Store workers are now likely masked; customers, less so

A woman wearing a mask at a checkout sign.
Customer Tamara Lundquist (left) wears a mask and stands behind a plexiglass shield on April 9, 2020 at Wedge Community Co-op on Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Although most major retailers are requiring employees to wear masks while working, some stop short of requiring customers to also wear masks while shopping. 

Major grocery stores changed their policies early on to allow employees to voluntarily wear masks, said Jennifer Christensen, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189, which represents grocery workers at stores like Cub Foods and Kowalski’s Markets.

Major grocery stores with workers represented by the union now supply masks to employees, who are designated as essential workers under Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order.

In early April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidelines to recommend that people in public wear cloth masks in places like grocery stores and pharmacies. Christensen said there appears to be a growing understanding among members of the public that wearing masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.   

“If you go into a store where all of the workers are wearing masks, then customers really feel as though that's the expectation of the store and that it's doing the right thing to wear their mask,” Christensen said. “As masks become more available, more customers will be wearing them.”

Retailers like Menards and Costco have recently required most shoppers to wear masks in their stores. 

“Costco has continued to operate during this crisis as an essential business in all of our communities, and our employees are on the front lines,” Costco CEO and president Craig Jelinek said in a statement. “As part of a community, we believe this simple act of safety and courtesy is one that Costco members and employees can undertake together.” 

Other major retailers are not requiring customers to wear masks.

There have been some high-profile assaults on employees who asked customers to wear them, including a security guard at a Family Dollar store in Michigan who was killed. 

“Our members don't need to be the mask police,” Christensen said. “But people shouldn't be going to a retail location to assault the workers physically, verbally or with the saliva popping out of their mouth at a person.” 

Grocery workers, like other essential employees, just want to do their jobs safely, Christensen said, and shouldn’t be required to expose themselves to customers who violate physical distancing or mask recommendations from the federal government. 

“[They] just want to get through their day, do the job they're supposed to do and get home safe to their families,” Christensen said. “They want to be alive, they want to keep their mother alive and their children — they want to be there for the next wedding and graduation.”

In a statement from a spokesperson, Target Corporation said all store employees are provided masks and required to wear them while working. The company doesn’t have an overarching policy on whether customers should wear masks, but follows local ordinances and policies for each store location. States like Michigan and cities like Denver, Colo., have required customers to wear masks in some public settings.

Walmart has provided employees with masks and required that they be worn since April 20, according to a spokesperson. And the company encourages customers to adhere to recommendations to cover their faces in public.