Do You Really Need To Wear A Mask In The Drive-Thru?

The rules and recommendations for wearing face masks as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19 are fairly clear — at least in general. The CDC recommends wearing face coverings in public. Most states go beyond a recommendation with a face-mask mandate (via CNBC), especially in situations where people can't stay at least six feet away from each other per the CDC's social distancing guidelines. However, all this guidance still leaves people confused about when, exactly, a mask is needed. Medical experts have tried to answer specific questions about mask-wearing as they come up. 

When alone or with family members in a car, for example, a mask isn't necessary, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If you are a ride-share passenger, on the other hand, you should wear a mask (although the Cleveland Clinic recommends avoiding ride-share services altogether). What about wearing masks at drive-thrus? If anything, people are pulling up to the windows at coffee shops and fast-food restaurants more than usual these days since many establishments are keeping their indoor seating areas closed during the pandemic. 

The general health expert consensus is that yes, you should cover your face when interacting with a cafe or fast food employee at a drive-thru window (via The Sacramento Bee).

Starbucks' face mask requirement doesn't include drive-thrus

Starbucks recently announced that customers must wear masks in all of its U.S. stores, even in communities that don't have a mask requirement (via USA Today). But the rule applies only to customers who enter the cafe. Starbucks has said it will not enforce mask-wearing at the drive-thru window unless the local government specifically requires it. Starbucks employees aren't happy about that, and they have posted signs at drive-thru windows asking customers to wear masks — a suggestion that Starbucks management has said it will not enforce, according to NBC Bay Area. A Starbucks barista told the local NBC station that drive-thru customers owe that much to essential workers like her, who are keeping businesses open. "We all deserve to be safe," she said.

The CDC doesn't offer specific guidance about face masks for people in cars at drive-thru windows, but the federal agency does say face masks should be worn "in public settings... especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain." Individual state agencies, such as the Illinois Department of Public Health, do specifically say that drive-thru customers should wear masks. "If you're close enough I can hand you something, you need to be wearing a mask," the Starbucks barista told NBC Bay Area. CDC Director Robert Redfield has said COVID-19 could be brought under control in the United States within four to eight weeks if everyone wore masks (via STAT).