Buyers and customers are likely to see little, if any, immediate changes in company policies regarding social distancing and wearing masks when heading to the grocery store or to eat, despite new public health recommendations from consumers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Overall, what’s likely going to happen is nothing,” said Joel Bines, global co-leader of the retail practice at consulting firm AlixPartners. “Most retailers are going to choose to continue doing what they are doing.”
The CDC released updated guidance on Thursday, saying fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask or stay 6 feet from each other in most settings. This marked an inflection point in the Covid pandemic, paving the way for a certain degree of normalcy during outdoor and indoor gatherings. The move comes as nearly 59% of all American adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine on Thursday.
Yet for large retailers the math is different. Many, including Target, Home Depot, Gap and Ulta Beauty, have said they will maintain their pandemic precautions and continue to monitor developments in the weeks and months to come. Some said in company statements that they are still revising the guidelines. Others stressed the importance of safety, especially since some customers and employees have not been vaccinated against Covid and children under 12 are not entitled to it.
“We are aware of the updated CDC guidelines released today and are actively evaluating the implications of these updated guidelines for our guests and associates, keeping health and safety as our top priority,” Ulta said in a statement. company press release.
Trader Joe has broken the trend. In a statement on his website, the grocer said he encourages customers to follow guidelines from health officials – including CDC guidelines that customers who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear mask for shopping. The company did not say how it would check the immunization status of customers, however, and said it would maintain other measures such as additional cleaning and staff welfare checks.
Starbucks and Kroger did not immediately receive a response to the updated guidance from the CDC, but still had notices on stores and their websites regarding mask requirements.
In statements, executives from the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association have both said the safety of customers and employees will remain a priority.
Lisa LaBruno, RILA’s senior executive vice president of retail operations and innovation, encouraged people to continue to follow private business rules.
“We urge all retail customers and guests to follow a store’s security protocols, including wearing a mask and social distancing,” she said. “Frontline workers deserve this respect. Retailers encourage customers who don’t want to wear a mask to shop online or through curbside pickup offers.”
Larry Lynch, senior vice president of science and industry at the National Restaurant Association, said operators will need to work with state and local regulators to ensure they meet other mandates in place. Lynch said the trade group will not immediately update its operating forecast for Covid-19, but he is encouraged by the CDC’s recommendation as the industry seeks to recover from the crisis.
According to AlixPartners Bines, retailers and restaurants face a major operational challenge: not having “visible evidence” of who is and is not vaccinated when a person walks through the door. He said most were unwilling to check clients’ immunization status because it could seem political or intrusive.
Plus, he added, they have to juggle other factors, such as mask mandates that vary by state and locality and health issues for clients and their own workforce.
“You are unlikely to witness a rapid rollout of Covid protocols – the [social distancing] stickers, plexiglass and so on – regardless of what the CDC said today because most retailers will take the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach to deal with this, ”he said. declared.
He said there was a change consumers could see: Retailers could adopt softer language on signs posted on their store doors or in aisles. Instead of saying masks are necessary, he said companies could change the wording to have more nuance – such as asking to wear masks out of respect for other customers or out of kindness to employees.
The change could also ease tensions with clients who oppose warrants and may be more open to masks out of courtesy, he said.
“It’s a little easier for them now because it’s not as polarized,” he said. “It’s not that black and white. It’s now.” We would like to encourage the wearing of the mask for the benefit of our employees, for the benefit of each other, as we are in this uncertain time. “”
Some companies – mainly those geared towards outdoor venues – have dropped mask requirements or have said they may do so soon. Hersheypark said in a tweet Thursday that face covers and social distancing would not be necessary for fully vaccinated guests. The Pennsylvania Amusement Park followed up with a message on Friday morning, saying it would be up to customers to enforce the policy themselves.
“At the moment, we rely on our clients to accurately follow the guidelines based on their immunization status,” he said.
Yet not everyone applauded the decision. One of the nation’s leading grocery unions, the United Food and Commercial Workers, has once again said frontline workers in retail will be put in a tough spot as they interact with many. many foreigners and should help enforce the rules.
“Millions of Americans are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated, but essential workers are still being forced to mask police for buyers who are not vaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures.” , said Marc Perrone, international president of the union, in a statement. . “Are they supposed to become the vaccination police now?”
– TBEN Amelia lucas, Sarah whitten and Nadine El-Bawab contributed to this story.