The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 13 updated its guidance on mask-wearing, stating that individuals vaccinated against COVID-19 don't need to wear a mask or physically distance themselves from each other, indoors or out, in most settings.
"Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance," the CDC now states on its website.
The sudden and largely unexpected change has prompted questions from consumers and raised concerns among labor unions, including the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. "America's grocery workers face daily COVID risks on the job & have to play mask police with customers refusing to follow safety measures," the UFCW stated May 14 on Twitter. "@CDCgov must do more to protect workers trying to keep stores safe."
The National Safety Council (NSC) said it "cautiously supports" the CDC's updated recommendations, while noting that the new guidance "does not take away any of the complexity out of managing the safety of a partially vaccinated workforce." In addition, the council stated, "Employers must be prepared to verify the vaccination status of employees while complying with appropriate employee laws and protocols." The NSC urged employers to "continue to create a safe, inclusive workplace culture" where all workers feel safe and supported.
Retailers across the country, meanwhile, are in the process of revisiting their policies: Some have announced they'll drop mask mandates for vaccinated shoppers in accordance with new CDC guidelines; others are, for the moment, leaving those in place or taking a wait-and-see approach.
Here's a look at what several retailers have said so far:
Albertsons: Albertsons Cos. had not issued an official update regarding mask policies for its banner brands as of May 17.
Aldi: The discount grocer had not revised its mask policy as of May 17 morning. In a Q&A on its website, the Batavia, Ill.-based retailer states: "The health and safety of our employees, customers and the communities we serve will always be our highest priority. With that focus in mind, face coverings are required to enter all Aldi stores."
Costco: Costco updated its policy May 14 to say that customers in states/local jurisdictions where masks are not required don't have to wear a face covering to enter Costco stores. In areas where masks are still required, there is no policy change. "We will not require proof of vaccination, but we ask for members’ responsible and respectful cooperation with this revised policy," the company's website states. "Face coverings will still be required in healthcare settings, including Pharmacy, Optical [and] Hearing Aid. Costco continues to recommend that all members and guests, especially those who are at higher risk, wear a mask or shield."
Giant Eagle: Giant Eagle announced May 18 that vaccinated customers and employees can go maskless in store starting May 24, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Hy-Vee: On May 18, the company posted a news release stating that vaccinated customers and team members no longer need to wear a face covering in store except as required by local law. "Face coverings, however, continue to be strongly recommended for Hy-Vee customers who are not fully vaccinated and are still required by the company for employees who are not fully vaccinated," Hy-Vee stated.
Kroger: "Starting May 20, fully vaccinated customers and most fully vaccinated associates no longer need to wear a mask in our facilities, including stores, distribution centers, plants, and offices, unless otherwise required by state or local jurisdiction," Kroger stated on May 19. Nonvaccinated associates will be required to wear a face mask, and the company requests that nonvaccinated customers wear one. Associates who complete their COVID-19 vaccination will be offered a one-time $100 payment.
Lidl: "We have instructed our stores to lift our mask requirements for vaccinated customers immediately in all locations where legally allowed," Lidl U.S. President and CEO Johannes Fieber stated in a letter to customers May 17. Unvaccinated individuals should continue to wear masks, he noted.
Publix: "Beginning May 15, Publix will no longer require fully vaccinated associates or customers to wear face coverings inside Publix stores," the company stated on its website.
Target:UPDATE MAY 17: "Given the CDC’s updated guidance, Target no longer requires fully vaccinated guests and team members to wear face coverings in our stores, except where it's required by local ordinances," Target's website now states, after the retailer on May 14 said it was evaluating the CDC's shift. "Face coverings continue to be strongly recommended for guests and team members who are not fully vaccinated and we continue our increased safety and cleaning measures, including social distancing, throughout our stores," the retailer added.
Trader Joe's: Trader Joe's was one of the first retailers following release of the CDC's updated guidance to announce it would not require vaccinated customers to wear masks in stores. USA Today reported that the company had updated its guidance to state: "We encourage customers to follow the guidance of health officials, including, as appropriate, CDC guidelines that advise customers who are fully vaccinated are not required to wear masks while shopping." However, as of May 15, Trader Joe's COVID-19 update page was not available on the retailer's website.
Walmart: As of May 14, "vaccinated customers and members are welcome to shop without a mask, and we will continue to request that non-vaccinated customers and members wear face coverings in our stores and clubs," Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart stated in a memo to associates from Walmart U.S. leadership.
Walmart is also offering $75 to all field associates for getting vaccinated in conjunction with a shift in policy for its own associates: "Based on the latest CDC guidance, fully vaccinated associates will not need to wear a mask at work starting Tuesday, May 18," Walmart stated. Walmart noted that state and local ordinances may supersede these changes and that some roles still may require masks for health and sanitation purposes. "Some associates may choose to continue to wear masks, and as part of our value of respect for the individual we should all support their right to do so," the company added.
Wegmans: The Rochester, N.Y.-based grocer is reviewing the CDC's recommendations, per Buffalo's Spectrum News. Wegmans' website states that "customers are required to wear a face covering while shopping in our stores in accordance with applicable local or state mandates."
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