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As more states lift mandates, most major retailers still require face masks

U.S. vaccination efforts pick up speed
COVID-19 vaccination efforts pick up speed as states begin easing restrictions 11:32

While Alabama, Mississippi and Texas will soon join more than a dozen other U.S. states without statewide mask requirements, many major retailers and employers aren't ready to nix mandatory face-covering amid a pandemic that killed more than 1,900 Americans on Thursday alone.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey is the latest to signal masks will soon be optional in her state. Kay on Thursday extended the state's mask requirement until April 9, at which point she'll let it lapse and leave the decision up to individuals. 

The Republican state leader's announcement came two days after the governors of Texas and Mississippi said they would be dispensing with mask mandates and allowing businesses to operate at full capacity.  

In decisions slammed as "Neanderthal thinking" by President Joe Biden, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared, "We are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny." Meantime Mississippi's Governor Tate Reeves said he was "getting out of the business of telling people what they can and cannot do" in lifting mask mandates in the state.

Despite their states policies, residents of Alabama, Texas and Mississippi will still need to wear face masks if they want to step inside many — but not all — supermarkets and other large retail chains. Those retailers, which include Kroger, Target and Walgreens, cited guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in continuing to require masks and take other measures to protect workers and consumers from the virus. 

Albertsons Companies, one of the nation's biggest supermarket and pharmacy chains, initially said it would drop its requirements that customers wear face masks in its stores and that only its 325,000 workers would still need to cover their faces. But the company revised its plans on Friday.

"Our front-line associates have not had full access to the vaccine. Subsequently, our stores and facilities in Texas will continue to require masks for associates, vendors and customers regardless of the mask mandate being lifted," a spokesperson for the company said in an emailed statement, referencing the governor's order in Texas, which takes effect on Wednesday, March 10.

Albertsons operates stores in 34 states and the District of Columbia under banners including Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw's, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, Pavilions, Star Market, Haggen and Carrs. The company also runs more than 1,700 pharmacies in its grocery stores, and is among the 21 national chains and independent networks participating in a federal program to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines across the U.S.

Other participants in the federal effort are not ready to let customers enter their stores and pharmacies without masks. 

The Magnolia Pharmacy in Magnolia, Texas, will continue to require masks "for the comfort of my staff and patients," explained owner Steven Hoffart, who noted the nature of the business means sick people frequently walk in. "It's not just about COVID, it's for the stomach bug, flu, any illness, the cough, a cold — if I can keep it from spreading to my staff, that's the biggest reason we ask patients to wear masks," Hoffart said. 

A member of AmerisourceBergen's Good Neighbor Pharmacy Network, Hoffart's pharmacy is currently immunizing between 100 to 150 people a day with COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government and the state, a wearying but joyful operation that he describes as akin to running a second business.

Walgreens to continue gentle reminders

"There is no change at this time to the company mask mandate policy or any current safety protocols that are in place in our stores or any work locations to protect our customers and team members. We are following current CDC and OSHA guidelines regarding safety protocols," a spokesperson for Walgreens said in an email. 

The drugstore chain's policy all along has been to "gently remind customers who are shopping without masks about the requirement, but out of concern for our employees' safety, we do not stop these customers from shopping," a spokesperson added, referring to the hostile reactions store employees sometimes face when attempting to enforce mask rules with customers.  

Another major pharmacy, CVS Health, will also keep its face-covering policy in place at stores nationwide, with a CVS Health spokesperson citing the "strong scientific evidence that masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19."

"If a customer is not wearing a mask or face covering, we will refer them to our signage and ask that they help protect themselves and those around them by listening to the experts and heeding the call to wear a face covering," the spokesperson added. "For safety reasons, our employees are directed to avoid escalated confrontations with noncompliant customers and to instead help them complete their purchases as quickly as possible."

Kroger, the nation's largest supermarket chain, "will continue to require everyone in our stores across the country to wear masks until all our frontline grocery associates can receive the COVID-19 vaccine," a spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch in an email. The company last month said it would give each of its 500,000 workers in 35 states $100 to get immunized against COVID-19.

Target is also sticking with its requirement that customers and workers wear masks, including those who have been vaccinated for the coronavirus, "in line with current CDC guidance," a spokesperson for the retailer said in an email. The retailer makes an exception for those with underlying medical conditions and young children. 

Patrons who prefer not to wear masks can shop through Target's no-contact options, such as shopping online, the retailer added.

Grocery union demands vaccines and hazard pay for workers 14:16

Aldi said it would stick with its nationwide policy requiring its workers and customers to wear masks in its more than 2,000 grocery stores in 36 states. 

"We are aware of the mask mandate lifts in both Texas and Mississippi where we have store locations. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic we have been following CDC guidelines, and we do not plan to make any adjustments to our safety measures at this time," a spokesperson for Aldi said in an email. 

A spokesperson for Home Depot said the retailer "requires associates and customers to wear masks while in our stores or any Home Depot facility nationwide. We'll continue to follow CDC guidelines, as we've done all along."

Costco, Trader Joe's, Walmart and Whole Foods did not respond to requests for comment.

The National Retail Federation issued a statement reiterating that retail stores are private entities that can refuse entry or service to those that refuse to adhere to their policies. Further, "It is within their right to implement and enforce policies that protect the health and the safety of their employees and their customers," a spokesperson for the trade group said in a statement.

San Antonio, Texas-based H-E-B did not respond to a request for comment. But the grocery chain, which employs more than 135,000 people at more than 400 stores in Texas and Mexico, seemed to take a softer stance in talking to a local media outlet.

"Although there is no longer a statewide mask order, H-E-B believes it is important that masks be worn in public spaces until more Texans and our partners have access to the Covid-19 vaccine," an H-E-B spokesperson told a Fox News affiliate. "H-E-B will still require all our partners and vendors to wear masks while at work, and we urge all customers to please wear a mask when in our stores."

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