Marilyn Reece, the lead bakery clerk at a Kroger in Batesville, Miss., started noticing more customers walking around the store without masks this month after the state mandate to wear face coverings was repealed. Kroger still requires them, but that doesn’t seem to matter.
When Ms. Reece, a 56-year-old breast-cancer survivor, sees those shoppers, she prays. “Please, please, don’t let me have to wait on them, because in my heart, I don’t want to ignore them, I don’t want to refuse them,” she said. “But then I’m thinking I don’t want to get sick and die, either. It’s not that people are bad, but you don’t know who they’ve come into contact with.”
Ms. Reece’s heightened anxiety is shared by retail and fast-food workers in states like Mississippi and Texas, where governments have removed mask mandates before a majority of people have been vaccinated and while troubling new variants of the coronavirus are appearing. It feels like a return to the early days of the pandemic, when businesses said customers must wear masks but there was no legal requirement and numerous shoppers simply refused. Many workers say that their stores do not enforce the requirement, and that if they do approach customers, they risk verbal or physical altercations.
“It’s given a great false sense of security, and it’s no different now than it was a year ago,” said Ms. Reece, who is not yet able to receive a vaccine because of allergies. “The only difference we have now is people are getting vaccinated but enough people haven’t gotten vaccinated that they should have lifted the mandate.”
translated into extra pay on top of their low wages. Grocery employees were not initially given priority for vaccinations in most states, even as health experts cautioned the public to limit time in grocery stores because of the risk posed by new coronavirus variants. (Texas opened availability to everyone 16 and older on Monday.)
The issue has gained serious prominence: On Monday, President Biden called on governors and mayors to maintain or reinstate orders to wear masks as the nation grapples with a potential rise in virus cases.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents nearly 900,000 grocery workers, said this month that at least 34,700 grocery workers around the country had been infected with or exposed to Covid-19 and that at least 155 workers had died from the virus. The recent mass shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, Colo., has only rattled workers further and added to concerns about their own safety.
Diane Cambre, a 50-year-old floor supervisor at a Kroger in Midlothian, Texas, said she had spent much of the past year worrying about bringing the virus home to her 9-year-old son and dreading interactions with customers who were flippant about the possibility of getting sick. She wears a double mask in the store even though it irritates her skin, already itchy from psoriasis, and changes her clothes as soon as she gets home.
end the statewide mask mandate the next week, Ms. Cambre said, customers immediately “started coming in not wearing a mask and stuff, and it’s been pretty hard getting anybody to wear one.” Management is supposed to offer masks to people who aren’t wearing them, but if they don’t put them on, nothing else is done, she said.
tantrums from cart-pushing adults.
“Some of our customers are drama-prone, so they’ll start yelling, ‘I’m not wearing that mask,’ and you can tell they’re very rude in their voice and very harsh,” Ms. Cambre, a U.F.C.W. member, said. Overseeing the self-checkout aisles has been especially challenging, she said, because customers who need help will demand that she come over, making it impossible to maintain six feet of distance.
At times when she has tried to explain the need for distancing, “they say, ‘OK, and that’s just a government thing,’” she said. “It really takes a toll on you mentally.”
A Kroger representative said that the chain would “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,” and that it was offering $100 one-time payments to workers who received the vaccine.
The differing state and business mandates have some workers worried about more confrontations. The retail industry was already trying to address the issue last fall, when a major trade group helped put together training to help workers manage and de-escalate conflicts with customers who resisted masks, social distancing and store capacity limits. Refusing service to people without masks, or asking them to leave, has led to incidents in the past year like a cashier’s being punched in the face, a Target employee’s breaking his arm and the fatal shooting of a Family Dollar security guard.
This month in League City, Texas, near Houston, a 53-year-old man who refused to wear a required mask in a Jack in the Box confronted employees and then stabbed a store manager three times, according to a report in The Houston Chronicle. On March 14, a San Antonio ramen shop was vandalized with racist graffiti after its owner criticized Mr. Abbott on television for lifting the Texas mask mandate.
Office Depot in Texas City after she refused to wear a mask or leave the store, just days after an arrest warrant was issued for her in Galveston, Texas, for behaving similarly in a Bank of America location.
MaryAnn Kaylor, the owner of two antique stores in Dallas, including Lula B’s Design District, said the mask mandate repeal mattered a lot for stores and people’s behavior.
“He should have focused more on getting people vaccinated instead of trying to open everything up,” she said of Governor Abbott, noting that Texas has one of the country’s slowest vaccination rates.
