UPDATE: March 9, 2021: Albertsons has reversed its decision to make mask-wearing by shoppers in its Texas stores optional as the state prepares to lift its mask mandate. The grocer said it changed course because its employees have not all had the opportunity to get vaccinated against COVID-19. “We will continue to look to the CDC’s recommendations to determine our safety practices and look forward to the vaccine being readily available not only to front line teams but to the general population in the coming months,” Albertsons said in a March 5 statement.
- Grocers that operate in Texas are taking varying approaches to the Tuesday decision by Gov. Greg Abbott to end the state’s mask mandate as of March 10, with some stores continuing to require people to cover their faces when on their premises while others drop the requirement, according to company officials and media reports.
- Albertsons will no longer compel customers to wear masks in its Texas stores, although vendors and workers will still need to do so, KVIA reported. Meanwhile, Kroger will continue to require customers and associates in all of its stores, including those in Texas, to cover their faces, according to WFAA. H-E-B will stick to its existing policy of requesting, but not requiring customers to wear masks while requiring its workers and vendors to cover their faces, the chain said in a statement on Wednesday, and Brookshire Brothers will do the same, KJAS reported.
- Supermarket operators are adjusting or reiterating their positions on masks as a growing number of states stop requiring people to cover their faces amid encouraging signs about the trajectory of the pandemic.
The decision by Texas’ governor to drop the state’s face mandate puts grocers in a delicate position by making them responsible for deciding whether wearing a face mask is necessary.
In his executive order dispensing with the requirement, Abbott cited the increasing number of people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and advances in therapies that can be used to treat the disease as reasons why people in Texas “should have the freedom to determine their own destiny.”
“Today's announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others,” Abbott said.
But the order prompted an angry reaction from the head of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, who said in a statement that the governor had ignored the needs of frontline workers in deciding that people should be able to decide for themselves how to deal with the virus.
“As far as we know, no unions or worker advocates were consulted before today’s decision was made. If the Governor had asked, we would have strongly urged him to reconsider, because we know firsthand how important the mask mandate is to our brothers and sisters on the frontlines of the pandemic,” Lacy Wolf, president of the union, said in an emailed statement. “Greg Abbott made it clear today that he has no respect for their service and struggle.”
Texas is not alone in deciding to stop requiring mask-wearing. On Tuesday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced that he had also decided to scrap his state’s mask mandate.
The moves by the leaders of Mississippi and Texas prompted criticism from President Joe Biden, who said their actions were at odds with the nation’s expanding but still unfinished effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
“The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that, in the meantime, everything is fine, take off your mask,” Biden said Wednesday at the White House.
Reeves dismissed Biden's comment. "Mississippians don’t need handlers. As numbers drop, they can assess their choices and listen to experts. I guess I just think we should trust Americans, not insult them,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves wrote on Twitter.
Lidl, which does not operate stores in either Texas or Mississippi, announced that, contrary to other grocers, it would be stepping up its mask mandate chainwide starting next week. In a letter to customers posted Wednesday on LinkedIn, the German discounter said everyone over the age of 2 would be required to wear a face covering, without exception. People who have personal or medical reasons for not wearing a mask will be allowed to wear a face shield, Johannes Fieber, president and CEO of Lidl US, wrote in the letter.