Why These Retailers Won't Actually Enforce The Face Mask Mandate

Some of America's high-profile retailers, including Walmart, Lowe's, Home Depot, and CVS might have announced a mask policy in mid-July. But now it seems they have no intention of asking their sales associates to enforce it, and they say they have a good reason.

Lowe's, one of the outlets which appears to be walking back its mask policy, told The Charlotte Observer that "Safety has been and continues to be our priority. We will not ask our associates to put their safety at risk by confronting customers about wearing masks, so we are consistently requesting that customers wear masks for the safety of everyone in our stores." A Walmart representative who was asked about the policy told CNN, "With every requirement there are exceptions that have been established to avoid escalating the situation and putting our associates in harm's way. Our goal is to keep associates from a physical confrontation in the stores."

The concern isn't unfounded. Videos of anti-maskers getting into disputes with store employees have gained a lot of attention. A few months back, a security guard was fatally shot at a Family Dollar store in Michigan after he asked a customer to wear a mask. 

Stores don't want to expose associates to confrontation

Critics who want to see stricter mask policies aren't impressed by what they see as stores going back on their policy. Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, told CNN that "either security or management needs to tell people that they must wear a face mask in order to be served. It's no different than wearing shoes or a shirt. [If companies] are not requiring customers to wear a mask within their store, then they never had a requirement. All they had was a public relations stunt."

CVS' Chief Operating Officer Jon Roberts said that he was hoping that customers would exercise judgement and decide that masks might be necessary in light of experts' recommendations. "To be clear, we're not asking our store employees to play the role of enforcer [on a mask policy]," Roberts said in his company's announcement. "What we are asking is that customers help protect themselves and those around them by listening to the experts and heeding the call to wear a face covering." 

Despite what health experts have said, a survey done by the Pew Research Center shows the country is still very much divided along partisan lines about the outlook for the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is being handled. Given that conflict and the reluctance to enforce mask policy, we might be right back where we started.