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Retailers — and their customers — are divided on maskless shopping


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The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on masks has left retailers — and their customers — divided, with some in favor of a return to maskless shopping, and others maintaining their social distancing and mask mandates.

The CDC announced last week that fully vaccinated Americans can now leave their mask at home, as long as the state they live in also follows suit — and local businesses.

Home Depot and Target said Monday they would relax their policies, joining Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Publix and BJ’s Wholesale Club.

“It’s their business. They can do what they want,” said Luis Villalovos outside a big box store in Virginia. “If they don’t want to enforce the mask mandate, then that’s on them.”

While masks are encouraged for non-vaccinated customers, shoppers and associates who are fully vaccinated “are not required to wear masks or facial coverings in Home Depot stores, except where it’s mandated by state or local ordinances,” Home Depot spokesperson Sara Gorman told NBC News.

Trader Joe’s announced the same, adding: “We do not require proof of vaccination, as we trust our customers to follow CDC guidelines. At this time, masks are still required for our Crew Members,” according to company spokesperson Kenya Friend-Daniel.

Walmart and BJ’s Wholesale Club are also permitting vaccinated customers to shed their face covering while shopping — if local and state regulations allow. Vaccinated employees can do the same, starting Tuesday.

Additionally, Walmart said it is reviewing whether masks “may still be required for certain job codes for health and sanitation purposes and will share additional guidance soon,” Walmart U.S. President and CEO John Furner, Sam’s Club President and CEO Kath McLay and Walmart Executive Vice President of Health and Wellness Cheryl Pegus wrote in a memo to associates Friday. “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.”

Retailers going the opposite route by keeping the mask mandate in place include Walgreens, Rite Aid and TJX Companies, the parent organization of stores like HomeGoods, TJ Maxx and Marshalls.

“As a destination for Covid vaccine and testing we have decided to keep our current face covering policy in place for the time being,” said Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman. “The safety of our team members and customers is our top priority and will continue to guide our decision process.”

Rite Aid, another destination for the Covid-19 vaccine, said Friday it is keeping its mask policy in place until it has “clearer guidance on the local and state mandates” and will relay any changes to its customer base, according to company spokesperson Chris Savarese.

TJX Companies spokesperson Andrew Mastrangelo said it is “monitoring this matter closely” and will require face coverings for associates and customers in U.S. stores.

The mixed reactions from retailers is fueling the same from customers.

Liz Eales, who is fully vaccinated, shopped without a mask for the first time in over a year in Virginia on Monday. When asked about whether unvaccinated individuals going into stores that have lifted their mask mandate concerns her, she said no.

“At some point we have to let people take responsibility for their own decisions and I’m ready to take that step,” she told NBC News.

Others are more skeptical about a rollback.

“I think it’s really irresponsible, the people who are dropping it, you know, the pandemic is still going strong. I think there’s a lot of evidence that we can’t be lax and drop masks just yet,” said Victor Baham, a resident of New Jersey.

“I feel some people are going to lie about being vaccinated. There’s not really any mandate that makes you have proof of it, so, that worries me,” he later added.

Brooklyn resident Yolanda Sanchez said she is keeping her mask on despite policy changes and even if she were vaccinated, which she said she is not right now, that wouldn’t change anything.

“I will keep [the mask] on, not until this is really over. I will keep on having it on,” she said.


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