“You still have cases every day in Texas, and you have people dying still from Covid,” she said. “This complete lifting of mandates is stupid. It shouldn’t have been based on politics — it should have been based on science.”
Some Texans have started to seek out mask-friendly establishments. Ms. Kaylor said that lists of Dallas businesses that require masks had been circulating on Facebook, and that people were consulting them to figure out where to buy groceries and do other shopping.
Emily Francois, a sales associate at a Walmart in Port Arthur, Texas, said that customers had been ignoring signs to wear masks and that Walmart had not been enforcing the policy. So Ms. Francois stands six feet away from shoppers who don’t wear masks, even though that upsets some of them. “My life is more important,” she said.
“I see customers coming in without a mask and they’re coughing, sneezing, they’re not covering their mouths,” said Ms. Francois, who has worked at Walmart for 14 years and is a member of United for Respect, an advocacy group. “Customers coming in the store without masks make us feel like we aren’t worthy, we aren’t safe.”
Phillip Keene, a spokesman for Walmart, said that “our policy of requiring associates and customers to wear masks in our stores has helped protect them during the pandemic, and we’re not lifting those measures at this time.”
Even before the pandemic, Ms. Reece, the Kroger clerk in Mississippi, was wearing a mask to protect herself from the flu because of her cancer diagnosis, she said.
She said 99 percent of customers in her small store had worn masks during the pandemic. “When they had to put it on, they did put it on,” she said. “It’s like giving a child a piece of candy — that child is going to eat that candy unless you take it from them.”
She is concerned about the potential harm from new variants, particularly from those who don’t cover their mouths. “You just have to pray and pray you don’t get within six feet of them, or 10 feet for that matter,” said Ms. Reece, who is also a U.F.C.W. member and has worked for Kroger for more than 30 years. “I know people want it to be back to normal, but you can’t just will it to be back to normal.”
The bleak reality of a list like this is that it leaves out so many more.
There have been dozens of mass shootings in the United States in just the past five years, according to the Violence Project, which maintains a database of attacks in which at least four people were killed.
And before that, many more were seared into memories: San Bernardino, Calif., and Charleston, S.C., in 2015; Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., in 2012; Virginia Tech in 2007, among them.
Each new attack is a reminder of all of the others that came before it, as the nation has been unable to curb an epidemic of gun violence that far outpaces other countries. These are just some of the horrors that have traumatized the nation.
March 22, 2021: A grocery store in Boulder, Colo.
A gunman inside a grocery store killed 10 people, including Eric Talley, the first police officer to arrive at the scene. The gunman was injured and taken into custody.
were killed at three spas, at least two of which had been frequented by the gunman. It was the country’s first mass shooting to command nationwide attention in a year and caused particular alarm among many Asian-Americans.
March 16, 2020: A gas station in Springfield, Mo.
A shooting spree across five miles left five people dead, including a police officer and the gunman. It ended with a car crash at a gas station and the gunman’s death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Aug. 31, 2019: Drive-by shootings in Midland and Odessa, Texas
a rampage across the two cities in which eight people, including the gunman, were killed, and 25 others were injured. The gunman hijacked a postal truck and opened fire on residents, motorists and shoppers before he was fatally shot by the police. Three officers and a toddler were among the injured.
Aug. 4, 2019: An entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio
Armed with an AR-15-style rifle and body armor, a gunman killed nine people and wounded 27 others in 32 seconds in a bustling entertainment district before he was fatally shot by a police officer. The gunman’s sister was among the first people he shot.
prowled the aisles of a Walmart in El Paso, a majority-Hispanic border city, killing 23 people and wounding about two dozen others. The back-to-back combination of the two attacks left the nation shaken.
July 28, 2019: A festival in Gilroy, Calif.
An annual garlic festival in an agricultural community south of San Jose turned deadly when a 19-year-old man opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle. The gunman killed three people in the attack, including a 13-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy, and wounded more than a dozen others.
May 31, 2019: An office in Virginia Beach, Va.
attacked the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, killing 12 people.
Nov. 7, 2018: A bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
A gunman entered the Borderline Bar & Grill, a country music bar, and shot a security guard at the entrance with a .45-caliber handgun before opening fire into the crowd, killing 12 people. The gunman was found dead at the scene after being confronted by officers who had stormed the bar.
killing 11 congregants and wounding six others. The gunman shot indiscriminately at worshipers for several minutes.
June 28, 2018: A newsroom in Annapolis, Md.
A man armed with a shotgun and smoke grenades assaulted the newsroom of a community newspaper chain in Annapolis, Md., killing five staff members, injuring two others. The gunman had previously sued journalists at the chain, the Capital Gazette, for defamation and had waged a social media campaign against them.
