retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Texas Tribune reports that H-E-B and Albertsons have reversed their positions on mask mandates.

If you recall, last week Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was one of several governors announcing that they would be rolling back coronavirus-caused restrictions, including the elimination of mask mandates.  Abbott said in his announcement that while masks were still recommended, they would not be required and that all Texas businesses could open "100 percent."

The rollback on restrictions, especially mask mandates, came despite the fact that federal public health officials were recommending continued vigilance even as vaccination numbers have been going up and infection numbers have been going down;  at the same time, fewer than seven percent of Texans had been vaccinated even once, and Houston was the first US city where all four variants had been detected.

A number of companies said they would keep mask mandates in place, despite the governor's announcement.  Among them:  Among them:  Kroger, Walmart, Starbucks, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Costco, Sprouts, Best Buy, Macy's, Kohl’s, Ulta, and Hyatt Hotels - though in some of these cases, the mask requirement will not be actively enforced by the business.  However, H-E-B and Albertsons were prominent among the retailers that said they would no longer mandate that customers wear masks in their Texas stores.

Over the weekend, that changed.

H-E-B issued a statement:  "Mask use at our stores will remain."

And USA Today reports that "Albertsons will continue to require Texas shoppers to wear masks in its stores after the state lifts its face covering requirement March 10," saying:  "While we know that mask requirements have been controversial and polarizing across some of our operating areas, we also know that masks in combination with social distancing and proper cleaning and sanitization can work to prevent the spread of the virus."

Indeed, the New York Times had a story over the weekend about how "researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday offered fresh evidence of the importance of face coverings, reporting that mask-wearing mandates were linked to fewer infections with the coronavirus and Covid-19 deaths in counties across the United States.

"Federal researchers also found that counties opening restaurants for on-premises dining — indoors or outdoors — saw a rise in daily infections about six weeks later, and an increase in Covid-19 death rates about two months later.

"The study does not prove cause and effect, but the findings square with other research showing that masks prevent infection and that indoor spaces foster the spread of the virus through aerosols, tiny respiratory particles that linger in the air."

KC's View:

The thing about the rollback on mask mandates is that in doing so, governments taking that position are potentially putting low-wage, service workers at the greatest risk.

Let's remember - the wearing of masks is an act of empathy and compassion.  It prevents one from spreading the disease if you happen to have it.  And if suddenly people are able to go into full-capacity supermarkets, restaurants and bars without wearing masks, it is possible that they are going to make workers in those establishments sick.  Not good for the people, not good for the businesses, and not good for public health.

I thought it was revealing that the Texas Tribune points out that "Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, filed legislation last week that would prevent any business entities from being held liable for exposing people to pandemic illnesses."  Burrows was with Abbott when he announced the Texas rollbacks.  If the rollbacks did not have the potential for putting people at risk, then why would such legislation be necessary?

The companies - including, now, H-E-B and Albertsons - ignoring the state's positions are doing the right thing.