It’s starting. A day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines saying fully vaccinated people can go without masks in most places, some stores dropped their mask requirements for customers. Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Club, Publix, and Trader Joe’s are just some of the big-name stores that have already made the change, saying fully vaccinated people can go mask-free except where a mask is required by state or local mandates.
The stores still say unvaccinated people should wear masks. “In accordance with CDC guidelines, individuals who are not fully vaccinated are required to use face coverings over their noses and mouths while inside any Publix store,” the grocery store chain said in a statement, for example. But really the change is just a blanket green light for anyone to shop without a mask because there is no way employees could corroborate the vaccination status of their customers. “We will not require proof of vaccination, but we ask for members’ responsible and respectful cooperation with this revised policy,” Costco said in a statement updating its mask policy. The stores are also allowing most vaccinated employees to go mask-free.
Even as some rushed to changed their policy, other stores are taking a slower approach and have made clear they aren’t ready to change yet. Apple, for example, said that it will be keeping its mask requirements at its retail stores for now. Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the country, also said it wasn’t changing its mask requirements for now as did Home Depot and Target. Walgreens also said it is keeping the mask mandate for now in part because its stores are “a destination for COVID vaccine and testing.”
Some have cautioned against being too eager to drop masks. Unions representing grocery store and retail workers said masks should still be required for now. The new CDC guideline “fails to consider how it will impact essential workers who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks,” Marc Perrone, president of United Food and Commercial Workers’ union, said. Writing in the New York Times, Zeynep Tufekci says that it isn’t clear why the CDC had such a major change of heart on masks so quickly. “The C.D.C. shift does not seem to fully account for the risks to the great number of unvaccinated people or the immunocompromised, especially those working indoors,” Dr. Tufekci writes.