Costco, JetBlue to start requiring customers to wear face masks

Costco is the first large retailer to require shoppers to wear masks during the coronavirus pandemic. Target and Walmart encourage mask-wearing but have concerns about enforcement.


Starting today, Monday, May 4, Costco will require all shoppers to wear reusable face masks while inside the popular warehouse club. Stores will return to regular operating hours and implement a special shopping hour limited to members age 60 and older or those who have a disability, according to the company press release.

Menards, a regional home improvement store, is also requiring shoppers to wear reusable cloth face masks or something comparable. Walmart and Target have both taken steps to ensure associates have them, but while they encourage shoppers to wear them they do not yet require it.

The same is true for Whole Foods, which announced in late April it is "requesting customers wear masks," and will start offering free, disposable face masks to shoppers nationwide if they do not have their own. However, even though Whole Foods is "strongly encouraging" that shoppers wear masks, masks are "not mandatory" to enter the store, a company spokesperson tells Grow. 

Airlines are beginning to set rules around CDC-recommended face masks for their customers as well. JetBlue announced it would be requiring all passengers to wear face masks starting Monday, May 4. Frontier said it will start requiring passengers to wear masks starting May 8. 

What mask-wearing requirements mean

Even in states like Maryland and Hawaii and cities such as Austin, Texas, where governments require people to wear masks while shopping, it's often up to individual retailers to determine how they will enforce those rules.

For example, Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser has said in press conferences that people are required to wear masks in grocery stores. However, the order itself only says that stores must post signage and there is no clear penalty for allowing shoppers without masks to enter. Lindsay Wiley, director of the Health Law and Policy Program at American University Washington College of Law, told NPR the order is similar to how all restaurants are required to post an "employees must wash hands sign." Just because the sign is there does not mean the rule is being enforced. 

Jake Anderson, a Target communications representative, tells Grow, "In areas where local governments are asking residents to wear masks, we have added signage and stationed team members outside stores to remind guests to wear masks while shopping."

When asked if Target employees would deny entrance to shoppers without a mask, Anderson declined to comment.

Walmart is taking a similar approach. In addition to posting signage, it will "encourage customers to be especially mindful of one another during this unprecedented time and adhere to recommendations that we all use face coverings while in public spaces," Casey Staheli, Walmart's senior manager of national media relations, tells Grow. 

Concerns among some customers about the new rules

Many stores fear that a mandate will cause confrontations. For example, regional grocery chain Wegmans said they will "not put our people in the position of having to deny entry to our stores," according to CNN

These fears are not unfounded: Some shoppers are resistant to wearing face masks in stores. A vocal faction of people who pay for an annual Costco membership have already taken to social media to say they will be canceling in light of the new rule. In North Carolina, a group called Reopen NC is boycotting both Costco and Whole Foods for requiring shoppers to wear masks. The group has almost 75,000 Facebook members. 

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine said that, with the reopening of some businesses, he would require shoppers to wear face masks, according to Local 12, but after pushback from constituents, he rescinded the order. Now, he says, there will be no statewide mandate but individual business owners can require their shoppers wear masks. And in Salt Lake City, shoppers expressed cynicism about the effectiveness of masks when it comes to containing the spread of the coronavirus, according to Fox 13

Still, on the Costco Facebook post on which it announced its new policy, the top comments are all supportive. The No. 1 comment, which has over 4,300 likes, reads, "Thank you, Costco! I'm an RN and I support these measures 100% to keep my family and the community safe."

Why it's smart to wear a mask, even if stores aren't enforcing requirements

Doctors and public health experts agree that wearing a reusable face mask, especially in places where you can't properly social distance, is smart. Using face masks is "potentially of high value in curtailing community transmission and the burden of the pandemic," according to a recent Arizona State University Study. If 80% of people wore a mask that was only 50% effective, it would prevent up to 45% of projected deaths over two months in New York, the study found. And that's using simple reusable cloth masks, not medical-grade N95 masks.

"Until we have good testing widely available, people should err on the side of caution," says Carolyn McClanahan, a former physician and the director of financial planning at Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida.

How to make a face mask using stuff around your home

Video by Jason Armesto

Masks also show you respect essential workers' health and safety, says Phil Lempert, a consumer analyst known as The Supermarket Guru. More than 5,000 essential workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 900,000 employees at chains such as Kroger, Safeway, and Giant.

"While we may just go in to shop for 20 minutes, these workers are there for 10 to 12 hours and come into contact with hundreds of shoppers a day," Lempert says.

Experts expect consumers could see even more mask-wearing requirements from both businesses and local governments as states begin to reopen. 

"Specific mask type requirements and enforcement are a patchwork of individual airline policies right now, absent a mandate from the federal government," says Taylor Garland, a spokesperson from the Association of Flight Attendants. "Most airlines require a face covering and do not specify a specific type of mask. Additionally, airlines' enforcement levels vary across the industry."

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