,” Costco said in a statement updating its mask policy. The shops also allow most vaccinated employees to go without masks.
Although some rushed to change their policies, other stores took a slower approach and made it clear that they were not yet ready to change. Apple, for example, said it would keep its mask requirements in its retail stores for now. Kroger, the country’s largest supermarket chain, also said it has not changed its mask requirements, such as Home Depot and Target. Walgreens also said it retained the mask’s mandate for the time being, in part because its stores were “a destination for vaccine and COVID testing.”
Some warn not to overdo the masks. Unions representing grocery stores and retail workers said masks should still be required for now. The new CDC guidelines “do not look at how they will affect key workers who face frequent exposure to unvaccinated people and refuse to wear masks,” said Marc Perone, president of the Union of United Food and Trade Workers. Writing in the New York Times, Zeynep Tufekci says it is not clear why the CDC has made such a big change in masks so quickly. “Changing the CDC does not seem to take full account of the risks to the large number of unvaccinated or immunocompromised people, especially those working indoors,” Dr. Tufecci wrote.
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