Rattankun Thongbun/iStock

Rattankun Thongbun/iStockBy KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Many corporations in the food and retail industry have stepped up to implement mandatory mask requirements to keep both staff and customers safe amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Even as some states have waffled over whether or not to officially enforce orders that would require facial coverings, national businesses have taken it upon themselves to ensure that shoppers and diners mitigate risks of potentially spreading or contracting COVID-19.

Whole Foods, Sam’s Club, Costco, Target and Kroger are part of a growing list of retailers in the United States that have implemented mask policies for all customers — even in locales where masks are not mandated — based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Additionally, food chains like Starbucks, Chipotle, McDonald’s and Panera have all updated their safety measures in response to the pandemic, and now require that all their customers wear masks.

Bill Knapp, a media strategist and consultant at SKDKnickerbocker, recently discussed his tips with the National Retail Federation about how businesses can best implement these new facial covering measures without alienating customers.

First, he said that visual cues are an important indicator of a business’ commitment to safety.

“When people walk into a retailer or into another place that’s inside — I think one, they need to be reassured that it’s safe to go in — and I think the reassurance comes from seeing the retailers wearing the masks,” Knapp explained on the NRF podcast “Retail Gets Real.”

He also said that people want these businesses to stay open, so the move from business operators to require customers to wear masks “is particularly powerful now.”

Mara Devitt, senior partner at retail consultancy McMillanDoolittle, told the NRF that conflicting messages on masks at the start of the pandemic — from both government and regulatory agencies — made these mandates confusing for the public and “tougher for retailers to respond.”

“Our advice has been to be consistent. Masks are something we can actively do to protect employees. Early in the pandemic you saw many retailers supplying masks to protect employees and, most recently, mandating that customers wear masks,” Devitt said. “It’s good business sense to take action to protect your team, your customers and your business partners.”

Despite some backlash from customers in various cities, Devitt also said the recent influx of corporations following suit and enforcing mask requisites is a direct result of the growing number of coronavirus cases.

“The pandemic hasn’t subsided as we all hoped. It’s still here and has picked up in many areas. We’ve seen local governments, agencies and industry groups like NRF calling for a national standard on masks,” she said. “Many retailers have taken this as an indication that it is time to take clear and consistent action in their organizations.”

Knapp also said that the buy-in on mask requirements is largely dependent on where people live and the regional pressures around them.

As Knapp explained it, people have a different view on the issue if they live in a place that was a COVID-19 hot spot than if they are in a rural area where the need to wear masks feels less pressing.

Jason Straczewski, vice president of government relations and political affairs at the NRF, said in conversation with Knapp that he has heard firsthand from a wide range of retailers about the difficult balancing act of enforcing mask policies.

“Employers are in a hard spot here trying to do the right thing. Yes, these businesses are personal or private property — in most cases — and you have that you have to balance against customer service,” he said. “Retailers want to serve the customer, and they’re trying to balance that against worker safety and public safety, so they’re in a tough, tough spot.”

He continued, “It’d be great if more of our fellow Americans took that to heart and thought about that — and how that adds up through the day, some of the stresses that these folks are dealing with — all day long, each and every day, serving their community.”

Larry Lynch, senior vice president of science and industry for the National Restaurant Association, told ABC News that “throughout this public health crisis, the restaurant industry has maintained an unwavering commitment to customer and employee safety.”

“It is now accepted science that it is best for all of us to share in the responsibility for wearing masks,” he said, adding that they urge restaurants to follow the National Restaurant Association’s Reopening Guidance in conjunction with national and local officials. “We ask all of our customers to help us keep our employees and their fellow diners safe by following all existing state and local guidelines on masks.”

As a result of reiterated guidance on masks to slow the spread of COVID-19, McDonald’s announced its customer face mask policy for all U.S. locations will go into effect on Aug. 1. Additionally, the company said that it will work to serve customers at all locations, even where masks are not mandated.

“While nearly 82% of our restaurants are in states or localities that require facial coverings for both crew and customers today, it’s important we protect the safety of all employees and customers,” the company said in a press release Friday. “The intent of this policy is to take a proactive approach and focus on quickly finding solutions when customers are unable or unwilling to wear a face covering.”

A spokesperson for McDonald’s told ABC News that the restaurant has additional procedures for serving customers who decline to wear face coverings.

If a customer declines or is unable to wear a mask, the staffers will expedite the order and guide the customer to a designated pick-up spot a safe distance away from others.

Many corporations, especially in the retail and food industry, will continue to enforce and adapt these face mask policies as data and official guidance changes in tandem with the ongoing public health crisis.

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