Retailers Put Brakes On Texas & Mississippi Move To Scrap Mask Mandates


Thursday, March 4th 2021, 12:54 pm
By: CBS News


As Texas and Mississippi move to join a dozen other U.S. states without statewide mask requirements, many major retailers and employers aren't ready to nix face covering requirements amid a pandemic that killed more than 1,800 Americans on Tuesday alone.

The governors of both states said they are dispensing with mask mandates and allowing businesses to operate at full capacity

"We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement. "We are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny."

In Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves is also lifting mask mandates for all counties, saying his office is "getting out of the business of telling people what they can and can't do." 

Despite the push to reopen, Texas and Mississippi residents will still need to wear face masks if they want to step inside many supermarkets and other large retail chains. The retailers, which include Kroger, Target and Walgreens, cited guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in continuing to require masks and take other measures to protect workers and consumers from the virus. 

"There is no change at this time to the company mask mandate policy or any current safety protocols that are in place in our stores or any work locations to protect our customers and team members. We are following current CDC and OSHA guidelines regarding safety protocols," a spokesperson for Walgreens said in an email. 

The drugstore chain's policy all along has been to "gently remind customers who are shopping without masks about the requirement, but out of concern for our employees' safety, we do not stop these customers from shopping," a spokesperson added.

Another major pharmacy, CVS Health, will also keep its face covering policy in place at stores nationwide, with a CVS Health spokesperson citing the "strong scientific evidence that masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19."

"If a customer is not wearing a mask or face covering, we will refer them to our signage and ask that they help protect themselves and those around them by listening to the experts and heeding the call to wear a face covering," the spokesperson added. "For safety reasons, our employees are directed to avoid escalated confrontations with noncompliant customers and to instead help them complete their purchases as quickly as possible."

Kroger, the nation's largest supermarket chain, "will continue to require everyone in our stores across the country to wear masks until all our frontline grocery associates can receive the COVID-19 vaccine," a spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch in an email. The company last month said it would give each of its 500,000 workers in 35 states $100 to get immunized against COVID.

Target is also sticking with its requirement that customers and workers wear masks, including those who have been vaccinated for the coronavirus, "in line with current CDC guidance," a spokesperson for the retailer said in an email. The retailer makes an exception for those with underlying medical conditions and young children. 

Patrons that prefer not to wear masks can shop through Target's no-contact options, such as shopping online, the retailer added.

Aldi said it would stick with its nationwide policy requiring its workers and customers to wear masks in its more than 2,000 grocery stores in 36 states. 

"We are aware of the mask mandate lifts in both Texas and Mississippi where we have store locations. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic we have been following CDC guidelines, and we do not plan to make any adjustments to our safety measures at this time," a spokesperson for Aldi said in an email. 

A spokesperson for Home Depot said the retailer "requires associates and customers to wear masks while in our stores or any Home Depot facility nationwide. We'll continue to follow CDC guidelines, as we've done all along."

Costco, Trader Joe's, Walmart and Whole Foods did not respond to requests for comment.

The National Retail Federation issued a statement reiterating that retail stores are private entities that can refuse entry or service to those that refuse to adhere to their policies. Further, "It is within their right to implement and enforce policies that protect the health and the safety of their employees and their customers," a spokesperson for the trade group said in a statement.

San Antonio, Texas-based H-E-B did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the grocery chain, which employs more than 135,000 people at more than 400 stores in Texas and Mexico, seemed to take a softer stance in talking to a local media outlet.

"Although there is no longer a statewide mask order, H-E-B believes it is important that masks be worn in public spaces until more Texans and our partners have access to the Covid-19 vaccine," an H-E-B spokesperson told a Fox News affiliate. "H-E-B will still require all our partners and vendors to wear masks while at work, and we urge all customers to please wear a mask when in our stores."