business news in context, analysis with attitude

So, on Friday I got the following email from MNB reader Brett Hassler, responding to my piece about how retailers were suddenly embracing mask mandates:

To much here to fully respond back on. This will be a great response to hold onto and see what happens in November and perhaps require some reflection.

In the meantime, and I am surprised you didn't think this was note worthy, in hiding behind the shamdemic these retailers see a very big sales opportunity at very high profit levels in selling all these masks to their customers -just so they can shop with them. Brilliant- it's like a membership and your mask is your membership card.

I'm sure we will soon see shippers at every check-stand, end displays, and actual sets in aisles with assorted SKU's for value, filtration level (which by the way, you know you are right, can you tell us what serves as suitable mask) and don't forget fashion and the newest greatest mask hitting the market each week.

Nice job pointing out your political bias, now how about going back and talking about retail, why most of read MNB.

I actually wrote back to Brett, even though I really have no idea how to have a conversation about this subject with someone who calls this disease - which has killed more than 140,000 people in the US and more than 600,000 people globally - a "shamdemic."  (How many people have to die for this to be real?  Just curious.)

First I wrote him:

This isn’t about politics.  It is about science … and retailers keeping their employees and customers safe and healthy.

He responded:

Sorry Kevin, but I have to disagree.

Which is fine.  I'll choose the science, and you can choose whatever the hell it is you are choosing.

But I also wrote:

I was reading your email again, and was wondering:  are you suggesting that the retailers are just endorsing masks because they see a sales opportunity?  … I just want to be sure I don’t misinterpret you…

Are you suggesting it is not a sales opportunity? Just think if every American uses two disposable masks a day...... And by the way, just a few short months ago banning plastic straws and utensils was all the rage. Where is the volume of these masks going to end up?

I'm not arguing that retailers shouldn't sell masks.  I am arguing that a sales opportunity is not the only reason … it would be irresponsible to require them but not sell them.  (Also, a lot of retailers are giving them away to people who show up the store without them.)

I can be a cynic.  But apparently not nearly as big a cynic as this particular MNB reader.

To be clear, I do believe that this is an issue with different perspectives, and that it is not as simple as mandating masks and then everyone complies.

One MNB reader wrote:

I absolutely agree that every citizen should do their part to litigate the spread of covid, wearing masks is a small ask of all of us to do that. I disagree with your view on retailers policing this with a no mask no entry policy. People that aren't wearing mask are looking for confrontation on this issue. They WANT someone to tell them they have to wear a mask. They rationalize that it's a free country and no one will "make" them wear a mask. 

Have you not seen the videos of people getting into fights, threatening store clerks, and in some cases pulling out weapons? I think it is not reasonable to ask a 20 year old kid to stand at the door and take this abuse. If this is a mandate in the state, then the local authorities should man every retail operation and enforce this. I do not want to be the store manager that has to call a parent to tell them that their child was injured, or worse, because of a mask dispute. Sorry, I can not support having retailers enforce this. We are not the police!

Another MNB reader wrote:

It’s great that retailers are now telling customers that they must wear a face covering to enter and shop in their stores, except for the fact that none of them have the courage to actually enforce these mandates.  Customers walk into my store all the time without a mask on.  No one  says anything to them because it’s against HIPPA rules to ask anyone what their medical condition is that prevents them from abiding by these mandates. 

And from another reader:

Most of the time I agree with you on your views. This one I am disagreeing with - hat retailers should set the tone.  I am a store manager, and the vitriol that was heaped on our teammates from the beginning was horrible. I want to be clear, I support the mask order. I disagree that retailers should initiate it. Sad times when our elected officials stick to the party message instead of doing what is right. Read into that however you want. I expect leaders to lead. I respect our business leaders trying to protect us and our customers, shame it has to come from them. 

From a different angle, from another MNB reader:

Regarding police officers enforcing mask wearing….

My son graduated from the police academy  in November and hit the streets in January after field training in Richmond, VA where we’ve had protests for more than 6 weeks.

With protests, destruction, officers being pulled to Crowd Management Teams there just aren’t enough officers out there to make this a priority.

But another MNB reader wrote:

Right on about mask wearing!  Was just listening last night to a discussion about the behavior of citizens in ‘loose’ (permissive & individualist , like U.S., Brazil, Italy) and ‘tight’ societies (Japan, China, Singapore) and the comparative effects on the spread of the pandemic. Pretty obvious empirical evidence.  Then there was the example of New Zealand - definitely a “loose” society, but able to turn on a dime and tighten up in order to achieve the greater good. Let’s be like New Zealand!

From another reader:

That’s nothing new to Californians. I guess it depends on where people live. Here, we’ve been wearing masks in all stores…

MNB reader Leon Drzewianowski wrote:

Regarding the email today on Monday Morning Quarterbacking of masks, I have to say I think that there was not as much negativity by the CDC and Dr Fauci to all of us wearing masks early on, but that they felt that masks were needed more by the front line care givers. They, I believe, were afraid if the general public went out and grabbed up all the available masks the shortage would have been even worse than it was for hospitals and first responders. They did not change their beliefs, they were just trying to protect those most at risk

As an aside, I really enjoy reading your Morning News Beat and appreciate your thoughts and opinion. Please keep up the great work. 

Another MNB reader chimed in:

Costco has done the best job I’ve seen of any Southern California food retailer in having safe practices in combating Covid-19. They open stores early for seniors, require (and monitor) safe distancing both outside and inside their buildings, implemented safe distances in checkout procedures, implemented safe practices in their food courts, provide masks for those customers that request them, sanitize shopping carts, provide disinfectant wipes upon entering the buildings, reconfigured bathroom urinals to provide safe distancing, etc. They are the gold standard in Southern California in being a responsible retailer during the pandemic… and they have done a wonderful in supplying products and advising customers with signage on products that are out of stock prior to entering the building.

