(CBS) – A growing number of major chains have issued policies requiring employees and customers to wear masks. They include McDonald’s, Target and Gap brand stores, whose new policies are going into effect on Saturday.
McDonald’s President and CEO Chris Kempczinski told “CBS This Morning” this week that the company decided to make the change last week in response to the current state of the U.S. pandemic.
The death toll in the United States due to the coronavirus surpassed 150,000 on Wednesday, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. More than 4.5 million COVID-19 cases have now been reported across the country.
“We’ve for quite some time required our crew to wear masks, but we thought that in light of what we’re seeing, it’s prudent now that we also ask our customers to wear masks in the restaurant as well,” Kempczinski said.
The company announced on July 24 that it will “ask all customers to wear face coverings” when entering its 14,000 U.S. restaurants effective August 1.
Gap Inc. and Target issued similar statements on July 20 and 29, respectively.
According to Target’s statement, about 90% of their stores already required customers to wear masks due to local and state regulations, but the company is expanding that requirement “to include guests at all stores nationwide” starting on Saturday.
Gap said in its own statement that “given the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the US and Canada, we want to do everything we can to help stop the spread of the virus.” It’s policy, which includes Old Navy and Banana Republic stores, also goes into effect on Saturday.
Now for the hard part: Getting shoppers to cooperate. Many Americans continue to resist wearing masks despite the scientific consensus that the practice can help save lives.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention affirmed in a July 14 press release that the latest science has shown that “cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19.”
“Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus — particularly when used universally within a community setting,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield. “All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”
The CDC’s urgency is bolstered by the fact that more than 90 grocery workers have died from COVID-19 after being infected on the job, according to data from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).
Resistance to masks, however, has caused some companies to backtrack on policies mandating the practice.
Discount chains Dollar Tree and Family Dollar have reversed policies mandating masks in their stores. And hardware giant Lowe’s last week said it wouldn’t enforce its own facial covering policy only days after implementing it.
Some retailers have expressed concern that asking workers to enforce mask requirements could put them at risk, citing violent incidents at stores. Enforcing masks requirements should be up to “trained professionals, not retail workers already stretched thin during this crisis,” said Marc Perrone, international president of the UFCW.
While Walmart and CVS have said they will be limiting their enforcement of the mask mandate, Kempczinski did not rule out the possibility of getting authorities involved if a situation in which a McDonald’s customer refuses to wear a mask escalates.
“If someone is unwilling to wear a mask and comply with our rules, that might be where we might bring in law enforcement,” he said.
David Michaels, a professor of public health at George Washington University and head of the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration during the Obama administration, said a federal order to wear masks in stores would likely help protect the safety of retail workers.
For now, Michaels said, “it’s up to the stores to enforce those requirements, and retail employees can’t be expected to do that safely.”