- Some grocers are now allowing employees to wear protective gear if they want to do so while working amid the COVID-19 outbreak, according to company announcements.
- Kroger said in an email sent to Grocery Dive that associates are now permitted to wear masks and gloves at work. This move comes alongside the grocer’s plans to install plexiglass partitions at registers and enhance daily sanitation practices.
- Giant Food said in a press release that while the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still does not recommend healthy people wear masks and gloves, it is allowing employees to do so. The company also emphasized that if an employee is seen wearing a mask, it does not mean they are ill.
Since COVID-19 began to spread, the CDC has asked people to refrain from using masks unless they’re infected so the supply can be preserved for health care workers who need them most. CDC experts have also noted that masks don’t actually protect healthy people from catching the virus and that gloves and masks can inadvertently cause it to spread.
Now that grocery store workers have been deemed critical and are on the front lines interacting with the public, however, some employers are pushing back on CDC recommendations to protect their employees.
"We are advocating to government officials at all levels for help securing a priority place in line for all grocery workers — after health care workers — to have access to protective masks and gloves," a Kroger spokesperson said.
In addition to Kroger and Giant Food, Brookshire’s is allowing employees to wear masks and gloves at their own discretion. Walmart has continued to advise its associates to thoroughly wash hands and noted it is following CDC guidelines, though a recent COVID-19 update on the company’s website portrayed employees wearing gloves.
Grocers that are concerned about mask and glove use among employees are worried about the perception of panic and illness. According to the Atlantic, anonymous reports from Trader Joe’s employees said the grocer isn’t allowing workers to wear gloves or masks so they can project a sense of normalcy (Trader Joe’s refuted the claim). Similarly, the New York Times reported workers from multiple retailers said they’re being denied protective gear because employers don’t want to cause panic among customers.
Supply is a key issue for grocery employees, especially as health care workers report shortages of masks. So far, the grocers permitting masks and gloves have not indicated that they are supplying them but allowing employees to use them if they have them. The Food Industry Association has tried to procure masks for grocery store employees from the federal government but has been unsuccessful, according to the Atlantic.