May 18, 2018: A high School in Santa Fe, Texas
Armed with a shotgun and a .38 revolver hidden under his coat, a 17-year-old student opened fire on his high school campus, Santa Fe High School, killing 10 people, many of them his fellow students, and wounding 10 more, the authorities said. Witnesses said that the gunman first entered an art classroom, said “Surprise!” and started shooting.
Feb. 14, 2018: A high School in Parkland, Fla.
a wave of nationwide, student-led protests calling on lawmakers to tighten gun laws.
Nov. 5, 2017: A church in Sutherland Springs, Texas
A gunman with a ballistic vest strapped to his chest and a military-style rifle in his hands stormed into a Sunday church service at a small Baptist church in rural Texas and sprayed bullets into its pews. He killed 26 people, including nine members of a single family, and left 20 people wounded, many of them severely. The gunman later shot himself.
Oct. 1, 2017: A concert in Las Vegas
deadliest mass shootings in American history, a gunman perched on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, smashed the windows of his suite with a hammer and shot at a crowd of 22,000 people at an outdoor country music festival. Fifty-eight people were killed and 887 sustained documented injuries, either from gunfire or while running to safety.
Jan. 6, 2017: An airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
As an airline passenger retrieved his checked luggage, he pulled a 9-millimeter handgun out of his suitcase and used it to kill five people and wound six others at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida. When he ran out of ammunition, he lay on the floor, waiting to be arrested.
July 7, 2016: Downtown Dallas
A heavily armed sniper targeted police officers in downtown Dallas, leaving five of them dead. The gunman turned a demonstration against fatal police shootings of Black men in Minnesota and Louisiana from a peaceful march focused on violence committed by officers into a scene of chaos and bloodshed.
June 12, 2016: The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
killing 50 people and wounding 53 others. After a three-hour standoff following the initial assault, law enforcement officials raided the club and fatally shot the gunman.
But one of the benefits I got in being on the finance side was a really thorough understanding of the profit and loss and balance sheet and how that all hangs together. It enabled me to take strategy and pull it apart and say: “Well, what are the objectives? And what are the prices we’ve put in place to be able to achieve those objectives?”
What were the biggest changes you made in stores and in warehouses as a result of the pandemic?
There was a lot of tactical decisions we had to make very early on: metering people into the club, the request for associates to wear masks, health screening every day, plexiglass that we had to put in appropriate places, decals on the floor. There was just such an exhaustive list.
We also wanted to give members confidence that they could trust our standards. Like, “Let’s make sure that in the first 10 feet of walking into Sam’s Club, they see us wiping down a cart.” We’re spraying them outside, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the member knows that they’ve been sprayed down. So let’s make sure that we also wipe them down so that the member knows they can have confidence.
How are you dealing with the issue of masks at a moment when states are lifting restrictions?
When a member turns up at the club, we will ask them to wear one. We will have one there to offer to them. If somebody is adamant that they don’t want to wear one, then we will continue to offer it to them.
What we’ve been trying to do is protect the safety of our associates and make sure that we’re not putting them into a conflict point. We’ve tried to make sure that we de-escalate and contain issues rather than have them escalate. I would say a majority of members comply. Most of them, if you ask them once or twice, will put a mask on.
How have people’s shopping habits changed over the past year?
We have seen periods that we called “carbs and calories,” where people would just buy up pizza, ice cream, potato chips. It was almost like they were looking for indulgence in food that they couldn’t get through experiences outside of the home. We’ve certainly seen a resurgence in people nesting and home improvement, yard improvement, outdoor entertaining. People are like, “How do I make my home my castle?”
Help me understand why it’s hard for a company like Walmart to get to the point where it’s supporting a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
People who get Covid-19 shots at thousands of Walmart and Sam’s Club stores may soon be able to verify their vaccination status at airports, schools and other locations using a health passport app on their smartphones.
The retail giant said on Wednesday that it had signed on to an international effort to provide standardized digital vaccination credentials to people. The company joins a push already backed by major health centers and tech companies including Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, Cerner, Epic Systems, the Mitre Corporation and the Mayo Clinic.
“Walmart is the first huge-scale administrator of vaccines that is committing to giving people a secure, verifiable record of their vaccinations,” said Paul Meyer, the chief executive of the Commons Project Foundation, a nonprofit in Geneva that has developed health passport apps. “We think many others will follow.”
JetBlue and Lufthansa are already using the CommonPass app to verify passengers’ negative virus test results before they can board certain flights.