Two of the country’s largest retailers have jumped feet first into the national debate on face masks. Both Walmart and Kroger have decided that all customers must wear a face mask in order to shop in their stores, regardless of local mandates. It doesn’t matter if your town doesn’t require face masks in public if you are headed out to Walmart or Kroger, grab one on your way out the door.
Lots of local stores have put the policy into place, this is not anything new for them. This is news because this is a nationwide mandate for customers. It’s a blanket, one-size-fits-all approach that overrides local government. Noting there is no nationwide federal rule, the retail giants are putting their own policy into effect for every store in the United States, which number more than 8.000. Walmart stated, “We know this is a simple step everyone can take for their safety and the safety of others.” This action led to other companies coming forward with national policy, too. Wednesday was the day that a national mask policy for a couple of other companies that already made the same decision went into effect.
Walmart and Kroger have kept their stores open through the pandemic and required workers to wear masks, but like most retailers they previously followed local guidelines for shoppers. “We recognize additional precautions are needed to protect our country,” Kroger said.
Other chains made similar moves after Walmart’s announcement Wednesday, including Kohl’s Corp., which operates about 1,000 department stores, and Panera Bread, which has about 2,000 restaurants. Best Buy Co. and Starbucks Corp. had previously adopted mask rules that kicked in on Wednesday.
This may get a little awkward. Walmart is headquartered in Arkansas, a state without a face mask mandate, and Kroger is headquartered in Ohio which only mandates masks for the most severely affected counties. The reason there is no nationwide mandate is that it isn’t necessary. In many places in the country, especially rural areas, it is perfectly understandable that people don’t feel the urgency of wearing a face mask. It is different for people living in coronavirus hot spots, especially those who are most susceptible to the virus. I wear a mask because I live in a large city and the coronavirus is very much with us. While out running some errands yesterday afternoon, every person I saw, outside of those in their cars, was wearing one, too. I admit it gave me a sense of relief.
The face mask wars are real. The issue has been politicized and it is absolutely a 2020 kind of craziness. Wear one, don’t wear one, it’s your choice because you accept the risks involved with your decision. And, we all remember how opinions have changed from the beginning of the pandemic when the CDC, Dr. Fauci, the Surgeon General, and every ‘expert’ around was telling us that wearing a mask wasn’t necessary to mitigate the outbreak. Now, organizations are weighing in on the hot button topic. Take, for instance, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation. They both want a nationwide policy.
The differing rules have prompted business leaders to call on the White House and state leaders to adopt a national mask policy. “Issuing voluntary guidance on masks is insufficient to protect public health” and risks continued community spread and a new round of shutdowns, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation and other business groups wrote in a July 2 letter to the White House and governors.
“Retailers are protecting the health and safety of communities they serve,” the NRF said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Our elected leaders need to set politics aside and follow their example.” The industry group called on all retailers to adopt nationwide mask policies, saying Walmart’s decision was a tipping point in the debate.
Face masks may not completely protect you from the virus but they slow the spread of airborne particles. There is still much that we don’t know about the coronavirus and medical opinions have remained fluid. So far, only ten large retail chains have mandatory mask policies for all of their stores. Including Walmart and Kroger, the others are Starbucks, Costco, H-E-B, Dollar Tree, the Apple store, Verizon, AT&T, and Menards in case you feel a boycott coming on. Most retailers continue to take their cues from local and state governments. Retailers are keeping an eye on others and adjusting accordingly. None of them wanted to be the first to implement a blanket mandate for all stores and feel the wrath of unsatisfied customers. And most companies want to stay out of political fights. Meanwhile, lots of companies are manufacturing and selling face masks.
Dallas Federal Reserve President Robert Kaplan is on the record that mask-wearing leads to America’s economic recovery.
“If we all wore a mask, it would substantially mute the transmission of this disease, and we would grow faster,” Kaplan told FOX Business. “We would have a lower unemployment rate, we’d grow faster, and we’d be far less likely to slow some of our reopenings. But we’ve been uneven so far on our mask-wearing.”
“If there was one recommendation you’d probably hear from me, while monetary and fiscal policy have a key role to play, the primary economic policy from here is broad mask-wearing and good execution of these health care protocols,” Kaplan said. “If we do that, we’ll grow faster.”
Kaplan said he still anticipates the economy to shrink by an unprecedented 35 percent in the second quarter but projected it will grow in the third and fourth quarters, putting the economy on track to shrink by about 5 percent for the year.
A Goldman Sachs analyst note earlier this week reached a similar conclusion about the efficacy of masks on insulating the economy from further virus-related damage. The Goldman research team, led by chief economist Jan Hatzius, concluded that a national mask mandate would save 5 percent of the nation’s GDP, the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the country.
“The economic benefit from a face mask mandate and increased face mask usage could be sizable,” they wrote.
Even financial experts are not completely on the same page. Kaplan sounds confident that his opinion is correct while the Goldman Sachs statement is more nuanced. The use of the word “could”, as in the last sentence above, signals uncertainty. That’s the problem in a nutshell. We’ve been dealing with the coronavirus for over four months and there is still so much we do not know with certainty. Even as a mask-wearer myself, I don’t think a nationwide policy and a one-size-fits-all approach is a winning solution.
I’ll end with this – just as I was submitting this post, this tweet popped up about Target joining the others in a nationwide mandate policy. So, there you go. Look for the trend to continue.