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Immunization police?  New mask guidelines could put grocery store workers at risk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stepped in, but your local supermarket might have other ideas regarding masking warrants. The besieged retail sector has found itself at the forefront of the politicized struggle for wearing masks with the agency’s new guidelines released on Thursday.

Phil Lempert, founder of, predicted that grocery stores won’t eliminate mask requirements, at least for workers. “Retailers are going to demand or bribe with bonuses or additional compensation to keep employees wearing masks,” he said.

Associations and unions representing workers have dismissed the CDC’s claim that fully vaccinated people can dispense with wearing masks, raising alarm bells that employees could be at risk if there is no way to check the vaccine status of buyers.

United Food and Commercial Workers International, a union representing grocery store workers, issued a statement criticizing the new guidelines, saying they were “confusing and fail to take into account the impact they will have on essential workers who are frequently exposed to people who are not vaccinated and who refuse. wear masks.

The union expressed concern about potential hostility from workers. “Workers are still forced to play mask of the police,” the statement said. “Are they now supposed to be the vaccination police?”

“Today’s CDC mask announcement creates ambiguity for retailers as it does not fully align with national and local orders,” said Lisa LaBruno, senior executive vice president of sales operations and innovation for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, in a statement. “These conflicting positions place retailers and their employees in extremely difficult situations.”

Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, also noted that state-level mask mandates still remain in place, although he took a more optimistic tone, saying in a statement that the new directions “will help open up the economy and bring more people back to work.” “

The ad has the potential to be a minefield for public relations for stores, especially national chains like big box and department stores, said Nick Shields, senior analyst covering the retail industry. to investment firm Third Bridge.

“They are very careful about public relations over the next couple of months,” he said. Stores will have to walk a tightrope between making sure employees feel safe while accommodating the varying and potentially conflicting preferences of shoppers, he added.

One solution for large chains could be the integration of a sort of vaccination passport into their loyalty programs.

Shields predicted that the change in masking guidelines could prompt some employees who come into contact with customers who have not yet been vaccinated to do so, and added that masking may be a habit some prefer to keep. “It’s likely that you will find that employees will be much more willing to keep their masks on for longer, given the large number of people they are exposed to on a daily basis,” he said.

Perhaps fearing that workers would be caught in the middle, many large retail chains have said they have no plans to give up in-store mask warrants immediately. Pharmacy giant CVS said it was “evaluating our in-store mask policy,” but made no further commitments.

“Target will continue to demand all of our coronavirus safety measures in all stores, including masks and social distancing, as we review the CDC’s updated guidance and reassess the advice we offer our team and to our customers, ”company spokesman Brian Harper-Tibaldo said via email.

But others were moving forward – perhaps the most important being Walmart, which announced on Friday that starting Tuesday, people who are fully vaccinated can do without masks (they will still follow local and national rules).

Supermarket chain Publix and Trader Joe’s have both said they will no longer need masks for those vaccinated from Saturday.

Sheila Regehr, spokesperson for Kroger Co., said the company still requires employees and customers to wear masks, adding that the company is pushing workers to get the Covid-19 vaccine by offering a one-time bonus of $ 100. “We are reviewing current security practices, the latest CDC guidelines, and soliciting input from associates to guide the next phase of our policy,” she said.

Drugstore chain Walgreens said it was maintaining its current mask policies for now, and The Home Depot said it had not made any changes.

Lempert said one solution for large chains could be the integration of some sort of vaccination passport into their loyalty programs. “A tech game could be for you to scan your vaccination card in your supermarket app, and just scan a QR code upon entering the store for verification,” he said.

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