Popular Retailers Leave Mask Requirements in Place as Red States Lift Restrictions

AUSTIN, TX - FEBRUARY 17, 2021: People wait in long lines at an H-E-B grocery store in Austin, Texas on February 17, 2021. Millions of Texans are still without water and electric as winter storms continue. (Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)
Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

Texas and Mississippi followed Florida’s lead this week and announced they would lift key business restrictions and end statewide mask mandates, but many popular retailers plan to continue requiring customers to wear face coverings in their stores.

Texas and Mississippi are the latest states to announce their intention to end their statewide mask mandates, prompting criticism from President Joe Biden, who accused the leaders of engaging in “Neanderthal thinking” — a phrase White House press secretary Jen Psaki appeared to defend.

“The behavior of a Neanderthal, just to be very clear,” Psaki told reporters Thursday. “The behavior of.”

However, popular retailers, from Target to Walgreens, plan to keep their mask requirements in place, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, which recommends individuals two and older wear masks in public settings, particularly when around those who are not part of their immediate household. Target and Kroger, for example, affirmed this week that they will keep store mask mandates in place, with limited exceptions.

Kroger “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 [coronavirus] vaccine,” a spokesperson said, according to CBS News.

The Albertsons and H-E-B, however, will encourage face coverings but not require them for customers.

A Walgreens spokesperson also confirmed to CBS News that the company will continue to maintain its mask requirement, but employees will not kick out customers who refuse to wear a face covering, as their policy is 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 told the outlet, noting that 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.”

“We are following current CDC and OSHA guidelines regarding safety protocols,” the spokesperson added.

CVS is taking a similar approach.

“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,” a spokesperson for the company said, as reported by CBS News.

“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,” the spokesperson added.

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