Retailers respond to latest CDC mask guidance and now everyone is confused

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The new guidance issued by the CDC on the use of face masks caught the White House and businesses off guard last week. On Tuesday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky told a Senate committee that the Biden administration’s masking policies were important to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and remained in place. By Thursday, the guidance had completely reversed itself. Toss off those masks if you have been vaccinated, we were told.

That was a very dramatic change in the span of just two days. Also of note, the Washington Post reports that Walensky signed off on the new guidance on Monday, the day before she testified to the Senate committee. Why did she proceed as though nothing was changing? Her performance smacks of politics and phony science. Flipping the switch in a matter of just two days presents the opportunity for CDC’s critics to feel vindicated in questioning its expertise and ability to lead during a pandemic. The Biden White House and everyone else were caught off guard.

But the huge policy turnaround caught senior White House and administration officials, medical experts, elected officials and business leaders completely off guard, and prompted some physicians to criticize the move as premature. Some Democratic governors were angered by the White House’s rollout, arguing the move effectively passed the buck to states and businesses to implement the new rules without any assistance.

The abrupt timing of Walensky’s decision also smacked of politics to Biden’s antagonists, who noted that the president benefited from the announcement during a difficult week when many Americans queued up in gas lines, tensions in Israel flared and markets roiled amid inflation fears.

It is to be expected that such a poorly handled change in coronavirus mitigation would be questioned. It does smack of politics, a distraction as Team Biden looked to be in over its head trying to deal with multiple challenges. The White House blames the poorly managed announcement on its hands-off approach with the CDC. The Biden administration, in its zeal to be the anti-Trump administration at all costs, was too concerned about showing it wasn’t applying political pressure on the department than to remain in the loop on decision-making. Biden continues to make missteps because of his severe case of Trump Derangement Syndrome. The CDC didn’t even brief Sleepy Joe about the change until Thursday morning. The CDC did brief some White House officials on Wednesday night but left the president out of the loop until the next morning.

So, where does this leave businesses? Asking unvaccinated people to wear a mask while advising vaccinated people that they are free to go about their life unmasked is creating an environment that puts store employees in a bad spot. How is anyone to monitor who is and isn’t vaccinated? In some states, governors are signing laws that make it illegal to ask for proof of vaccination. This is creating more confusion.

Businesses are mixed in their reactions. Walmart, for example, is allowing fully vaccinated customers to shop without masks. Masks will become optional for vaccinated employees on May 18 and give a $75 bonus for getting vaccinated. Starbucks announced that face masks are optional for vaccinated customers beginning Monday, “unless local regulations require them by law.” Its employees will continue pre-check procedures before beginning their shifts, such as temperature checks.

Target, Macy’s, Kroger, Publix, and Home Depot are not changing mask policies yet. The same holds true for Bed Bath and Beyond, CVS, Walgreens, and Gap , who all report reviewing policies and current data before making a decision.

Jennifer Nuzzo, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security admitted to Axios that there is no way a retailer like a grocery store can determine who is and isn’t vaccinated.

“We’re not going to know who’s vaccinated and who’s not so I don’t expect it to be different when you go to the grocery store,” Jennifer Nuzzo, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Axios’ Marisa Fernandez.

“I expect the grocery stores are still going to want people to wear masks because they can’t possibly ask people, ‘are you vaccinated are you not?’ We don’t have an easy way to prove vaccination status.”

Lisa Bruno, a senior executive vice president for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, urges customers to follow safety protocols put in place by stores.

If we are to follow the science, masks are not necessary for vaccinated shoppers because the evidence is clearly showing that they don’t spread the coronavirus. Most states have lifted mask mandates. Texas, for example, where the Neanderthals live, according to Joe Biden, lifted restrictions and was first in line to re-open at 100%. The success in re-opening is eye-opening.

This announcement from the CDC raises more questions than it answered. Director Walensky needs to be held accountable for her actions in this process, especially over not keeping lawmakers properly briefed and for leaving the White House out of the loop. In the meantime, it is up to everyone to make their own decisions of where to shop and which businesses to patronize, according to their policies. That is how it should have been all along.