March 8, 2021

Imagine you are a Texas and Mississippi business that wants employees and customers to wear masks this week, even though the state is no longer requiring them. It will be on you to enforce the restrictions … and good luck with that.

Big retailers like Macy’s and Kroger say with or without state mandates if you want to shop in their stores, wear a mask. The Texas-based H-E-B stores require their workers to wear masks and ask customers to do the same, but do not make it a requirement.

The Hill points to the fight ahead:

Industry groups and major companies with operations in Texas are already saying they plan to stick with their own coronavirus mitigation measures and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regardless of changes at the state level.

Relaxing common-sense, non-intrusive safety protocols like wearing masks is a mistake,” said Jason Brewer, executive vice president of communications and state affairs at the Retail Industry Leaders Association. “Going backwards on safety measures will unfairly put retail employees back in the role of enforcing guidelines still recommended by the CDC and other public health advocates.”

In response to states lifting mask mandates, the National Retail Federation (NRF) stressed that businesses have the right to establish and enforce their own policies.

“Retail stores are private entities. If they require you to wear a mask in their stores, and you choose not to, that store can refuse admission or service,” said Bill Thorne, NRF senior vice president of communications and public affairs.

CVS and Target Corp. are among those saying masks are still required for customers and employees nationwide. Target said it doesn’t plan to drop those kinds of requirements even as vaccination distributions increase.

To make things more confusing, a mall may not require you to wear a mask but an individual business inside the mall might. Bloomberg points out:

Since malls and stores began to reopen after the shutdown in the U.S. last spring, security guards and retail staff have faced verbal threats and violence when trying to enforce Covid safety measures. Incidents over face coverings have piled up across the country, and there’s been at least one death over mask enforcement when a guard was shot and killed in a dispute at a Family Dollar in Flint, Michigan, last year.

These frontline workers also have to deal with the danger of the virus itself, which is killing guards at some of the highest rates of any job. The U.S. doesn’t track such data on professions, but the U.K. does. Its Office for National Statistics found that male security guards have had 100.7 deaths per 100,000 workers recorded from March to December of 2020, a rate more than three times the national average for all jobs.

This article originally appeared in Covering COVID-19, a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

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