And from another reader, an independent retailer:

Almost to the day, three months ago, we began to require face coverings to be worn by all of our Team Members while on duty in the store.  Only a few days later our local Health Officer directed the community to wear face coverings whenever they were entering essential businesses that were remaining open to serving customers, like our supermarket.   While the County Health Order had some exemptions built in we jumped right on this and created a store policy that permitted no exceptions.  We offered curbside or home delivery as options for those who were not able to, or not willing to wear a face covering. 

Let's not lose sight of the main driver for all of this; To keep the essential workers we employ healthy and safe!   So for the past three months Kroger has put their Team Members and customers at risk by not requiring face coverings.  That means they have disregarded the health and safety of their employees and that's a disgrace.  They are finally getting on the bandwagon, like Walmart.  And for all this time they have put their employees at risk.  And now they would like positive press.  In the end I don't care what these larger corporations do or say.   I focus on what we can do and have done.  Our actions speak loudly to our Team Members who know we care about them through our policies and how we manage those policies.  Because we care more about our Team Members than we do anything else.  Are you hearing this Kroger and Walmart?  

MNB reader Steve Deatherage wrote:

Everyone should be wearing a mask now.  I have since this all started and now it is the norm.  No one makes fun of you, and they only get angry when you don’t have one on.  I know a few people that think all of this is just silly and a joke and they refuse to wear a mask.  I just hope no one in their family gets COVID-19 as that will be a  “ I told you so “ moment and be very unfortunate.  Let’s just all get along and do what is right  and help reduce the spread of this infection.

Also on the mask front…

Last week MNB took note of a New York Post report that the San Diego woman who complained on social media last month about the Starbucks barista who refused to serve her because she was not wearing a face mask, only to generate an outpouring of support for that barista that resulted in a customer-created GoFundMe page that brought in more than $100,000 in "tips" for the employee, now has a new cause.

"She's considering suing for half the money that customers gave to the barista.

According to the story, Amber Lynn Gilles told a local TV station that she has underlying medical conditions that don't allow her to wear a mask.

"The Post wrote that 'Gilles brought two documents to the outlet to prove her exemption. One document was a pelvic exam from 2015, reporting a 'probable exophytic fibroid arising from the anterior wall of the uterus measuring 2.9 cm size,' and 'simple 2.5 cm left ovarian cyst.'

"A second was a handwritten note on letterhead from a local chiropractor, reading, 'Amber has underlying breath conditions that prevent her from wearing a mask or any type of facial covering whatsoever. Please contact me if have any questions.'"

I referred to this as "unmitigated gall," but several MNB reader observed something else…

MNB reader Bob Thomas wrote:

She should stay home as much as possible.  What would happen if, in her weak condition, she caught the virus. There are some plastic face guards she can use that would be cheaper than legal fees for the suit.  But to quote Puff Daddy:  “It’s all about the Benjamins.”

Referring to her medical condition, another MNB reader wrote:

And she really wants to use this as an excuse to not wear a mask? May I suggest that if her ‘breathing problems’ are that severe, contracting COVID-19 would almost assuredly kill her. She should not venture out of her bubble until this pandemic has passed.

On a related subject, I got the following email from MNB reader Rob Connelly:

I think we are very aligned in most everything— I am baffled at how this pandemic has gotten so political.. and the mask fight is just absurd...

But I do want to challenge your thought that it would be better to just keep kids home from school the rest of the year ...

What I don’t see from you and many others is the complexity of the challenge ... I am sure you are familiar with all the research on from PreK to 3rd grade is so critical to a child’s development... and then from there to 8th... and if that foundation is not set the likelihood of success for that student is dramatically lower…

So who loses when we close the schools ... the highest risk, the poorest , the most vulnerable?

I am not worried about the kids in my upscale neighborhood... they will be fine because they have plenty of resources … I am worried about the Dayton City Schools where so many are challenged with generational poverty , abuse , abandonment, lack of internet, etc…

It feels like a position of privilege to say let’s close them without at least acknowledging it is a gut wrenching decision... that has lots of risk and human impact in either case.

My only point is I believe it is very complicated and I don’t hear much discussion about the kids who are being left behind if we close the in person schools.

Rob … I actually don't think we are disagreeing that much.

There's no question that kids will suffer a significant loss if they do not return to traditional classrooms in just a few weeks.  I would just suggest that there will be nothing traditional about their classrooms when they return.

In my upscale community, classrooms will be structured so that kids are organized in cohorts, with desks organized so they are three feet apart, and teachers will be required to stay behind a line at the front of the room.   The kids will be wearing masks, and their desks may be shielded in plexiglass.  Teachers will wear masks and face shields.  Books and bookcases may be removed from rooms, and there will be very little sense of traditional community … with no recess and kids having lunch at their desks.

And this is an upscale school.   One can only imagine what it will be like at schools with fewer resources.

This is extremely complicated, and I think time and financial pressures have school districts to varying degrees making it up as they go along - doing their best, but not really knowing what the right thing is to do, since a spike in diseases inevitably will mean closures.  If a teacher has a class of 20 kids, and one kid tests positive, they'll have to put all those kids and the teacher into quarantine … and what about other kids they've encountered (in the neighborhood, on the bus) and other teachers?

What I'm suggesting - and I understand this is not the optimal situation - is that it might make sense to take the first half of the school year and use it as an opportunity to a) try to flatten the infection curve to a significant degree, and b) develop a nuanced approach to balancing e-learning with classroom learning that will serve the students to the greatest possible extent.

I agree.  These are all gut-wrenching decisions, and "complicated" may be the understatement of the year.