Retailers

H-E-B, Albertsons Address ‘Polarizing’ Mask Issue in Texas

Stores continue to require face coverings despite statewide policy change
H-E-B Mask Mandate
Photograph courtesy of H-E-B

“While statewide policy has changed, our store protocol has not. Mask use at our stores will remain,” said H-E-B in a statement March 5. The San Antonio-based grocer said it will continue to make announcements in-store and post signs requiring mask use at its store entrances despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the mask mandate and return businesses to 100% capacity on March 10.

“We will continue to expect shoppers to wear masks while in our stores,” said the company. “Additionally, we will still require all our partners and vendors to wear masks while at work.”

H-E-B, which said it “has always been a strong proponent and advocate of mask use even before mandates and orders were passed,” points to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) advice on wearing masks or facial coverings in public spaces as a proven way to prevent the spread of COVID.

“We’re staying with all the protocols we had in place,” Stephen Butt, president of H-E-B’s Central Market banner, told The Dallas Morning News in an interview. “We want customers to wear masks. And we think that’s best for the community. We think it’s best for our people. We want to see our customers and partners vaccinated as rapidly as possible. That’s really the solution.”

“The ending of mask ordinances puts real pressure on retailers to enforce an emotional topic for many,” said H-E-B in the statement issued March 5. Asking for kindness and understanding from its customers around the mask issue, H-E-B added that customers who cannot wear a mask due to medical exceptions are exempt.

While Butt told The Dallas Morning News that Central Market stores are seeing a high percentage of customers wearing masks in-store, he also revealed the challenges the grocer has faced in enforcing the mask mandate.

“It’s difficult,” Butt said of mask enforcement. “We tell our partners, if a customer refuses to wear a mask, we will not escalate the situation. We’ve had several thousand instances across the state. We will not put our people in harm’s way over this topic. Our partners’ safety is a top priority for our company.”

Albertsons Cos. also recently released a statement on masks in Texas. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, all of our stores, including our Texas banners Albertsons, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets and Market Street have consistently followed the CDC’s guidance on masks for our associates, vendors and customers. While we know that mask requirements have been controversial and polarizing across some of our operating areas, we also know that masks in combination with social distancing and proper cleaning and sanitization can work to prevent the spread of the virus,” the company said.

The Boise, Idaho-based grocer further noted that its front-line associates have not had full access to the vaccine. “Subsequently, our stores and facilities in Texas will continue to require masks for associates, vendors and customers regardless of the mask mandate being lifted,” it said.

Grocers with stores in Mississippi are facing similar mask enforcement issues, as the governor of that state lifted the mask mandate on March 3.

The Kroger Co. of Cincinnati, which operates stores in both Mississippi and Texas, has said that it will continue to require everyone in its stores to wear masks until its workers can receive the COVID vaccine.

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