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Do you still need to wear a mask to shop? It’s complicated

Many stores are sticking with their mask mandate, at least for now

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Photo (c) Images By Tang Ming Tung - Getty Images
Over the weekend, a number of states followed federal guidance from government health officials and dropped their statewide mask mandates.

For consumers, that produced a fair amount of confusion as stores and restaurants followed their own policies. Some continue to require customers and employees to wear masks, others don’t.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance saying people who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks in most public settings. By the weekend, dozens of states ended their mask requirements.

But businesses have not responded uniformly. Executives at some large chain stores with many employees and customers said they are still analyzing the guidance and deciding what to do. Others acted almost immediately.

By the weekend, two of the largest retailers -- Walmart and Costco -- announced ends to their requirement that all shoppers wear masks, but only in states that have lifted their mask mandates. Walmart’s policy won’t go into effect until Tuesday. Costco’s policy apparently took effect immediately.

“In Costco locations where the state or local jurisdiction does not have a mask mandate, we will allow members and guests who are fully vaccinated to enter Costco without a face mask or face shield,” the company said in a statement. 

Won’t require vaccination proof

Costco also said it won’t require proof of vaccination but asked that customers cooperate with its revised policy. That policy says consumers can shop without a mask in most areas of its stores but will require face coverings in healthcare settings, including pharmacy, optical, and hearing aid departments. 

“Costco continues to recommend that all members and guests, especially those who are at higher risk, wear a mask or shield,” the company said.

Many businesses with multiple locations are currently reviewing their policies before deciding what to do. They point out there are many issues to consider, including how comfortable their employees feel about working in crowded stores.

Maskless at Publix and Trader Joe’s

Two supermarket chains acted quickly to drop their mask rules. Publix said shoppers in states where masks are no longer required my shop without them. Trader Joe’s adopted a similar policy.

 “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,” Trader Joe’s said in a statement.

At Starbucks, masks are “optional,” except in states and communities where they are still required.

But as of today, the majority of brands continue to enforce the mask mandate, even in states where it has been discontinued. Among the stores where consumers will need to continue wearing masks are Target, Home Depot, Macy’s, Walgreens, and JC Penney

Automakers General Motors and Toyota said they are sticking with their current mask policies until they get clearer direction from other government agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

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