As you approach the automatic doors at the front entrance of your preferred Yakima Valley grocery store, you see the following sign prominently displayed in the window: “NO MASK, NO SERVICE. Due to the dangers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, this establishment now requires the wearing of face coverings; no exceptions. If you are physically unable to wear a mask, please take advantage of our curbside pickup service.”
Based on data, observation and speculation, reactions would be varied. Many would think, “It’s about doggone time!” Others would turn away, thinking thoughts of “Nazi Germany” and “our dictator governor” and “I’m not sick! Why should I wear a mask?” and “I guess they don’t want my business.”
Maybe someone would make a scene — like that determined, maskless Costco shopper in Colorado last month who shot video of his encounter with a store employee.
Didn’t hear about that one? We’ll explain in just a bit.
Meanwhile, we’re solidly in the corner of the first patron. It’s about doggone time.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that mask-wearing has increased in recent weeks, likely in response to the Yakima Health District directive a couple of weeks ago that urges people to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth in public to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In addition, there is a growing realization that Yakima County will not see an ease of restrictions until our West Coast-leading rate of infection is throttled way back.
But we must do more. Mask-wearers are huge part of the solution. Those who reject masks are a huge part of the problem. Therefore, we call upon every Yakima County business to follow the lead and the spirit of Costco and require their patrons to wear masks while inside the store.
We say this knowing that it will take more than just putting up a sign. We also recognize that businesses have already taken many steps toward protecting workers and customers. With few exceptions, employees are required to wear masks in Washington. In addition, some stores offer masks and sanitizer at their doors and encourage social distancing among their efforts to curtail the spread of the virus.
What about legal implications? you ask. Can they do that? Can you be denied service if not wearing a mask?
Yes. If a store is on private property (and almost all are), management can turn you away — similar to many businesses requiring that customers wear shirts and shoes. In those instances, a customer’s rights are not being infringed upon if the rule is evenly applied, and the customer always maintains the right to shop elsewhere, online or not at all.
“As long as businesses are enforcing that in a nondiscriminatory manner and they are requiring everyone to wear the mask, they have the right on their premises to say, ‘If you want to shop here, you have to wear a mask,’” an attorney in Minneapolis told a local television station recently. “Unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding about what rights we have and who we have them against. That is not something the Constitution gives you a right to prevent. You can exercise your right by not shopping at that particular store.”
Stores that take the no-mask-no-service stand must also consider security and finance. Across the nation, customers have reacted with violence on occasion. In early May, a security guard in Flint, Mich., was shot and killed by the son of a woman who had been told 20 minutes earlier to leave the store because she refused to wear a mask. The guard was a 43-year-old married man with eight children.
Heaven forbid such an incident would happen here. However, the fact that it happened anywhere is an indication of the depths of frustration some feel over COVID-19 in general and masks in particular.
Should stores opt for additional security, it could pose problems with profits, particularly in retail, where margins are slim and volume is key. Stores tied to larger corporations might have an easier time making such a decision.
Fortunately, the Colorado Costco incident didn’t turn violent. On May 16, a customer in Thornton, just north of Denver, shot video of an employee asking him to put a mask on because of company policy. “And I’m not doing it, because I woke up in a free country,” the customer responded.
“Have a great day,” said the employee as he took the shopping cart from the customer and walked away. “You are no longer welcome here in our warehouse. You need to leave.” There’s no indication that the situation escalated.
Craig Jelinek, president and CEO of Costco, was on the money with his announcement that his chain would require masks beginning May 4.
“We know some members may find this inconvenient or objectionable, but under the circumstances we believe the added safety is worth any inconvenience,” he wrote. “This is not simply a matter of personal choice; a face covering protects not just the wearer, but others too. In short, we believe this is the right thing to do under the current circumstances.”
It’s really that simple. It’s the right thing to do under the current circumstances. Yakima County businesses, take heed and do your part. Demand masks.