Midwestern grocer Hy-Vee is encouraging shoppers to cover their faces to protect themselves from coronavirus by distributing 3 million free face masks.
Under a new program — titled “Mask It Up To Shut COVID Down. It’s Your Choice.” — Hy-Vee said late yesterday that it will begin providing face masks at all of its stores starting on July 27.
Employees will be stationed at the front entrance to hand out masks to customers not wearing one before they start shopping, the West Des Moines, Iowa-based company said. Customers will also see signs, employee attire and other reminders inside the store about the educational campaign.
Hy-Vee currently doesn’t require that shoppers to wear face coverings at all of its stores, although some states and municipalities in the retailer’s market area mandate face masks in public spaces, according to Director of Public Relations Christina Gayman. Hy-Vee began requiring all store and distribution center employees to wear a face covering on April 27.
“We are highly recommending the wearing of masks in our stores, which is why we are being proactive in handing out millions of masks to customers across our eight states at no cost,” Gayman said in an email. “Truth be told, it is very difficult for any retailer to enforce or police the wearing of masks by every single customer. Also, we don’t want to put our employees in a highly confrontational situation with customers who might be very emotional about this issue — as has happened at other retail locations. Instead, we are being realistic and responsible by handing out masks and educating our shoppers. We are doing something about it versus just saying something about it.”
Hy-Vee operates more than 260 stores in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The grocer was recently named one of the nation’s top three supermarkets for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis by Food & Wine magazine.
“Hy-Vee will continue to follow all guidance provided by state/local officials in each of its communities where its stores are located,” Gayman added.
Navigating mask mandates
For retailers of all kinds, face masks have become a tricky issue to navigate, as shown by nationwide media reports of aggressive or violent reactions by customers asked to put on a face covering by store employees or other shoppers. However, in grocery and other retail sectors, a rising number of chains have instituted mandatory face mask policies for customers at all stores amid a recent jump in coronavirus cases around the country and following a July 14 announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that face coverings are an effective defense against coronavirus in public settings.
Southeastern Grocers, for example, plans to require face coverings for customers at all of its Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo, Harveys Supermarket and Fresco y Más stores effective July 27. Media reports noted that the new policy marked a reversal for the Jacksonville, Fla.-based retailer, whose market area includes a lot of communities now seeing an upsurge in COVID-19 infections.
“As we have navigated through the complexities and challenges of the pandemic, we have progressively shaped our operations and are continuing to update our policies to best protect all those who depend upon us. This unprecedented period requires a willingness to be adaptable and flexible to ever-changing circumstances, and we will continue to adjust as needed over time,” Joe Caldwell, director of corporate communications and government affairs at Southeastern Grocers, said in a statement on Monday.
“The majority of our stores are under either a local or state government mandate, and given the continued rise of positive COVID cases in our communities across the Southeast, beginning Monday, July 27, we will be requiring masks to be worn by customers to help reduce the spread of the disease. Our communities count on us, and we are counting on our customers to show kindness as we go through these challenging times together,” Caldwell explained. “We believe that the enforcement should be placed upon our state and federally elected officials, and we will continue to work with our peers in the retail industry to advocate for this sensible mandate to be passed into law to remove the burden from employers and their heroic frontline associates.”
Grocery retailers requiring face coverings for shoppers at all stores beginning this week include Ingles Markets, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage and Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, as well as Walmart, The Kroger Co., Albertsons Cos., Publix, Meijer, Schnuck Markets and Associated Retail Operations. Aldi plans to implement a mandatory face mask policy at all stores effective July 27, while Target is slated to do so starting on Aug. 1.
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