Some 96% of the restaurants surveyed around the country in July by industry newsletter Restaurant Dive reported that they required their employees to wear masks while working. Many supermarket chains had similar rules in place. The policy is now increasingly extending to customers as well.
As of mid-August, the governments of some 34 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, had mandated the wearing of protective masks or other face coverings in public places — including restaurants, stores, and hotel common areas — according to a state-by-state guide to face mask requirements published by AARP.
In addition, a growing number of major national and regional restaurant and supermarket chains have issued systemwide mask orders of their own — even though many of their locations were already subject to the statewide mandates. Chains that have taken this extra step include Starbucks, McDonald’s, Chipotle, Shake Shack, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods.
The public hasn’t always appreciated the new measures. For whatever reasons, mask-wearing (or not-wearing) has become a political issue — and a sometimes violently emotional one. In July, for instance, two customers at a Manhattan branch of Trader Joe’s not only refused to wear masks, but also ripped the mask off an employee in protest, hit another one with a wooden paddle, and pulled a third one’s hair. The same month, a cashier at a McDonald’s drive-thru window in Oakland, California, was assaulted — through the window — by a man who resented being asked to cover his face.
Numerous other examples of mask rage have been recorded around the country, with some establishments actually closing down rather than risking harassment or worse from angry anti-mask customers. (The mask issue isn’t the only reason some places are shutting down. These are states where recently reopened bars and dining rooms are closing again.)
The good news is that, angry mask-haters aside, the general populace seems to be getting used to wearing masks in public. A Harris Poll published last month found that 76% of Americans believe that retail businesses in general — not just restaurants and supermarkets — should institute customer mask policies, with 78% feeling that workers should be prepared to enforce them. (Already, these national stores require customers to wear face masks.)
In most cases, corporate policies introduced by restaurant and supermarket chains went into effect in late July or early August. Most mandates cite exceptions based on age or health conditions, and for obvious reasons, restaurant customers don’t have to keep their faces covered when they’re actually eating or drinking.
“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” said Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a statement released in mid-July. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus — particularly when used universally within a community setting.” That certainly would include restaurants and grocery stores.